Escstacy Production Threatens Cambodia's Jungles

By guldenat · Jan 16, 2009 · Updated Jan 16, 2009 · ·
  1. guldenat

    [h1]Ecstasy threatens Cambodia’s jungles[/h1]
    Larry Jagan, Foreign Correspondent

    • Last Updated: January 15. 2009 2:39PM UAE / GMT
    [​IMG] One of the sassafras oil distilling factories in the jungles of Cambodia. Courtesy of Fauna & Flora International

    PHNOM PENH // The illegal drugs trade is causing significant environmental damage to parts of Cambodia, according to an international aid agency.

    In south-west Cambodia the production of sassafras oil, which is used when making the recreational drug ecstasy, is destroying trees, the local inhabitants’ livelihoods and wreaking untold ecological damage, according to David Bradfield, an adviser to the Wildlife Sanctuaries Project of Fauna and Flora International, who is based in the area.

    The sassafras oil comes from the Cardamom Mountain area, one of the last forest wildernesses in mainland South East Asia.

    “The illicit distilling of sassafras oil in these mountains is slowly but surely killing the forests and wildlife,” Mr Bradfield said. “The production of sassafras oil is a huge operation, which affects not only the area where the distilleries are actually located, but ripples outward, leaving devastation and destruction in its wake.”

    The livelihoods of more than 15,000 people who depend on hunting and gathering to survive in the wildlife sanctuary are at risk from the sassafras production operations, which pollute water and kill wildlife.

    Cambodian sassafras oil is highly sought as it is of the highest quality – more than 90 per cent pure, according to the head of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Cambodia, Lars Pedersen. It is a major precursor drug used in the production of ecstasy.

    “Massive amounts of sassafras oil are smuggled every year into Vietnam and Thailand from Cambodia,” he said.

    Sassafras Oil is made from the roots of the rare Mreah Prew Phnom tree – also known as Cinnamomum parathenoxylon. The roots are first chopped into small blocks of wood and shredded into fibre consistency. This is then put into large metal vats two metres high and about three metres wide. It is distilled over a wood-driven fire for at least five days before the gas is cooled and the oil created.

    Apart from depleting the Mreah Prew Phnom, large numbers of surrounding trees are felled to maintain the fires, undermining the area’s biodiversity. At the current rate, Mr Bradfield said, the Mreah Prew Phnom and other species would become extinct in the near future.

    Animal life is also threatened. Deep in the jungle, the factories, which have two or three distilling pots each, are heavily guarded and require dozens workers to maintain the stills. These workers live on the surrounding wildlife in the area, with many involved in the commercial poaching of such rare animals as tigers, pangolins, peacocks, pythons, wild cats and wild fowls.

    Streams and rivers are being polluted too by the effluent from the oil production. “There are frequently dead fish and frogs floating in the streams near these distilleries,” Mr Bradfield said.

    The contaminated water from this area flows down into the rest of Cambodia through the Mekong and Ton Le Sap rivers and, said Mr Bradfield, poses a threat to populations downstream who rely on the rivers for drinking water. “Water tests in the area need to be carried out as a matter of urgency,” he said.

    Four years ago the Cambodian government made the production of sassafras oil illegal in an effort to protect the Mreah Prew Phnom tree. Since then the authorities have tried to eliminate the illicit production factories in the Cardamom Mountains with the help of international organisations.

    “Law enforcement is the key to suppressing the illegal trade in sassafras oil,” said Mr Pedersen, the Cambodia UNODC chief. “It’s a very lucrative trade, worth millions and millions of dollars.”

    About 50 rangers from the forestry ministry, with the support of independent conservation groups and the UN, are currently policing the area; Mr Bradfield refers to them as “the foot soldiers protecting the forests”.

    The rangers spend half the month patrolling the dense, leech-infested jungle of the Cardamom Mountains for a meagre salary, Mr Bradfield said, and face the threat of the machine-gun-carrying mercenaries who guard the factories. Many of the factories are also surrounded by anti-personnel mines.

    Flora and Fauna International has supported the rangers for years, providing them with uniforms, equipment and training. They assist in building ranger stations and provide technical advice. The UN Development Fund also supported the project between 2004 and 2006.

