Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse

Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse
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Naqibullah Zaland poses for a photograph in front of a small library he has set up at a hospital in Khost, southeastern Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Naqibullah Zaland)
Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse
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Naqibullah Zaland works at a small library he has set up at a hospital in Khost, southeastern Afghanistan. (Photo courtesy of Naqibullah Zaland)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse

Afghan anti-drugs campaigner’s book-reading project opens new page in tackling abuse
  • Authorities laud 26-year-old’s initiative in distributing books, opening libraries to broaden minds in remote region of Afghanistan

KABUL: An Afghan anti-drugs campaigner has opened a novel new chapter in his bid to help addicts kick their habit — by encouraging them to read books.

When Naqibullah Zaland’s attempts to raise awareness about the dangers of narcotics abuse fell on deaf ears, he decided to turn over a new leaf by distributing books and setting up small libraries in the remote eastern Afghan province of Khost.

Drug use in the sparsely populated region, which neighbors Pakistan, has been a problem for years, as it is throughout Afghanistan — the world’s largest opium producer.

Nationally, at least 12.6 percent of the adult population uses drugs, according to Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics data from 2015. In the country’s south and southeast the rate is believed to be much higher.

But by promoting book reading, Zaland hopes to change attitudes and win support for his cause by broadening minds and giving people the opportunity to take a fresh outlook on life.

The 26-year-old economics graduate originally set out on his anti-drugs campaign by visiting mosques and local neighborhoods where he put up posters and circulated fliers warning despairing young people about the horrors of addiction.

BACKGROUND

Naqibullah Zaland originally set out on his anti-drugs campaign by visiting mosques and local neighborhoods where he put up posters and circulated fliers warning despairing young people about the horrors of addiction.

However, when his efforts gained little traction Zaland changed tack and launched his book reading initiative in Khost city.

“As long as people are not prepared mentally, society will not move in the right direction. Reading books can do that and will deter people from using drugs and I thought through book reading we can bring change in society,” he told Arab News.

Zaland has handed out hundreds of books to bus drivers and set up 10 mobile libraries in places such as barber shops, public baths, and clinics.

Reading material ranges from selected works of poetry, Islamic literature, and popular novels to works on culture and politics, and magazines are also included.

Initially, they were all purchased by Zaland himself, but as news of his project spread the collection has grown through donations.

Khost barber, Nasrat Gul, said: “Before we received the books, our customers used to get bored while waiting for their turn, and either took out their smartphone to play games or wasted their time in other ways.

“Now, when they come, we can offer them books instead. They love it and find it incredibly useful. Illiterate people and those with little education read magazines, but those who have some education, read other books,” he added.

Zaland is trying to encourage reading wherever he can as Afghanistan’s literacy rate is among the lowest in the world. He noted how he had managed to persuade family members and friends of school and university graduates in his city to gift them books instead of fresh flowers, the normal practice during graduation ceremonies.

“Now people give books as presents to the graduates. It is much cheaper, more useful, and has a longer impact for the goodness of youth than giving them flowers which they threw away after the ceremony,” he said.

Zaland’s next goal is to donate books to Khost prison where hundreds of inmates are held without access to vocational work or means of study.

While so far, his initiative has been a private venture, the project’s success has been attracting the attention of local authorities.

Talib Mangal, a spokesman for the Khost governor, told Arab News that the administration would help Zaland in his “good cause,” adding that the initiative was “very productive and useful for promoting a culture of book reading and educating people in an unofficial manner.”


Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine

Updated 04 December 2020

Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine

Global virus death toll passes 1.5 million as nations plan for vaccine
  • US registers record of more than 210,000 new Covid cases in 24 hours
  • UN chief warns that even if vaccines are quickly approved, the world would still be fighting the pandemic’s aftershocks

WASHINGTON: The world passed the grim milestone of 1.5 million coronavirus deaths on Thursday, as several nations planned to deliver much hoped-for vaccines early next year to break the cycle of lockdowns and restrictions.

The total number of cases worldwide jumped to 65,127,355, according to the John Hopkins University of Medicine's coronavirus monitoring center.

US President-elect Joe Biden said that on his first day in office he would ask Americans to wear masks for 100 days to help reduce transmission of the virus that is again surging in the country with the world’s highest number of deaths and infections.
“I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask. Just 100 days to mask — not forever,” Biden said in excerpts of an interview to be broadcast on CNN later Thursday.
But even as the latest positive news about a vaccine was announced, with the Moderna candidate showing it confers immunity for at least three months, several countries marked new Covid-19 records.
The US, for instance, posted an all-time high of more than 210,000 new cases in a 24-hour stretch to Thursday evening, meanwhile notching more than 2,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
And Italy registered 993 deaths, topping its previous record of 969 earlier in the year when it was the first European country to be affected by the pandemic.

To build trust in vaccines after they are approved, the 78-year-old Biden said he was willing to be vaccinated in public — following up on similar commitments from former US presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Biden also used the interview to say he had asked the government’s top infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci to join his Covid team and serve as a chief medical adviser.
But in a sign of the difficult work ahead, California announced new statewide bans on gatherings and non-essential activities, as hospitals in the nation’s most populous state face being overwhelmed.

The pandemic is showing little sign of slowing, with more than 10,000 new deaths recorded worldwide every day since November 24 — a rate never reached before, according to an AFP tally.
As the world tires of economically crippling restrictions, attention has turned to the race for a vaccine.
Britain on Wednesday became the first Western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine for general use, piling pressure on other countries to swiftly follow suit.
But Fauci said Britain “rushed” its approval process.
“In all fairness to so many of my UK friends, you know, they kind of ran around the corner of the marathon and joined it in the last mile,” he told CBS news.
He later walked back his comments, saying he had “a great deal of confidence in what the UK does both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint.”
Also on Thursday, a study showed that the Moderna vaccine, which was recently demonstrated to have 94 percent efficacy, causes the immune system to produce potent antibodies that endure for at least three months.
In anticipation of such vaccines being approved, France announced that its vaccinations will be free and begin in January for one million elderly in retirement homes, February for 14 million at-risk people and spring for the rest of the population.
France was also mourning the latest high-profile figure to succumb to Covid-19, former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing, who died at the age of 94.
Belgium’s government also said it intends to start vaccinating its most vulnerable in January.
But the raised hopes didn’t only garner the attention of governments — IBM said Thursday that hackers are targeting the Covid-19 vaccine supply chain.
The tech giant said it was “unclear” if a series of cyberattacks it uncovered against companies involved in the effort to distribute doses around the world had been successful.
IBM could not identify who was behind the attacks, but said that the precision of the operation signals “the potential hallmarks of nation-state tradecraft.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that even if vaccines are quickly approved, the world would still be fighting the pandemic’s aftershocks.
“Let’s not fool ourselves. A vaccine cannot undo damage that will stretch across years, even decades to come,” Guterres said while opening a special UN summit on the virus.
Guterres reiterated his call that vaccines be considered a “global public good” that are shared around the world.
More than 180 countries have joined Covax, a global collaboration initiative by the World Health Organization to work with manufacturers to distribute vaccines equitably.
A reminder of the pandemic’s society-altering effects came again Thursday with a landmark announcement from Warner Bros. studio, which said it will release its entire 2021 slate of movies on HBO Max streaming and in theaters simultaneously.
But some British football supporters were given a reminder of pre-pandemic days as Arsenal welcomed a crowd of 2,000 for Thursday’s Europa League win over Rapid Vienna.
It was the first time in 270 days that fans were back inside a Premier League ground.