USAID Field Report Afghanistan Feb 2005

Report
from US Agency for International Development
Published on 28 Feb 2005
Program Description

USAID/OTI is increasing citizen awareness of and confidence in the process of recovery, rehabilitation and democratic political development in post-conflict Afghanistan. This is being accomplished by:

  • Increasing the Afghan government's responsiveness to citizens' needs;

  • Increasing citizen awareness of and participation in democratic processes; and,

  • Increasing the capacity of the Afghan media.
OTI's rapid support for activities in Afghanistan's transition period helps establish credibility and space for longer-term development assistance. Working with central and provincial governments, national and international NGOs, informal community groups and media outlets, OTI identifies and supports critical initiatives that facilitate implementation of the Bonn Agreement, which was designed to move the country further along the continuum from war to peace.

The OTI/Afghanistan program started in October 2001 and is scheduled to end in June 2005. OTI is working closely with implementing partners and technical staff from OTI/Washington to ensure an effective close-out and handover of key activities and functions to the mission, other donors, and/or local partners. OTI/Afghanistan's funds have come from various sources, including Transition Initiative Funds (TI), International Disaster and Famine Assistance Funds (IDFA), Development Assistance Funds (DA) and State Department Economic Support Funds (ESF). Projects are funded in 34 provinces of the country. OTI's current implementing partners are the International Organization for Migration-Afghanistan Transition Initiative (IOM-ATI) and Internews. IOM-ATI offices are located in Kabul, Bamyan, Gardez, Herat, Kandahar, Kunduz, Maimana and Mazar. Previous USAID/OTI partners included the Voice of America (VOA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and Ronco.

Country Situation

The general security situation remained relatively calm in February, with only isolated incidents in the southern province of Kandahar targeting medical relief workers. Agencies monitoring the security situation continue to report credible threats focusing on internationals and contractors working in the south and southeast parts of the country. In anticipation of increased insurgent activity and terrorist attacks that historically coincide with the advent of warmer weather, most organizations are taking a more cautious and more vigilant security stance.

Severe winter weather that halted all construction in December and January continued during the reporting period, with ongoing disruptions to planned monitoring and evaluation activities. Extensive flooding is now expected in the coming months as the snow melts.

USAID/OTI Highlights

A. Narrative Summary

USAID/OTI Utilizes Traditional Networks to Introduce New Concepts through Civic Education - In many rural districts of the northeastern Takhar and Badakhshan provinces, Afghans have limited access to television, radio and newspapers. Most information is passed along by travelers and merchants who come to these remote northeastern provinces. Often incomplete or inaccurate information is relayed, resulting in misinformation about the political processes, reconstruction, development and the new government. Building on the success of similar efforts in neighboring Kunduz province, USAID/OTI is providing civic education to 980 community elders and mullahs who traditionally serve as teachers and leaders. Given the credibility and the trust that these individuals have established in their own communities, they are well-suited to provide information to more than 40,000 residents of these districts.

USAID/OTI funded 24 workshops to provide the mullahs and elders with information on democratic processes, human rights, narcotics, DDR, the Afghan Constitution and the upcoming parliamentary elections. The workshop format is interactive; mullahs and elders form discussion groups and present their reactions to other workshop participants. This presents a rare opportunity for the mullahs and elders to discuss the relationship between traditional values and the political future of Afghanistan, and also to build grassroots support for new developments within their communities.

"There is no place for narcotics in Islam," concluded one mullah after a lively discussion. He continued, "Our community must find new ways to make a living." While some conservative mullahs still have reservations about the liberties associated with democracy, the information on how to get involved in provincial elections was received with enthusiasm. "I did not know it was possible to run for office," recounted a community elder from Takhar, "it will be good for our village to have its own candidates."

USAID/OTI Supported Radio Stations - Since 2002 OTI has supported the establishment of 32 independent FM radio stations. In February, the USAID Mission Director joined the Canadian Ambassador in opening one of four USAID-supported, women-run stations. The latest women-run station opened in Maimana in Afghanistan's northwestern Faryab Province bordering Turkmenistan. While all USAID-supported radio stations employ women, and more than 30% of those working on the radio station development are women, Radio Quyaash is entirely managed by Afghan women. On air for less than three months, the station is already broadcasting locally-produced programming for half of the seven hour broadcast day. Striving for sustainability and quality programming, Radio Quyaash has attracted commercial advertising clients and has provided the community with a new public forum for local opinion and ideas. More than one hundred residents of Maimana joined the provincial Governor, the Deputy Minister of Information and Culture, and representatives of the Maimana Provincial Reconstruction Team, to celebrate the station's opening. After the opening ceremonies, the four dignitaries were featured in a live broadcast of a roundtable discussion on media development and its impact in Maimana.

Tolo TV Captivates with Investigative Journalism - Initiated in October 2004, USAID/OTI-supported Tolo TV is now broadcasting 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As part of the expanded broadcast day, the station recently launched a cooking show and added new sports programming, including live soccer matches. Its news, current affairs and roundtable programs are attracting larger audiences. In particular, the "6:30 Report", a "60 minutes"-style program, has become a "must-see." Government officials have reported leaving their office ahead of rush-hour to ensure they do not miss the program. Recent programs have featured reports about corruption in Afghan bureaucracy, HIV/AIDS and a report about Goulbadin Hekmatyr, a notorious warlord whose representatives were negotiating with the Afghan government until the report aired and the Afghan government withdrew from negotiations. A new signal map indicates that over 3.3 million people are within reach of the station.

