Afghan radio station connects people with government

Massood Sanjer, left, smiles as his colleague, Humayoun Daneshyar, looks on inside a studio of Arman FM in Kabul. (Via Facebook)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Afghan radio station connects people with government

KABUL: Shocked with the Afghan capital’s lack of cleanliness after years of war, Arman FM’s focus when it began in 2003 was to remind the public in Kabul how to keep the city clean, and to hold them accountable. The impact was quick and obvious.
Emboldened by change in Kabul and the way the public welcomed an hour-long program called “Cleaning up of the City,” the station looked to address other emerging challenges in the city.
It began covering issues such as traffic, transport, security, education, governance and graft.
Now people from across Afghanistan call the station to share their grievances and problems.
In a country where the public finds it increasingly hard to reach officials, Arman FM tries to get them to respond either the same day or the next.
Even government employees call the station to seek help or expose shortcomings and violations by higher-ups.
Arman FM “is received very well by government officials who want to come to the studio to listen to people calling and note down issues,” host Massoud Sanjer told Arab News.
“We had the interior minister last Wednesday. Those who can’t come answer their phones right away,” he said.
“Government people take the show seriously. If we talk about a pile of garbage in an area, the next day it’s cleaned up by the municipality,” Sanjer added.
“The Interior Ministry has a team to listen to the show every morning, and the minister is briefed on issues relating to the ministry.”
One important topic of debate one morning was weather pollution in Kabul, for which the station invited Dr. Mohammed Idress Tokhi, head of the National Environment Department.
“The situation as far as pollution is concerned is quite bad. It’s winter and citizens rely on charcoal to heat their houses,” he said.
“Around 10 million kg of coal is being used daily in Kabul, and that’s a major source of pollution.”
Tokhi said his department is trying to raise public awareness about the dangers of pollution.
He suggested that the government increase electricity production and extend the grid in Kabul, or reduce gas prices and reliance on coal.
“The death toll caused by pollution is far more than by fighting and suicide attacks,” he said.
“A few years ago, the Public Health Ministry said 3,000 people had died in Kabul because of weather pollution. It’s a gradual death that all of us face.”
To provide light-heartedness amid the complaints and problems, Senjar said: “We have a regular listener who mimics exactly how President Ashraf Ghani talks. He’s the best.”
Reporter Sabir Fahim said the station has become a “vanguard” in connecting people with the government, and has accomplished great success in a society torn by conflict, frustration, poverty and inequality.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 56 min 33 sec ago
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.