“This is only the latest step in continuous efforts to assist Afghanistan in creating conditions for effective drug control,” the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said yesterday in the Afghan capital of Kabul after signing the agreement to help establish a new drug interdiction department within the Interior Ministry.”Major progress has been made recently with the creation of a new Counter-Narcotics Directorate (CND) and the adoption of a National Drug Control Strategy. Now we need to increase international assistance to help the country strengthen its capacity to enforce the law and help Afghan farmers to develop a sustainable alternative livelihood,” Mr. Costa added.During his weeklong visit, Mr. Costa is discussing ways UNODC can best contribute to the effort to counter narcotics. On Sunday, President Hamid Karzai reiterated to Mr. Costa his commitment to enforcing drug controls, including eradication of opium poppy fields and destruction of illicit drugs-processing laboratories.The two agreed on the need for the international community, including major development institutions, to help Afghan farmers not only to grow commercial crops, but also develop the infrastructure in the largely poor rural areas of the country.UNODC’s annual opium survey for 2002 said Afghanistan remained a key producer of the world’s opium, not because of the failure of the Afghan authorities or of international efforts to assist them but because of the power vacuum after the Taliban regime was overthrown in 2001, which enabled farmers to replant opium poppy.By the time the Afghan Interim Administration was established and banned illicit cultivation, most of the opium poppy fields had already begun to sprout, the report added.UNODC projects cover four major areas: monitoring, to provide the most reliable estimates of cultivation trends in order to develop knowledge-based policies; prevention, to develop the judicial system and law enforcement; demand reduction, to help address the increasing internal drug abuse problem; and alternative development, involving direct assistance to the communities dependent on opium cultivation.Meanwhile, another UN agency is helping Afghanistan reduce its maternal mortality rates, one of the highest in the world with an estimated 1,600 deaths per 100,000 live births.With support from the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), non-governmental organizations are building clinics and training staff to serve rural communities with no medical care, the agency said in a special report. Health authorities are developing strategies for reducing maternal mortality. And census teams are counting people in remote villages, in the first attempt in a quarter century to learn the actual size and distribution of the population – a key step in planning the country’s political and economic future.”We have to assist the government in providing antenatal, assisted delivery and postnatal care, in delivering supplies and commodities, and in improving information an education to the people,” said Maria Pia Dradi, UNFPA’s Chief of Operations in Afghanistan.