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Illegal Drug Trade in Afghanistan Focus of VOA Outreach, Training

Broad-based project created to improve news reporting about the illegal drug trade and its effects.

Washington, D.C., Nov. 17, 2004 -- The Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts to Afghanistan in the Dari and Pashto languages, has launched a broad-based project to improve news reporting about the illegal drug trade and its effects there.

Journalism training is an important component of the new initiative. More than three dozen VOA reporters from Afghanistan and neighboring countries recently participated in two workshops in Kabul on different aspects of drug trafficking, including Afghan laws on narcotics, the Islamic ban on drug cultivation, and health issues such as the risk of HIV/AIDS among intravenous drug users. Speakers included Mirwais Yassini, head of the Afghan government's counter-narcotics department, lawyer Gul Rahman Qazi, and Mullavi Subhanullah, an Islamic clergyman.

"Afghanistan is one of the five countries with the highest number of weekly VOA listeners," said VOA Director David S. Jackson. "We believe this project can help our listeners in this nascent democracy better cope with the scourge of illegal drugs." Jackson said that the VOA reporters will now fan out across the country, covering stories in remote, mountainous areas of Afghanistan. Additionally, VOA's Afghan service, which broadcasts to Afghanistan 12 hours daily in Dari and Pashto, will air a series of radio dramas dealing with anti-narcotics themes.

Afghanistan is the world's largest producer of opium poppies. In 2003, the United Nations estimated that Afghanistan produced a record 3,600 tons of opium poppies, more than three-quarters of global supply. Some estimates say the 2004 crop could reach 5,400 tons. Poppies are often grown in the rural parts of the country and the Afghan government has pledged to crack down on cultivation.

The Afghan reporting project is funded by a $350,000 grant from the Department of State. VOA and its sister radio, Radio Free Afghanistan, together broadcast round-the-clock on AM, FM and shortwave. Both are part of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees all U.S. government-supported, non-military international broadcasting.

The Voice of America, which first went on the air in 1942, is a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. VOA broadcasts more than 1,000 hours of news, information, educational, and cultural programming every week to an estimated worldwide audience of more than 100 million people. Programs are produced in 44 languages, including English.

For more information, call the Office of Public Affairs at (202) 401-7000, or E-Mail