UNESCO Forum on Haiti
by H.E. Ms Eleonora Valentinovna Mitrofanova
Chairperson of the UNESCO Executive Board
UNESCO Headquarters, Paris
24 March 2010
Distinguished representatives of Haitian society,
Dear colleagues and friends,
The history of earthquakes is as old as recorded history. During the past decade, many nations have faced this devastating natural phenomenon which occurs almost every year in different parts of the world, and this year began with two major cataclysms affecting Chile and, particularly harshly, Haiti.
Today’s Forum on Haiti is a major step taken together by the international community and the Haitian people towards the recovery and reconstruction of the affected country and the stoical nation.
Speaking on behalf of all Members of the Executive Board, please allow me to extend once again my profound sympathy to the people of Haiti for the death and suffering caused by the earthquake that hit the country on 12 January last.
We all bow our heads in memory of the hundreds of thousands of victims of this disaster. We also commend the courage of rescuers from numerous countries who answered the call for solidarity. The Russian Federation, like many others, extended a helping hand to Haiti from the very first hours. In addition to providing humanitarian and rescue bridges, and medical care, the help of my country was translated by granting all current and future young Haitian specialists studying in Russian universities with free education.
The logic of this shared spirit of aid is based not only on universally recognized fundamental principles, but also on the lessons and experiences of our own painful past. My country, which was at that time the Soviet Union, experienced deadly quakes in Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan, in 1966 and Spitak in Armenia in 1988, when both cities were transformed into no more than huge piles of rubble.
While Tashkent was entirely rebuilt and flourished again owing to rapid mobilization by each administrative entity and every single citizen, the north Armenian region in no way benefited from the same heartening gesture. This is a reflection of what we know today from case studies on post-disaster management about the positive and negative attitudes that arise in these situations. Due to the different political situations and economic environments, the case was positive in Tashkent and unfortunately not in Spitak, which should not be the same regrettable case with Haiti. To my eyes, successful management requires three essential components: first the political will, second the provision of financial resources and third the availability of a qualified workforce.
Humankind cannot prevail over tremors. But we can succeed in preventing such catastrophic reality, and in foreseeing the best possible ways of rebuilding through forward-planning. Here lies UNESCO’s niche in responding to emergency situations, particularly concerning the prompt dispatch of specialists to draw up an inventory of damage to schools and cultural treasures, and the provision of survey, prevention and warning facilities run by specialized scientists.
In my capacity as Chairperson of UNESCO’s Executive Board, I wish to express my gratitude to the Director-General for her immediate action in providing cross-cutting assistance to Haiti, within all fields of competence of the Organization, be it the holistic revival of the educational system or the preservation of the Haitian documentary heritage. I welcome UNESCO’s efforts in contributing to the international emergency relief initiatives. I strongly encourage the Organization to further reinforce its preparedness for and mitigation of all kinds of disasters, and especially to enhance its capacity-building and delivery during the rehabilitation phase, in stronger cooperation with other intergovernmental mechanisms and in close partnership with civil society actors.
In particular, the preservation of Haiti’s cultural heritage, largely destroyed and threatened by vandalism, looting and art trafficking, has to be placed at the same level of emergency, importance and priority as the restoration of the infrastructure. To this end, UNESCO has taken steps to establish an international coordination committee for Haitian culture to bring together all the organizations concerned with the rehabilitation of the country’s culture, under the direction of the Haitian Government. It is our common responsibility to find the necessary funds and to provide qualified experts for cultural “victims”, in the same way as rescuers are provided to save human lives.
The donors’ conference to mobilize international support for the long-term development and recovery of Haiti, due to take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 31 March, and the 184th session of the UNESCO Executive Board starting at the same period, are two meetings which will allow the international community to hold an appropriate debate and adopt the necessary measures for rebuilding the fabric of a dignified life in Haiti. The reason for today’s Forum is to serve as a platform for Haiti to present its vision for its own future and how international support can better assist this deserving nation.
Speaking about the specific case of Haiti, but also more generally about earthquakes, please allow me to propose here some concrete recommendations for the short-, medium- and long-term initiatives in which UNESCO shall engage for the rebuilding period in Haiti, and also in order to be better prepared for new “seismic collapses” which might happen elsewhere:
1. Development of necessary ad hoc geological and geotechnical studies of seismic sites for new constructions, and establishment of collective data for earthquake prediction, and geo-information systems for all potential disaster areas; training programmes to improve skills for quality constructions; regular evaluation and revision of international codes and standards for the design and construction of buildings in seismic areas.
2. Establishment of one common international emergency operational fund to assist affected countries, and for post-disaster investigation and research, particularly applied to the improvement of tools and methods of search and rescue delivery and coordination.
3. Elaboration and widest possible dissemination of instructions for public awareness and risk reduction, of course subject to the different political, social and climate conditions of every country; establishment of specific curricula at the level of polytechnic, architecture and construction schools, in order to provide instruction in earthquake-resistant design and earthquake-hazard mitigation; preparation of specific pedagogical methods to be used in all schools.
4. Construction or reconstruction of education facilities with the dual function of serving as both traditional educational institutions and emergency relief centres.
5. Review and improvement of methods of protecting cultural properties both from earthquake and post-disaster damage.
I should like to conclude with the words of the German philosopher Heidegger, who said that “the origin is before us”. The rebuilding of the social, cultural and intellectual fabric of Haiti is the necessary metamorphosis which would then symbolize the renewal of the country and nation.
I wish Haiti a dynamic future and a prosperous life to the Haitian people!