Afghanistan

USAID/OTI Afghanistan Hot Topics Apr 2005

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Radio-Broadcast Warning of Dam Break Saves Thousands of Lives in Afghanistan

After a winter marked by heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures, spring rains have brought relief to areas affected by years of drought. While this has been welcome in many cases, the spring thaw has also brought flooding and extremely high water levels in many areas. On March 29, an ancient dam was unable to contain the high water levels coming from the mountains and broke, suddenly flooding the southeastern city of Ghazni and other villages. The disaster could have been catastrophic, except for the warning provided by the local USAID/OTI-supported FM radio station, Radio Ghaznawiyaan. The quick-thinking USAID/OTI-funded Salaam Watandar journalists provided life-saving warnings to thousands of residents, broadcast via Radio Ghaznawiyaan.

After receiving early-morning calls about the potential collapse of Ghazni's Sultan Water Dam, the Kabul-based journalists quickly called the Ghazni Provincial Governor. On air, he confirmed that "water pressure may break the dam and in that case it will destroy a number of villages on its way, especially Khwaja Omari and Ghazni." The journalists followed up with the Governor, asking what people should do. The Governor responded, "I am informing all the residents living near the river of Ghazni that they should immediately leave with their families and go as far as they can. We have instructed our police department to help the people."

Minutes later, at 8:10 a.m., via satellite, the warning aired on Radio Ghaznawiyaan and on the other 31 stations in the USAID-funded network. Because radio is the main source of information for Afghans, many people heard this advance warning, providing down-stream residents ample time to evacuate more than an hour before the dam burst.

Years of drought have allowed the main bazaar of Ghazni to expand into the riverbank. Without the advance warning broadcast over the radio, hundreds of residents and shopkeepers could have drowned. One Ghazni resident told a Salaam Watandar journalist, "I was listening to Radio Ghaznawiyaan when the broadcasts about the Sultan Water Dam began, so I turned the volume up and I understood that we had to run." The station was also credited with saving lives in the village of Zamin Kola. Residents reportedly left their homes immediately upon hearing the warning on the USAID-funded Radio Ghaznawiyaan. Minutes later, the village was destroyed by the flood from the burst dam.

Radio Ghaznawiyaan (FM 80.3) is one of 32 independent radio stations in Afghanistan established with USAID/OTI support. This independent station employs 4 female and 12 male journalists, produces local programming, and relays national reports from Salaam Watandar, daily national programming sent by satellite to these and other stations throughout Afghanistan. A recently completed USAID-funded study of Afghan media consumption and usage found Afghans trust these independent radio stations more than any other source for local information.

For further information, please contact:

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