A view of Pul-e Sukhta bridge from the banks of the dried Kabul river on Aug. 26, 2014. While hundreds, often thousands, of addicts swarm below in a self-fueling network of drugs, crime and despair, life seems to continue unaffected above.
A view of Pul-e Sukhta bridge from the banks of the dried Kabul river on Aug. 26, 2014. While hundreds often thousands of addicts swarm below in a self-fueling network of drugs, crime and despair, life seems to continue unaffected above.Souvid Datta
A view of Pul-e Sukhta bridge from the banks of the dried Kabul river on Aug. 26, 2014. While hundreds, often thousands, of addicts swarm below in a self-fueling network of drugs, crime and despair, life seems to continue unaffected above.
Addicts under the Pul-e Sukhta bridge, sheltering from the burning summer sun above on Aug. 26, 2014.
Beneath the Pul-e Sukhta bridge in Western Kabul a group of Pakistani heroin addicts take refuge from the summer sun, huddled within a tent - smoking, injecting and sleeping in a putrid squalor. Pictured above are Emal, Rahim, Ajmal and Wahid (left to right) who have been sharing a tent for the past two weeks.
A typical addict's perspective from underneath Pul-e Sukhta bridge in Western Kabul. The area hosts a legion of addicts, often up to 2000 people at a time, some living there, some visiting, all amid garbage, human filth, and a largely dried up river. In a few months the space will be unusable due to winter rains filling the river and the addicts will have to disperse once again.
Abdul Rahim Qadl grimaces in a haze after smoking a hit of opium resin under Pul-e Sukhta bridge, Kabul on Aug. 1, 2014.
A community has formed under the Pul-e Sukhta bridge with addicts and dealers operating, and often living in close quarters on Aug. 26, 2014.
Young men smoke hashish and watch a Bollywood film at the recently refurbished Cinema Ariana in central Kabul on Aug. 18, 2014.
Recovering addicts attend a group counselling session at the government run Jangalak rehabilitation centre in Kabul.
Heroin addicts relax in their ward at the government-run Jangalak rehabilitation centre in Kabul. They describe the situation under the Pul-e Sukhta bridge where a friend convinced them to attempt recovery: “It’s hell down here. We sleep in the dirt and shit. Everyone is always fighting, but once they inject they just fall asleep, fall down, and forget where they are. When someone dies, the government comes and gets the body and they hold it for the family to pick it up. There are doctor’s assistants down there, university graduates, soldiers – they have family issues, lost people in the war, economic problems, or too much money, started having fun, and now can’t stop.”
Afghan National Police officers from the Anti-Narcotics Quick Reaction Force (ANQRF) carry out a raid scenario exercise intended for drug traffickers at a training centre in Kabul on Aug. 25, 2014.
Afghan National Police officers from the Anti-Narcotics Quick Reaction Force (ANQRF) carry out a brutal stop and search scenario exercise intended for drug traffickers at a training centre in Kabul on Aug. 25, 2014.
Afghan National Police officers from the Anti-Narcotics Quick Reaction Force (ANQRF) carry out a brutal stop and search scenario exercise intended for drug traffickers at a training centre in Kabul on Aug. 25, 2014.
Afghan National Police officers from the Anti-Narcotics Quick Reaction Force (ANQRF) aim back-to-back holding Kalashnikov rifles as they performs exercises at a training centre in Kabul on Aug. 26, 2014.
Abdullah, 36, has been a heroin and opium addict for 19 years. Though he has a wife and five children in Jalalabad, he has failed to maintain his recovery after five attempts at rehabilitation. He cites the lack of legitimate employment opportunities as the main obstacle in his path to recovery and regularly resorts to crime and violence to support his addiction. Afghanistan produces over 90% of the world's opium and heroin, and has the highest addict per capita rate in the world. According to a UN report in 2013, the illegal drug trade business accounts for 23% of the country's GDP, acting as a crucial pillar for the fledgling national economy.
An addict below the Pul-e Sukhta bridge in Western Kabul reveals his instruments for smoking opium resin and heroin. At least 1.5 million Afghans are addicted to drugs, a figure which has risen but 60% since 2006. A recent UNODC reports blames the drug addiction problem on three things: decades of war-related trauma, unlimited availability of cheap narcotics, and limited access to treatment.
A view of Pul-e Sukhta bridge from the banks of the dried Kabul river on Aug. 26, 2014. While hundreds often thousands o
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Souvid Datta
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Documenting Drug Addiction in Kabul

Dec 02, 2014

Following his recent graduation from the University College of London, Souvid Datta's first assignment was in Kabul, Afghanistan. In between his time photographing scenes of contemporary Afghan life, the 23-year-old photographer set out to work on a personal project, documenting heroin addiction in the country Afghanistan.

In Kabul, the Pul-e Sukhta bridge has become the meeting point for hundreds of drug dealers and addicts. Datta struggled, at first, to gain their trust, but, after numerous failed attempts with various fixers, Datta tried a new technique.

“I started going back alone, trying to speak to addicts above and around the bridge in Urdu," he says. "I did this without my camera out." It's only after his 12th visit that he started bringing his camera out with him.

In a country ravaged by decades of war, more than one million of Afghans, rich and poor, are addicted to drugs, according to a United Nations report. “Narcotics are becoming a sad kind of equalizer in the sense that you get middle class government workers, mothers, students, and the very poor people from the streets all going down under this bridge to use drugs,” says Datta.

After meeting and documenting some of these drug users, Datta followed Afghan National Police officers and visited a treatment clinic in Kabul where people are offered therapy and given food, clothes and medication. Yet, he says, because of a lack of resources, there's no follow-up in terms of employment opportunities and counseling. "As soon as people leave, they relapse. That’s no more obvious than in the center itself where you see people coming in for their fourth or fifth time.”

Souvid Datta is documentary photographer based in London.

Adam Glanzman is a contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter @glanzpiece

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