The illegal Middle East heroin trade is spreading into Africa for the first time. Bror Rexed, executive director of the United Nations fund for Drug Abuse Control, has authorized investment of $1.2 million to strengthen Egypt's defenses against the international drug syndicates. The flexible Mideastern crime organizations profit primarily from the current upsurge of drug abuse in Western Europe but, by their nature, they cause great damage wherever they operate.
So far, Africa has escaped any significant experience of heroin abuse. The trade has flourished in neighboring West Asia; Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have produced bumper opium poppy crops for export to Europe and North America through Turkey.
But the tough military regime in power in Turkey since last year is making business increasingly difficult for the drug syndicates. The traffickers have therefore established a new base in Egypt, partly to traffic with the West and partly to expand further into Africa.
The international rescue operation to be financed by the UN fund may have come too late. The country's worried public health authorities have evidence of significant new opium poppy cultivation in inaccessible regions of upper Egypt. The government recently told the UN International Narcotics control Board that unless the trade route is cut at once, Egypt could become not just an alternative trasit zone for Middle East heroin but indeed a new source of illicit opiates plaguing Africa as well as the West.
Egypt has responded by coopeating with Turkey against the common enemy and by seeking funds from the UN which also aids Turkey's narcotics control operations.
George M. Ling, director of the UN's Division of Narcotic Drugs, explains that the internationally financed project will help imrpove the transport and radio communication capabilities of Egypt's specialized law enforcement authorities.