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Using Aid for War: $1 Billion Funnelled from Aid into Drug War Budgets

The latest report by Harm Reduction International (HRI) highlights how dozens of donors, led by the US and EU, have used international aid funding to fund “narcotics control” activities.

The Report “Aid for the War on Drugs” follows aid money for narcotics control including to specific projects around the world, calling on governments and donors to divest from punitive and prohibitionist drug control regimes which undermine their health and human rights commitments.

Funds spent between 2012 and 2021, estimated to total around $1 billion dollars, supported police forces and prosecutor activities, and projects that increased surveillance and the number of drug-related arrests. This includes at least $70 million dollars spent in countries with the death penalty for drug-related offences, including Iran and Singapore.

“International aid is supposed to help end poverty and support development, not fuel human rights violations,” said Naomi Burke-Shyne, Executive Director of Harm Reduction International. “Using aid budgets for drug control doesn’t help meet development goals. These funds are being used to increase policing, surveillance, and arrests of vulnerable people and communities. Drug control must have no place in the future of aid,” she added.

Some of this funding has come through the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is funded through voluntary contributions of UN member states (primarily by the EU and the US) as well as from private organisations. The fact that this agency holds responsibility for crime and drug use is controversial, meaning that projects that may compromise the health and human rights of people who use drugs could be supported if they reach crime-related goals. The UNODC has funded initiatives that have led to the active repression of poor people of colour across the world.

In total, 92 developing countries are listed as having been recipients of aid funding for narcotics control. The largest single country recipient of this funding in 2021 was Colombia ($109 million), followed by Afghanistan ($37 million), Peru ($27 million) and Mexico ($21 million).

“The war on drugs has failed. Governments need to ensure that development assistance budgets are used to promote people’s health and human rights, and not to fund repressive drug control policies which have proven to be harmful and ineffective”, said Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy.

“It is particularly abhorrent that development assistance is applied to so-called narcotics control activities in countries which continue to execute people for drug-related offences”, she added.



The report outlines some recommendations to ensure that drug policies are decolonised, and instead prioritise community, health and justice. These include:

  • International donors should immediately prevent their funding from being allocated to “narcotics control” activities;
  • Divest from punitive and prohibitionist drug control regimes and be more transparent about their spending;
  • Civil society and journalists should demand greater transparency in aid spending, and conduct deeper investigations into how money is spent in different countries;
  • Taxpayers in donor countries should demand that public budgets flow into evidence-based and human rights-centred measures;
  • Governments should decriminalise drug use and possession, as well as support harm reduction measures;
  • They should also meaningfully involve communities and civil society in the financial decision-making and monitoring of all drug-related policies.

The report can be read here.

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