One of the frequently overlooked costs of the war on drugs is its negative impact on the environment – mainly resulting from aerial spraying of drug crops in ecologically sensitive environments such as the Andes and Amazon basin. Chemical eradication efforts not only cause localised deforestation, but also have a devastating multiplier effect because drug producers simply deforest new areas for cultivation – the so-called 'balloon effect'. This problem is made worse because protected areas in national parks where aerial spraying is banned are often targeted.

Illicit unregulated drug production is also associated with localised pollution, as toxic chemicals used in crude processing of coca and opium are disposed of in local environments and waterways.

  • Despite millions of hectares of coca being eradicated since the 1980s, overall production has easily kept pace with rising demand – even if it has moved from one region to another.
  • "600 million litres of so-called precursor chemical are used annually in South America for cocaine production. To increase yields, coca growers use highly poisonous herbicides and pesticides, including paraquat. Processors also indiscriminately discard enormous amounts of gasoline, kerosene, sulphuric acid, ammonia, sodium bicarbonate, potassium carbonate, acetone, ether and lime onto the ground and into nearby waterways" – John Walters, US Drug Tsar

"The drug war has tried in vain to keep cocaine out of people’s noses, but could result instead in scorching the lungs of the earth." Sanho Tree, Director of the Institute for Policy Studies, Drug Policy Project, 'Shoveling Water', 2009

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