Saturday, May 31, 2008

Jobs at UNESCO

Americans should check out the job section on the website of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO.

Right now there is a great job opening for the right person. UNESCO is seeking a Deputy Director of the World Heritage Center for Management. This is a new position, created by the organization to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of UNESCO's flagship program.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

News About Americans for UNESCO Board Members

Patrice Lyons is recently returned from Japan, where she was invited to participate in the award of the Japan Prize to her husband, Robert Kahn, co-inventor of the Internet. Check out the photos of the presentation and award banquet with the participation of the Emperor of Japan.

Roger A. Coate has been named the first Paul D. Coverdell Endowed Chair of Policy Studies at Georgia College & State University. To pursue the new challenge, Roger leaves the University of South Carolina where he has served since 2001 as the director of The Richard L. Walker Institute of International Studies.

Rita Colwell last year was presented the National Medal of Science by President Bush.
The award is the nation's highest honor for scientists. (Robert Kahn was an earlier laureate of the National Medal of Technology).

Americans for UNESCO Board Meeting

The Board of Directors met yesterday. The main topic of discussion was a review of last week's meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO. The views expressed of that meeting ranged from negative to positive, reflecting to some degree the different portions of the meeting that were attended by different members of the Board, and to some degree the differing personalities of the Board members themselves.

It was reported that only 44 of the 100 members of the National Commission were observed at the meeting, and some of them did not attend for all of the two day meeting. There was general agreement that the cultural events scheduled around the National Commission meeting were excellent, and that the presentation at the Commission on the U.S. funded project to develop museums in developing countries was excellent and widely appreciated.

It was recognized that Ambassador Oliver had achieved considerable skill in her diplomatic role leading the U.S. permanent delegation to UNESCO, but the State Department presentation was criticized as not having adequately reviewed the success of the delegation in encouraging UNESCO in directions that would better achieve U.S. policy objectives in international education, science, culture, and communications, nor in the more fundamental effort to secure the defenses of peace in the minds of men.

There was apparent agreement among the Board members that the National Commission still was not fulfilling the mandate of its legislation, and that its success in providing advice on UNESCO affairs to the Government was at best mixed. The session of the National Commission on the future of the Commission itself was seen as useful, while that on the UNESCO budget priorities was criticized.

The meeting also reviewed the course on UNESCO that was offered last semester at George Washington University, and the initiative of students from that class to create a student club at the university focusing on UNESCO.

A brief report was made on the online presence of Americans for UNESCO. The most relevant portion of which was the evolution of traffic on the Americans for UNESCO supported blogs, which is shown week by week in the following graph.
The resignation of two long time members of the Board, Sid Passman and Irv Lerch, was noted with regret. Both have found it impossible to continue devoting time to Board activities due to personal reasons. They will be missed!

The Board approved modest changes in the Bylaws for Americans for UNESCO, and appointed committees to work on support for the Man and the Biosphere Program and to draft with the aid of the Advisory Committee a paper for the transition team to begin working on the new Administration after the November 4th election.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"CHINA SCIENCE: China's Greatest Student"

"The making of Joseph Needham's multi-volume masterpiece."

There is a review by Judith Shapiro in Sunday's Washington Post of THE MAN WHO LOVED CHINA: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries Of the Middle Kingdom By Simon Winchester.

I have been reading the biography of Joseph Needham, and it is indeed a good read. Needham was the man who put the "S" in UNESCO. Assigned by the British to head a scientific delegation to China in World War II, he came to believe that it was important for the scientifically developed nations to help the scientifically less developed portions of the globe to develop their scientific capacity. Not only did he network with other scientists to build support for this position, but he took advantage of the development of UNESCO as a United Nations agency serving the intellectual communities of its member states as a vehicle for his proposed international scientific organization. He then was asked by UNESCO's first Director General, Julian Huxley (no mean scientist himself), to serve as the first Assistant Director General for Science. He did so for two years.