    The rangers’ task is made all the more difficult because of the potential profits smugglers can make from the trade and the lengths they will go to protect their product.

    A year ago the Thai authorities seized more than 50 tonnes of sassafras oil near the Cambodian border on its way to China and the US, according to western anti-narcotics agents who declined to be identified, reported to be worth US$150,000 (Dh550,000).

    Had it found its destination, where it would have been used to make ecstasy – it would have produced 7.5 million tablets worth more than $150 million, a western anti-narcotics agent said.
    Larry Jagan, 15/01/2009

    Share This Article


  1. chillinwill
    Guldenat, thanks for sharing.

    Please note that the way we post news has changed, because of our main news page. You can find the full instructions here.

    The most important changes are:

    • Articles are no longer posted in quotes.
    • The introduction of the article should be in bold.
    • Images should be added if possible and placed in the article, following the instructions linked to above and here.
    • Information about the article, like link, author, date should be posted below the article.
    • Your personal comments about the article can be posted either in quotes at the end of the article or in a separate post.
    • The news forums may contain news articles only
    • Make sure you include all the text from the original article. Don't just post the URL because web pages often disappear or get moved over time. Remove all unnecessary formatting from the text before posting. One easy way to do this is to paste the text into notepad or another text editor first, which will remove any formatting. Also try to remove picture captions, advertisement links and other text that doesn't belong to the body of the article.

    Please be so kind to review your articles and correct this.

    Further it may be good to know that recent articles with the highest thread ratings show up on the main news page. So without ratings, many people will not see it. So please rate news treads.
    The main news page is accessible from the tabs on the top of any DF page.
  2. Greenport
    Perhaps they can start being more environmentally friendly and plant another tree when they dig one up :p
  3. entheogensmurf
    Replace "illegal drugs trade" with every resource that we consume and it still fits!

    Lets take a quick gander at some quick examples of what else is threatening the world (which includes Cambodia's jungles oddly enough):

    1. Feeding an ever increasing world population (immense land destruction & waste).
    --We do little to none to curtail population growth.
    --Not to forget the mention that my country (the good ole USA) wastes literally tons of food every year ;)
    -- Soy and beef demand are two of the larger contenders if I'm not mistaken.

    2. Producing mass quantities of leather (very toxic crap is used and improperly disposed byproducts is a norm - which includes dumping into rivers that people and other creatures depend on).
    -- While at this time it may be unavoidable to use leather in some or many areas, we could reduce and use better (less toxic) methods to tan leather.
    -- Hemp not being adopted worldwide is sheer insanity.

    3. Extracting and burning fossil fuels as our primary source of energy (World production increased from 364 quadrillion Btu in 1995 to 460 quadrillion Btu in 2005)
    Info provided by: The Energy Information Administration from their International Energy Annual 2005 report
    -- Fossil fuels are finite or I should say that we take more than is being created through natural processes.
    -- The damage from strip mining alone is scary.

    4. Producing paper (yet more toxic nasties that ruin water sources and kill life) even!
    -- Hemp adopted worldwide would help. I've read that we have more efficient ways to produce paper, but they are not fully implemented as of yet and may never be. Even if and when they are, they will not counter the demand of now and certainly not later.

    The list goes on and on, which is rather depressing and prevents an optimistic outlook if one attempts to see humanity escaping itself.

    Obviously this can be summarized by the problem of over population which translates into a demand on resources which can't sustain the populace; in conjunction with the lack of care or ability to use methods which provide enough breathing room for Gaia** to replenish.

    I wonder what havoc we inflict on Earth resulting from the ample supply of pharmaceuticals that we are prescribed daily. This is something that I have not researched.

    And I wonder if it was legal (regulated), would a reforesting program be able to counter most of the land destruction. The river pollution is not something that I would know how to address currently.
    Without a doubt, illegal production would continue; however, yet again, the concept of harm reduction could apply.
    Heh, now that I am almost finished, I realized that more data is needed to extrapolate a realistic harm reduction model.

    Lastly, please forgive me for the lack of cites, however that's why I didn't throw out specific numbers on nearly every claim made. If you do a bit of research in respect to the repercussions of mass consumerism, it's readily available.

    ** I hold no metaphysical meaning with Gaia -- I just like the metaphor.
To make a comment simply sign up and become a member!