Revitalizing action in Haiti

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On the occasion of the second anniversary of the earthquake that struck on 12 January 2010, I wish to express my sympathy and support to all of the Haitian people, to Michel Martelly, President of the Republic of Haiti and to his government.

Two years on, the earthquake and its impact remain a matter of concern for the entire international community. Significant progress has been achieved and there is still a great deal more to be done. Today, I wish to state once more that UNESCO’s determination to support Haiti remains strong. It has not weakened and it will not weaken, despite the difficulties the Organization faces today.

UNESCO took action immediately after the earthquake and has been working unstintingly with the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, along with all of its partners, so that Haiti will rise again, stronger and more beautiful.

As early as January 2010, UNESCO placed its Port au Prince offices at the disposal of the Ministry of Education, devastated by the earthquake. Education is the cornerstone of a new Haiti, and I wish to commend President Michel Martelly’s commitment to making education a national priority. We have mobilized to step up the literacy campaign, to ensure continuity in the provision of education, in the holding of examinations and in training teachers – more than 2,000 to date – and in psychosocial support. In these two years, several medium- and long-term programmes have been established. With support from Canada, we are assisting the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training in formulating a more dynamic training strategy for pre-school to secondary-school teachers. We are supporting the Ministry in introducing an education statistics mechanism – the first in decades – that will help to improve the management of the education system, on which preliminary results were published in early January.

Guided by the importance of sharing information in this crucial period, UNESCO has launched, in partnership with the Haitian Journalists’ Association (AJH), an assistance programme for unemployed journalists, under which equipment will be distributed. Journalists have thus produced reports on cultural, historical, educational and humanitarian topics and disseminated their content. From 15 October 2010 to 15 January 2011, around 25 cultural and historical programmes were broadcast each week on Haiti National Radio (RNH).

A new journalism code of ethics has also been adopted.

In 2011, UNESCO organized a simulated tsunami alert test throughout the Caribbean, in which Haiti participated. We are strengthening the scientific capacity of the country with the support of the European Union. The UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission has contributed to strengthening the region’s monitoring equipment and training local professionals. The city of Cap-Haitien now has a tide gauge used to determine sea movements and the variations caused by climate change and forecast tsunami hazards. Thanks to this device, Haiti can now send data to neighbouring countries informing them of potential hazards and sharing scientific information with them, thus playing its role in regional scientific cooperation.

Tsunamis, long neglected in risk-reduction programmes, are now addressed more seriously among potential hazards. We have raised awareness through training workshops on tsunami warning and emergency response procedures in March 2011, in Port-au-Prince, in partnership with civil protection management, the police force and the weather forecast teams. Haiti’s largest cities are located on the coast and are therefore vulnerable, because the island lies between two subduction zones that are potential sources of tsunamis. By spreading better knowledge of the risks and training the population to respond effectively, we can build stronger societies.

As we celebrate this painful anniversary, and while many Haitians are still homeless, I know that it is difficult and even misplaced to recall that such projects do take time.

The pace of reconstruction must be stepped up and pledges must be kept in the light of the urgent needs and impatience of the population. UNESCO is an organization with a long-term view, and we have developed a series of ambitious projects to shape a new cultural landscape over 10 to 15 years, with stronger buildings, museums, libraries, crafts and new heritage laws for development. The World Heritage Centre has received a contribution from Spain to expedite implementation of a management plan for the National History Park – Citadel, Sans Souci, Ramiers – and to train curators. UNESCO also launched the International Coordination Committee for the Safeguarding of Haitian Cultural Heritage (CIC). All of these long-term projects have direct short-term effects. By securing sites against looting and by putting on cultural shows in the camps where displaced persons live, we seek to show that culture is a solid foundation of which the Haitian people can be proud and a driving force for reconstruction.

The Donors Conference for Culture in Haiti, held in April 2011, was an important step forward for harnessing culture as a mainspring for development. UNESCO’s work with the Carnaval de Jacmel craftpersons, sought to revive the production of masks, costumes and crafts – this initiative was noted and supported by the Clinton Global Initiative.

Anyone who walks through the streets of Port au Prince, Léogane or Jacmel and who sees the energy and commitment of children, men and women busy rebuilding their homes, their roads and their country, will recognize a forward-looking country that is aware of its potential. Let us give them the means to believe in it even more. On this day of remembrance and commemoration, we remain convinced, as we have from day one, that education, culture and the sciences are the foundations of revival. UNESCO is fully mobilized and shall continue to call for support from those who wish to assist Haiti on the road to reconstruction.

Irina Bokova