Needham was a towering intellect. He was a leader in the field of biochemistry prior to World War II, with a remarkable flare for languages which allowed him to learn Chinese when his laboratory began to host Chinese exchange researchers in the 1930's. His greatest intellectual contribution, however, was the 18 volumes he wrote of the 25 volume history of Science and Civilization in China that he conceptualized -- a series which radically changed our understanding not only of the contributions of China to our modern technological civilization, but which more broadly raised issues about the factors that lead to the industrial revolution and which challenged Western chauvinism.

Winchester is the best selling author of previous scientific biographies who writes very well. Needham was as flamboyant a subject as a biographer could want, as well as a great intellect who left an important intellectual and organizational legacy for the world.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Support for the Man and the Biospere (MAB) Program

The Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB), proposes an interdisciplinary research agenda and capacity building. Launched in the early 1970s, it promotes research and knowledge sharing on the ecological, social and economic dimensions of biodiversity and the conditions needed to maintain biodiversity. The program uses its World Network of Biosphere Reserves as vehicles for knowledge-sharing, research and monitoring, education and training, and participatory decision-making.aiming to improve the relationship of people with their environment globally.

Species are becoming extinct at a historically unprecedented rate, and the genetic diversity within species is also decreasing for many species as the number of living plants or animals in the species decreases. If that fact alone does not offend you, then you should be at least worried that the loss of biodiversity will mean a loss of genetic resources for agriculture, medicine and even industry.

Bioreserves provide refuges where biodiversity can be maintained. In situ preservation requires reserves to be located in a very wide variety of locations in order that all the ecological systems can be represented in the network. Indeed, the areas of greatest biodiversity in relatively untouched ecosystems are in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Thus a global network of bioreserves is needed for the benefit of mankind.

The network is, of course, not a sovereign entity, and each bioreserve falls under the sovereign control of the nation in which it is located. The United States needs bioreserves within our own nation for the safeguarding of its biodiversity. By participating in the international network, we help assure that other nations will support their own bioreserves, and that the overall network will protect global biodiversity for all of mankind.

The United States was instrumental in the creating the Man and the Biosphere program, and was an active participant during the time that America was a member of UNESCO and indeed during the period that we had withdrawn from the organization. There are now 531 bioreserves in 105 countries in the MAB network; the United States has 47 bioreserves.

The U.S. MAB Committee was a good one. It was reconvened briefly after the United States rejoined UNESCO, but it was disbanded in 2005. Draft legislation is now being considered for restitution of the U.S. participation in the Man and the Biosphere program, and the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO recommended that participation be restarted as soon as possible!

The George Wright Society provides this website on UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere program.

Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures of the National Museum

Members of the National Commission for UNESCO were treated to a preview of a wonderful exhibit at the National Gallery of Art (East Wing) that will be available to the public starting next week.

It had been thought that over the decades of war and Teliban domination of Afghanistan the archaeological treasures that had been excavated during the 20th century had been lost. The building of the National Museum had been destroyed.

Amazingly, those treasures had been hidden for many years, and survived intact. Unfortunately, the restored museum still does not have the security systems needed to protect the treasures, especially given the current level of violence. Therefore the decision was made to allow the greatest treasures of the country to circulate through Europe and the United States in this great exhibit.

The exhibit combines the findings of a great deal of archaeological research with understanding of Afghanistan's history. The artifacts are themselves often of the greatest possible artistic value. Under any circumstances the survival of gold, ivory and glass objects of such beauty for thousands of years would be amazing. For Afghanistan their survival appears miraculous.

This exhibit will revise your understanding of Afghanistan and Central Asia!

UNESCO, Energy and Climate Change

On Monday, James Connaughton, the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spoke to the members of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO on the topic of "Energy and Climate Change". He stated that global warming and increased concentration of greenhouse gases are both occurring, and that scientists generally agree that mankind is contributing substantially to the buildup of greenhouse gases, and thus to global warming.

