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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)
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.