Drug-related crime biggest threat to public safety in the Americas, warns UN

Antonio Maria Costa

9 October 2008 – Drug trafficking and the violence committed by its associated organized crime is the biggest threat to public safety in the Americas, according to the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“As a hemisphere, the Americas face the world’s biggest drug problem,” Antonio Maria Costa told the first-ever gathering of the Ministers Responsible for Public Safety of the Americas, during their meeting yesterday in Mexico City.

Mr. Costa added that “whether we measure it in hectares of cultivation, tons of production, its market value or even by the gruesome number of people kiYour citizens indeed say that what they fear the most is not terrorism, not climate change, not a financial crisis. It is public safety. And in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetrated by organized crimelled in the dirty trade,” the drug crisis affecting the security of the ordinary people in the area is huge.

“Your citizens indeed say that what they fear the most is not terrorism, not climate change, not a financial crisis. It is public safety. And in the Americas, the biggest threat to public safety comes from drug trafficking and the violence perpetrated by organized crime,” he stated.

Mr. Costa pointed out that urban violence in the United States, biker gangs in Canada, the brutality and kidnapping in Mexico, the insurgency in Colombia and gangs in Brazilian shantytowns, Central America and the Caribbean are all connected to drug crime.

Drug-related crime has turned some neighbourhoods into combat zones, observed Mr. Costa, as he urged municipal authorities to play a greater role in enhancing security for their citizens.

“Experience shows that pro-poor housing reform, youth programmes, rejuvenation of public spaces, widening access to public services and introducing public surveillance technology can create safer cities,” he said.

Citing a UNODC report on the threat of narco-trafficking in the Americas, Mr. Costa explained that the continent differs from other drug-infested regions because drug demand is largely satisfied with supply, as South America produces almost all of the world’s cocaine and North America consumes half of it while most of the rest goes to Europe.

Although some progress had been made in reducing the supply of narcotics, with cocaine production in Andean countries well below the levels of a decade ago, Mr. Costa noted that the demand for drugs remains constant.

“Until the number of cocaine users falls worldwide, the problems caused by narco-trafficking will be displaced (as we are now seeing in West Africa) rather than solved,” he said.

“Until more resources are put into drug treatment and prevention as well as viable alternatives for illicit crops, narco-traffickers will continue to ply their lucrative and deadly trade across the Western hemisphere,” Mr. Costa warned.


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