He projected the very desirable economic growth in the developing world, and noted the very major difficulty that if the world is to hold global warming to acceptable levels, the developing countries are going to have to make major changes in technology, since their current energy and agricultural technologies are "heavy" in the sense that they produce a lot of greenhouse gas per unit economic production. Even were the developed countries to achieve huge improvements in emissions, that effort would not be enough; were the improvements in developed nations emissions to be achieved by the transfer of greenhouse-gas intensive production activities to developing countries without the transfer to clean technologies in those developing countries, there would be no net gain for the reduction of global warming.

Mr. Connaughton also emphasized that the current emphasis on global climate change had had the unfortunate side effect of diverting the attention of policy makers from other environmental problems, such as water and air quality (and I would add desertification, loss of tropical forests, pollution, etc.)

Mr. Connaughton stressed that if we are to succeed in limiting climate change (and other environmental problems), the key limitation will be political will in developing nations, since we have adequate technology for the job. He also said that a critical problem was a major lack of understanding of the size and nature of the task before mankind.

In short, there is a major educational challenge for the world, to build the environmental literacy and numeracy needed to generate the political will to solve the problems leading to global warming and environmental deterioration. The effort is urgently needed, and must continue for generations.

Surprisingly, given that the talk was made to the National Commission for UNESCO, Mr. Connaughton did not make the further inference publicly that UNESCO was a logical entity to lead in the educational effort, building that public understanding and support. Obviously, UNESCO is the lead agency within the United Nations system for both education and communications and information. It leads in the natural science programs needed to develop appropriate understanding of the causes and remedies of global warming and other environmental problems, and the social science leadership needed to measure the success in changing knowledge and understanding of environmental problems.

If the White House really believes Mr. Connaughton's presentation, as does the author of this posting, then it should support a serious effort to expand UNESCO's program focusing on the environmental sustainability of economic development.

I spoke briefly with Ambassador Oliver after the talk, and she emphasized that that kind of an initiative would be a very appropriate one for a public-private cooperative approach. Voluntary contributions, both financial and in kind, would be a powerful stimulus to the development of such an effort on the part of UNESCO.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obituary: William Lowenthal

William Lowenthal, 87, a Foreign Service officer died May 6 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. He had cancer. Dr. Lowenthal retired in 1981 as economic development officer for the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris. Bill Lowenthal was a good friend and colleague to Americans for UNESCO.

Editorial: The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO

National Commissions for UNESCO are an important innovation, written into the charter of UNESCO after considerable debate; the U.S. National Commission is similarly chartered in U.S. law. The Commissions are intended to assure that the intellectual communities of the member nations and not just their governments, are fully involved in UNESCO. Sixty years ago, the U.S. National Commission was a powerful and active organization, with a vigorous program promoting knowledge and understanding of UNESCO in the United States. It is not that now, and this year's annual meeting appeared to involve much less than half its members.

This editorial addresses the advisory function of the National Commission. That is an important function, and indeed the Commission is regulated under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The advisory function is difficult because UNESCO has a very complex program, involving 193 member nations, focusing on intellectual changes that are difficult to measure and to benchmark. It is also difficult because the Commission constantly changing membership of 100 people meets infrequently and its members are generally strangers to one another. After the long absence of the United States from UNESCO, there are relatively few Americans who really understand UNESCO and its programs.

For some 20 years I was involved in managing the provision of scientific advice to government agencies. That experience makes me recognize that people when asked for advice will almost always provide it, but if they are poorly chosen and the process poorly organized, the advice may well be of poor quality. Advisors must be experts. They must be asked the right questions, and be given the time and resources to respond rationally to those questions. The management of scientific advisory committees is a highly skilled activity for agencies such as the Office of the Science Advisor, the National Academies, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

The State Department needs not only scientific advice, but other forms of professional advice to deal with the complex programs of UNESCO. Still, many of the lessons learned in the provision of scientific advice must be relevant also to provision of professional advice on cultural and educational activities of UNESCO. The State Department has not assigned experts in the management of advisory services to that function in the case of the National Commission for UNESCO, and the staff of the Commission's secretariat, while working hard and imaginatively, is still learning on the job.

