ARQ reform: Why a questionnaire shapes drug policy.



ARQ Reform: Data collected globally on drug use, cultivation and trafficking is critical to how policies respond to these phenomena. The decisive factor is which figures and facts are collected.

ARQ Reform

Gobally collected data on drug use, cultivation and trafficking is critical to how policies respond to these phenomena. The decisive factor is which figures and facts are collected. There is a significant difference whether information is only available on confiscated drug supplies and destroyed farmland or data is also queried on the income situation of small farmers and the effectiveness and gender-sensitive accessibility of Alternative Development programmes. An exclusive focus on the former often encourages governments to act purely repressively and militarily and to criminalize small farmers who feel compelled to grow drugs because of poverty. The second allows a more individualized approach to drug policy, which highlights the causes of drug cultivation and production and can create alternatives.

Key data: the World Drugs Report

The main document summarizing current developments in the international drugs problem is the annual World Drugs Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). It is based on the Annual Report Questionnaire (ARQ), which UNODC sends each year to all states that have ratified the international drug control conventions. After the political debate in recent decades cautiously took up new approaches to drug policy, the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on the World Drug Problem (UNGASS) in 2016 in particular represented a paradigm shift. Respect for human rights, improving public health and promoting Alternative Development were adopted as guiding principles for international drug policy.

Focus on measures, but not their consequences

This was accompanied by a critical examination of the focus of the questionnaire. In the past, the questionnaire concentraed mainly on the size of the drug fields and the number of areas destroyed. However, measures to destroy crops always have negative consequences for the smallholders concerned, which are not addressed and made visible in the questionnaire. Purely repressive measures, without creating new income perspectives, can destroy the livelihoods of people in growing regions and thus create new misery.

Overdue revision

Therefore, a reform of the questionnaire with regard to the UNGASS decisions is discussed. UNODC was mandated to revise the questionnaire with the involvement of the member states. Future indicators should not only evaluate the results of national drug control measures, but consider as well to what extent they are guided in their implementation by the agreements of UNGASS and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations (UN) Agenda 2030. Sustainable drug policies should respect human rights and promote development.

Basis for a human-centred drugs policy

Innovative questions in data collection could focus on the negative effects of drug policies and at the same time form the basis for a more humane and sustainable drug policy. By also addressing approaches to public health, Alternative Development and poverty reduction, development issues can be given greater weight in the evaluation of global drug policies. Particular attention should be paid to the needs of marginalized groups. For example, we need to question the gender sensitivity of drug policy: Women who consume drugs are exposed to greater health risks and, as actors in drug economies, have hardly any access to economic alternatives. Data is needed to make such disadvantages visible - and to adapt measures accordingly.

Improving the evidence base of international drug policies

As early as 2018, at the invitation of UNODC, a first expert workshop co-financed by the Global Partnership on Drugs Policies and Development (GPDPD) was held to revise the questionnaire. End of August 2019, representatives of governments and international organizations met again in Vienna to discuss the questionnaire. GPDPD took part on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and thus supported the revision of the questionnaire with its expertise specifically for Alternative Development. The GPDPD's objective is to improve the evidence base of international drug policy. Only when the international community has meaningful data sustainable responses to the challenges can be found. 

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