Media Partners Report On a Tragic Air Crash - On February 3, a commercial airliner flying from Herat in western Afghanistan to Kabul disappeared from radar. The snow hampered rescue efforts and the airliner was located more than 24 hours later on a mountain side just south of the capital city. USAID/OTI media partners responded immediately and began reporting. Students of Sayara's Novice Journalist Training Program (NJTP) at the Journalism School of Kabul University were among the first journalists to provide local accounts of the crash and they provided their reports to students in the sister program in Heart. The Herat station cancelled all regular programming to carry extended coverage of the accident and even established an information hotline, as many passengers were from Herat. Pajhwok journalists also responded. With a skeleton staff of four on what was typically a day-off, Pajhwok journalists filed first-hand accounts of the rescue efforts that were frustrated by snow and winter weather. USAID/OTI-supported journalists demonstrated professionalism and respect while reporting comprehensively on the tragedy.

Water System Rehabilitated in Helmand Province, Southeastern Afghanistan - "The city of Lashkar Gah has not had safe drinking water for the past 30 years," mentioned the director of the Helmand Arghandab Valley Authority (HAVA), Eng. Dawari. Over 30,000 residents of Lashkar Gah previously obtained their drinking water from the Helmand River, which is highly contaminated. USAID/OTI has supported the rehabilitation of the water system in Lashkar Gah by funding the installation of six water reservoirs in the city as well as six transformers to control the electricity to provide safe drinking water to the residents. HAVA will then be in charge of allocations of connections to the residents as well as collecting the bills to keep the system maintained.

"My first priority was to provide safe drinking water to the residents of Lashkar Gah as well as to my own family," said the director of HAVA. Through this USAID-funded project, the residents are now able to obtain enough drinking water from this system and are pleased to see the direct support from the government within their community.

B. Grant Activity Summary

Following is a summary of OTI/Afghanistan cleared and completed activities for the month of February 2005 and since program start-up. In February, 10 grants valued at an estimated $767,871 were cleared.

Focus Area
Grants Cleared in February 2005
Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants February 2005
Total Grants Cleared Since October 2001
Total Estimated Budget for Cleared Grants Since October 2001
Civil Society Organization Support
0
0
19
$ 1,292,274
Community Impact Activities
7
$252,239
401
$17,300,097
Conflict Management
0
0
5
$ 121,545
Election Processes
0
0
10
$ 3,407,762
Justice/Human Rights
0
0
13
$ 887,314
Media
3
$515,632
125
$18,424,868
Transparency/Good Governance
0
0
124
$ 8,403,723
TOTAL
10
$767,871
697
$49,837,583

C. Indicators of Success

Radio Station Celebrates First Birthday - In a conservative community north of Kabul on the Shomali Plain, a local shura or council initiated a community-radio station with USAID support in early 2004. A year later, the community hosted a birthday party to celebrate their radio station -- Radio Qarabagh. In the last year, Radio Qarabagh has become one of nine self-supporting USAID stations by attracting advertising clients. The local community has also raised resources to build additional studio space for the original station to expand production capacity. The station has become a model for community involvement, participation and as forum for the discussion of community concerns.

USAID/OTI Supports USAID Administrator's Visit to Afghanistan - The USAID/OTI media portfolio was a highlight of the Administrator's visit to Afghanistan. In three days the visiting delegation of USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios and his party visited three USAID/OTI media sites. Although bad weather caused numerous schedule changes, the Administrator prioritized the media projects and visited three sites representing different elements of the portfolio - journalist training, independent radio and TV, as well as an independent news agency.

The Administrator's delegation included USAID officials as well as the former White House advisor and political commentator, Mary Matalin, and radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh.

In a discussion with the Administrator the Afghan journalists at Pajhwok News Agency, a USAID-supported independent news agency, provided the delegation with a sense of their dedication, professionalism and the hazards they face practicing truly independent journalism in Afghanistan.

With only two hours in Herat, the Administrator's delegation visited the Novice Journalism Training Program facility and radio station at the University of Herat. After a brief tour of the facilities and a presentation about the national nature of the program, the Administrator and Mr. Limbaugh were interviewed separately by student journalists in the program. NJTP is the USAID-funded project to develop the curriculum and facilities of journalism schools at six Afghan Universities. On his website the next day Mr. Limbaugh stated "I was asked some of the best questions about journalism and about America that I've ever been asked."

Back in Kabul, the delegation visited the studios of Arman FM and Tolo TV. A tour of the USAID supported commercial television station highlighted revolutionary and society-changing programming Tolo is producing. The Administrator was interviewed for TV, while Mr. Limbaugh was interviewed on the radio station. In a recent article about her visit to Afghanistan, Mary Matalin recalled that the journalists she met described their commitment to journalism because they wanted to "tell the truth."

D. Program Appraisal

In preparation for program close-out, USAID/OTI's implementing partner hosted a workshop for all field staff to discuss the close-out process. The three day workshop covered topics including inventory, administrative closure of grants, capturing lessons learned and monitoring and evaluation of projects. The severe winter weather continued during the reporting period, forcing the cancellation of all monitoring and evaluation travel. The monitoring and valuation schedule ahs been revised in anticipation of better weather in March. The suspension of grant implementation due to weather has allowed USAID/OTI and implementing partner staff to administratively and financially close nearly 30 grants in the reporting period.

NEXT STEPS/IMMEDIATE PRIORITIES

During the month of March 2005, USAID/OTI will:

  • Continue working toward program close-out, scheduled for June 2005;

  • Mark International Women's Day with celebrations in 11 Provinces in Afghanistan;

  • Present the findings of the USAID/OTI funded media survey;

  • Support several senior level visits and Congressional delegations.
For further information, please contact:

In Washington: Elizabeth Callender, USAID/OTI/Afghanistan Program Manager, Tel: 202-712-4078, ecallender@usaid.gov