The operation of the National Commission's Natural Science subcommittee provides an example that should be replicated in its other subcommittee. That subcommittee works through specific subcommittees on hydrology, oceanography, and geology (with another on man and the biosphere in abeyance). These in turn are not limited to members of the National Commission, but include specialists in the specific programs and their international dimensions, often with decades of experience working with UNESCO. When the Natural Science subcommittee meets, it has the chairs of those subcommittees to present their detailed considerations of the issues at hand, and it is only left to review and interrelate those recommendations. (It would have been better had those subcommittees also been asked to review the budget priorities and make recommendations.) The geologists, oceanographers, and hydrologists participating in these efforts are not only generally experienced in the provision of advisory services within their disciplines, but they also often know each other and form a true rather than a nominal group, able to communicate via phone and email during the year (rather than briefly once a year in group). The subcommittees are also small, allowing real discussion.

Even the operation of the Natural Science subcommittee could be improved, for example by the resuscitation of the Man and the Biosphere Committee and the creation of a Basic Science and Engineering specific science subcommittee. Moreover, the subcommittee reports could be provided to the members of the Natural Science subcommittee in writing before their meeting.

The other subcommittees of the National Commission appear to be in need of reform and rethinking. The education sector is UNESCO's lead sector, and faces a huge and complex task involving primary, secondary and tertiary education, as well as non-formal, literacy, and vocational education, and all of the educational policy and management functions. Comparably, there are few experts who can span cultural areas ranging from museums to cultural aspects of democratization, economic development, and the search for peace.

The 100 person National Commission when meeting as a committee of the whole is a very unwieldy entity. It requires a very strong Chair. Currently the Commission is chaired by a political appointee in the State Department. Compare that with the original chair, who was Milton Eisenhower, the brother of President Eisenhower, who was himself the president of a major university and a recognized leader of the American educational community.

Similarly, to increase effectiveness of the larger Commission, there would have to be a very strong Executive Committee that meets frequently. It would seem likely that the members of that committee should be elected by the Commission itself, rather than selected by the bureaucracy, and perhaps based on nominations by the sectoral subcommittees.

The rethinking of the processes of the National Commission should be one of the first tasks of the new administration that will take office in 2009. While the structure of the Commission is defined by law, the Commission charter must be renewed every two years under the conditions set by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Fortunately the FACA recognizes that flexibility is required in the structuring of advisory services, especially when they are specified in legislation as well as by the needs of the bureaucracy. Thus the next rechartering of the Commission would be an important opportunity for reform.

The most important factor in the success of an advisory committee is a client who actively seeks that advice, and takes it seriously. It is important that the new administration place people in charge of its relations with UNESCO who fit that description.

John Daly
(The opinions expressed in this editorial are mine, and do not necessarily reflect those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

The Meeting of the National Commission

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO completed its two day annual meeting yesterday. The meeting was marked by exceptional cultural activities, including a reception in Blair House and a preview of the Treasures of Afghanistan exhibit that is soon to open in the U.S. National Gallery of Art. There was also a wonderful presentation of a U.S.-funded, UNESCO-implemented project to develop museums in developing countries including presentations by directors of museums in Mali and Guatemala. The meeting was topped off by a reception in the Castle building of the Smithsonian, hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and Americans for UNESCO.

The Commission considered its own membership and organization, encouraging organizations that so desired to submit recommendations on the Commission process to the State Department. It also made recommendations on the priorities for the program purposes and their major lines of action, which will be taken into account in the development of the budget for 2009-2010,

The State Department should publish a summary of the meeting and its recommendations on its National Commission website in the near future.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Comment on the UNESCO Budget and U.S Policy

The UNESCO budget is divided into two parts. The regular budget, which is approved every two years by the General Conference, implements the six year mid term strategy of the organization, and is just over US$ 300 million per year. That budget is funded through assessed contributions from the member states, and the United States funds 22 percent. The other part of the budget consists of voluntary contributions from the member states, and is estimated at some US$200 million per year. The United States contributes less than one million dollars a year in voluntary contributions, or less than one half of one percent.

