01.02.2010 -

UNESCO identifies post-disaster priorities for science in Haiti

In the wake of the earthquake which struck Haiti on 12 January, UNESCO began making contact with the large scientific community that makes up the Organization’s scientific programmes.

Water was one of the most urgent priorities. UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science in Latin America, situated in Montevideo, has been in touch with the National Committees of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) in countries across Latin America, which are eager to backstop projects by the National Committee in Haiti to improve water management. IHP committees are helping to put together an action plan for integrated water resources management with the participation of institutions linked to the IHP National Committee in Haiti. On 29 January, the co-ordinators of the regional IHP programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean met with staff from the UNESCO offices in Montevideo, Havana, Mexico City, Quito, Brazil and San Jose, to put together a proposal. Moreover, within UNESCO’s Groundwater for Emergency Situations programme, there are plans to liaise with other competent UN bodies to identify groundwater resources in Haiti which could provide a safe water supply.

UNESCO will contribute to mapping Port-au-Prince for multi-hazards and risks. It will also help to rehabilitate the heavily damaged Centre national de l’information géospatial (CNIGS) in Haiti. Bernard Hadjadj, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova’s Special Envoy to Haiti, had paid a visit to the centre and was able to speak to one of the surviving experts. UNESCO will also be providing Haiti with advice on basic building codes and practices to help ensure that reconstructed buildings are able to withstand any future disaster far better than during the 12 January earthquake. For the longer term, UNESCO has prepared a proposal for the establishment of the Haitian Institute of Science, Engineering and Disaster Risk Reduction to assess risks from natural hazards, design and implement plans at both the national and local levels to mitigate the effect of natural disasters and provide education and training while boosting public awareness.

UNESCO has also obtained satellite images to elaborate detailed risk assessment cartography for cultural heritage in Haiti . This is being done within the framework of the joint European Space Agency–UNESCO Open Initiative on the Use of Space Technologies to support World Heritage.

Prior to the earthquake, there were plans to create the first biosphere reserve in Haiti. Transborder co-operation holds great potential, as the Dominican Republic would be able to help Haiti identify ways to increase agricultural productivity along the border.

Meanwhile, experts from UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) have launched a full performance assessment of the Caribbean Tsunami Warning System. Preliminary results should be available by mid-February. Some IOC experts are travelling to the Dominican Republic in the first week of February to provide technical assistance for the island’s coastal hazards and warning systems, which include tsunamis, in agreement with the IOC’s Haitian partners. A field survey to capture essential scientific data is also under preparation.

UNESCO will be advocating reconstruction that fully takes into account the need to make Haïti safer than before from natural hazards.

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