$1bn in aid has been used to support failed ‘war on drugs’ over past decade, says report

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$1bn in aid has been used to support failed ‘war on drugs’ over past decade, says report

18 September 2023
The Guardian
Kaamil Ahmed

Almost $1bn (£800m) of aid has been spent on a global “war on drugs” over the past decade that has fuelled human rights abuses, according to a new report.

Analysing data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the NGO Harm Reduction International (HRI) found that, between 2012 and 2021, the US and the EU spent $550m and $282m of their aid budgets respectively on programmes that supported drug control policies. The UK has spent $22m since 2012 – more than $10m of that in 2012 – which has been used to support surveillance capabilities in Colombia, Mozambique and the Dominican Republic, and undercover policing in Peru.

Under Joe Biden, the US has hugely increased the amount of aid spent on narcotics control from $31m in 2020 to $309m in 2021. Some of the money has been used by the Drug Enforcement Agency to train police and special units in Vietnam and Honduras, which have been accused of arbitrary arrests and killings.

The report found more aid globally was spent on supporting drugs policies ($323m) in 2021 than on school feeding projects ($286m) or labour rights ($198m). Ninety-two lower-income countries were listed as having received aid for narcotics control, including Afghanistan, which received money to train police after the Taliban takeover in 2021.

“When you think about development, you don’t really think about it being used for those kinds of activities – you think of poverty reduction, working towards development goals on health or education,” said Catherine Cook, sustainable financing lead at HRI, which monitors the impact of drug policies. “This money is actually being used to support punitive measures – so policing, prisons, essentially funding the ‘war on drugs’, even though we know the ‘war on drugs’ and punitive policies have repeatedly failed.”


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