22.01.2010 -

Director-General’s Second Statement regarding UNESCO’s Response to the Haitian Earthquake


Further to my first statement of 15 January 2010, I would like to provide further information on UNESCO’s response to the Haiti disaster, as well as on the situation of our staff and Office in Port-au-Prince, following the devastating earthquake that struck the Island on 12 January last.

In the Communiqué in which I expressed my deep concern for the loss of thousands of lives, including many within the UN family, I have appealed for support for relief efforts for the millions of affected men, women and children.

The response to the Haiti crisis has been at the centre of the series of meetings I have had during my official visits to the United Nations and to the United States of America this week. With Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, heads of agencies and senior members of the United States administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I have explored ways of ensuring that UNESCO’s role, values and concerns in the short and longer-term post-disaster response are fully anchored in the coordinated humanitarian efforts of the international community.

It is a relief that UNESCO’s staff are all physically unharmed, although many of them suffered damage to their homes and some lost family members. In order to ensure the continuity of UNESCO’s action, in the first instance, two senior staff members with knowledge of the country and of post-disaster situations have been mobilised: Jorge Espinal, Head of the UNESCO Office in Tashkent, and Bernard Hadjadj, interim Director of the Bureau of Field Coordination, who I have sent as my Special envoy to Port-au-Prince. He is in the process of assessing immediate needs, liaising with the Government and supporting UNESCO’s response in the country’s education sector. I have given instructions that every measure be taken to assist our colleagues on the ground. Fortunately, they are able to work in the UNESCO Office premises, which did not suffer major structural damage. We have also put the meeting room in the Office at the disposal of the Minister of Education and his cabinet, the Ministry having been totally destroyed, so that they can continue their work in relatively operational conditions.

At Headquarters, the crisis cell I established immediately following the disaster has drawn up an Action Plan for a rapid intervention to reactivate the provision of education. Within three days of the earthquake, this Plan was submitted for funding in the framework of the United Nations Flash Appeal. Haiti’s education sector needs urgent humanitarian relief to help restart schooling as soon as possible so it can contribute to bringing some sense of normalcy to Haitian youth, pass life-saving messages and provide psycho-social support. It is also a key building block for recovery and eventual reconstruction. The three education projects, which I mentioned in my previous statement on Haiti, have now been included in the Haiti Flash Appeal and cover support for the emergency reactivation of schooling, especially at the secondary and higher levels; emergency support to national education authorities, and psycho-social support through the training of teachers.

In partnership with OCHA and the Education Cluster, we will also take part in the upcoming Education Sector Rapid Needs Assessment and the subsequent Post Disaster Needs Assessment. In the latter phase, the focus of our intervention will be broadened, with UNESCO striving to address the needs of the Haitian population holistically through our unique intersectoral approach.

Education, communication, science and culture are all essential building blocks for the gradual recovery of Haitian society. In this context, culture can play a significant role in providing psycho-social support and rebuilding the social fabric through cultural expression. As such, one focus of our action will be on revamping and safeguarding the richness of Haitian cultural oral traditions, as well as on mobilizing support for Haitian living contemporary culture, building on the activities of the DREAM Center established by UNESCO in 2005. Our expertise in communications and information will be brought to bear in assessing how the capacities of local and community media can be enhanced so that they can properly play their role in the humanitarian information systems and in the rebuilding of the social fabric. Furthermore, drawing on our scientific expertise - with Tsunami early warning systems and disaster risk reduction in particular - we will offer our support to local institutions so as to help them improve resilience to natural disasters, including earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural hazards.

UNESCO has already mobilized internal financial and human resources for rapid initiation of priority activities. Indeed, a team of emergency experts has already been put together and is ready to be deployed as soon as possible. At this stage, we are appealing to all our partners to support early relief efforts and to contribute financially to our approved projects.


Irina Bokova

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