12th-century Afghan minaret saved, for now, after floods

Foreign tourists travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Minaret of Jam in Shahrak District of Ghor Province. (AFP file photo)
Updated 27 May 2019

12th-century Afghan minaret saved, for now, after floods

  • Torrential rains last week sent churning water roaring down the narrow valley that is home to the minaret
  • The Afghan government hired a local crew who worked for three days to channel water away from the minaret

HERAT, Afghanistan: The minaret of Jam, a revered Afgha historical treasure, has been saved from imminent danger after hundreds of workers diverted surging floodwaters that were gnawing at the 12th-century tower, officials said Monday.
Torrential rains last week sent churning water roaring down the narrow valley that is home to the minaret, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in a remote part of the western province of Ghor.
Dramatic video footage showed brown torrents crashing up against the base of the brick minaret, which was built in about 1190 and is the pinnacle of a surrounding archaeological site.
The Afghan government hired a local crew who worked for three days to channel water away from the minaret.
“Now the flow of water has been diverted but the flood has destroyed some 15 meters (50 feet) of protection wall around the minaret,” Abdul Hai Khatebi, a spokesman for the governor of Ghor, told AFP.
Fakhruddin Ariapur — the Ghor province director of information and culture — said a team of experts is urgently needed to clean the base of the minaret and construct proper defensive walls.
“There is no danger to it now, but if it rains and floods again, the minaret has become too exposed and vulnerable,” he told AFP.
The Jam minaret, located in an area largely under Taliban control, is the world’s second tallest made of bricks, reaching a height of 65 meters (213 feet).
It is situated on the frontier of Ghor and Herat provinces, at the heart of the former Ghorid empire which dominated Afghanistan and parts of India in the 12th-13th centuries.
In 2002, the minaret and its archaeological remains became the first site in Afghanistan to be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
UNESCO said it had not yet been able to access the minaret.
“As soon as the conditions on site allow, a mission will be organized... in order for experts to properly assess the situation and the condition of the minaret,” UNESCO said in a statement.
Built on an octagonal base, the minaret has a double staircase on the inside and is elaborately decorated.
Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage has faced decades of catastrophic neglect, mismanagement and looting, as well as deliberate destruction at the hands of the Taliban.
Afghanistan chief executive Abdullah said in a cabinet meeting that the government needs “to take more serious measures to prevent future threats to the minaret.”


New Zealand volcano spews ash plume in eruption, several injured

Updated 2 min 51 sec ago

New Zealand volcano spews ash plume in eruption, several injured

  • As many as 100 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began
  • The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active
WELLINGTON: A volcano erupted in New Zealand on Monday, spewing a plume of ash thousands of feet into the air, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying tourists were among several people unaccounted for as emergency services mounted a rescue operation.
As many as 100 people were in the vicinity when the eruption began about 2:11 p.m. (0111 GMT) on White Island, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the east coast of North Island, authorities said, sending up smoke visible from the mainland.
“We believe 100 people were on or around the island,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference, adding that a rescue operation had begun, although it was too early to confirm any injuries or deaths.
“A number of people are reportedly injured and are now being transported to shore,” she added. “It does appear to be a very significant issue...particularly the scale of people affected, at this stage.”
Many of those affected could be tourists, she said.
“I’m not sure if these people were on the island or near it, but there was definitely one group out there and they definitely needed medical care,” said Judy Turner, the mayor of the coastal town of Whakatāne, near White Island.
“There were some injuries and the focus is on getting these injured people back safely and to get them to a hospital.”
There seemed to be no danger for people in coastal areas farther away, she added.
The island’s immediate surroundings were hazardous because of the eruption, the National Emergency Management Agency said in a statement, adding that falling ash might affect some areas.
The “short-lived eruption” threw an ash plume about 12,000 ft (3,658 m) high, New Zealand’s geoscience agency GNS Science said in a statement, but added there were no current signs of an escalation.
The White Island volcano is one of New Zealand’s most active.