Culture must be an integral part of reconstruction, says Director-General after Haiti visit
“Culture must go hand in hand with humanitarian aid. It must be present in Haiti’s reconstruction strategies because culture and development are closely linked,” stressed Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, as she ended her official visit to Haiti yesterday.
On her second and last day in Haiti, Ms Bokova met with Marie-Laurence Jocelyn Lassègue, Minister of Culture and Communication, and Daniel Elie, Director of ISPAN, institute for safeguarding national heritage. She then went to Jacmel, city in the southeast that is on Haiti’s Tentative List of properties to be proposed for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The city suffered severe damage during the 12 January earthquake.
The Director-General reiterated UNESCO’s commitment to safeguarding heritage in the colonial city, founded in the late 17th century, where numerous buildings are in ruins. In her discussion with the mayor, Edwin Zenny, Ms Bokova underlined the vital role – social as well as economic – of craftsmanship in local life and the need to preserve it. “We are aware that emergency humanitarian aid is not the only appropriate response to the country’s needs and that your know-how and your traditions must be taken into account in the reconstruction effort,” said Ms Bokova.
Ms Bokova, emphasizing that Port-au-Prince was not the only part of Haiti to be stricken by the earthquake, then went to Camp-Perrin in the south. According to Michèle Oriol of Haiti’s state university, who is also a UNESCO consultant, some 9000 people streamed into the small town following the disaster, 30% of them school-age children.
Ms Bokova visited workshops in Camp-Perrin where masons are learning techniques for building earthquake resistant structures. “In an exposed region such as Haiti, everyone has the right to live in a secure house,” declared the Director-General. “Preventive measures must be taken to ensure this result and I hope experience acquired here can spread to other parts of the country.”
Back in Port-au-Prince, the Director-General met with the European Union’s chargé d’affaire Jean-Marc Russe and the Spanish ambassador Paulino Gonzalez. At her next meeting with Anthony Banbury, Special Representative for the United Nations Secretary General, she asked for assistance from MINUSTAH, the UN’s mission in Haiti, to protect the country’s historical sites and monuments from the threat of vandalism and illicit trade in art objects and other cultural property.
After leaving Haiti, Ms Bokova went to the Dominican Republic for a 24-hour official visit, notably to meet President Leonel Fernandez.