Think about the voluntary contributions. They are not added to the general fund, but rather fund things that the contributing country negotiates with the UNESCO secretariat. Thus they do not represent the consensus budget of the 193 member states, but rather are modifications of that consensual budget desired by a single country.

I can only suppose that the secretariat is likely to feel that the regular budget is cash in hand, but inadequate to their needs, and is likely to bend over backward to make the government offering voluntary contributions happy.

The budget of UNESCO is far too small as compared with the challenges before it. From the point of view of the United States, there are many things we want done that UNESCO can better accomplish than could our bilateral programs. Moreover, UNESCO leverages U.S. contributions with funding from other donors as well as from host countries. The U.S. contribution, less than US$70 million per year seems quite a bit, unless you compare it with other figures; my local school board has a budget of $2.2 billion per year for public schools in this one county. UNESCO seeks to improve primary, secondary and tertiary education worldwide. Or compare that budget with the one-trillion dollars that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost. Could those wars have been avoided had the educational systems and communications been more supportive of Western values over the past several decades? I think it would have been worth the bet.

So, were the United States to add say $30 million in voluntary contributions per year to UNESCO's budget, that sum would be affordable and would make UNESCO a much more effective multilateral tool of U.S. foreign policy. Such a contribution would more than pay for itself in terms of security for this country, economic benefits from better development of our economic partners, accomplishment of our humanitarian objectives, improved opinions of the United States abroad, and progress on global environmental problems,

John Daly
(The opinion expressed above is mine, and does not necessarily represent that of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.)

The National Commission Meeting

Today was the first day of the two day meeting of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, held in the Conference Center of Georgetown University. Some 40 Commissioners attended, with a comparable number of other observers. The morning was taken up by informative presentations by State Department officials, focusing on the role of intergovernmental organizations in U.S. foreign policy and the efforts of the State Department at UNESCO over the past year.

There was an interesting talk by James Connaughton, the chief of the White House Office of Environmental Quality, on international energy and climate change policies.

The afternoon was devoted to breakout sessions on the five major programs of UNESCO.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

UNESCO and the earliest oil paintings

Source: "Random Samples", Science, May 2, 2008.

Quoted in full:
Buddhist artists in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, may have painted with oils centuries before European Renaissance painters developed the technique.

A team led by Marine Cotte at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, has analyzed tiny samples of paintings sent by a UNESCO conservation team from a site where the Taliban destroyed two giant Buddha statues in 2001. Initial scans with ultraviolet light led researchers to suspect the presence of oil, and "we have confirmed it," says Cotte. Twelve of 50 murals depicting colorful Buddhas and mythical creatures, painted in caves behind the statue niches, included pigments bound in plant oils. Oil offers "more freedom" to artists, says Cotte, as it doesn't set instantly like the gypsum or calcium salt pigments also used in the caves.

Helen Howard of the National Gallery in London says European oil paintings date back to the 12th century, but whether oil was used earlier isn't known because "analysis hasn't often been carried out on very early paintings." UNESCO team leader Yoko Taniguchi of the National Research Institute for Cultural Properties in Tokyo said in a statement that ancient Romans and Egyptians were known to use drying oils, but only as medicines and cosmetics. Thus, the team writes in April's Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, the Afghan samples could be the "oldest example of oil paintings on Earth."

Friday, May 09, 2008

U.S. Water Resources Conference in support of UNESCO’s IHP

A one-day workshop led by NSF and USGS in support of UNESCO’s IHP is to take place on June 27, 2008, in Washington, DC, at the U.S. Department of State.

The conference is to explore how to accelerate application of U.S. technology and knowledge to solve water resources and water quality management problems in developing countries. The participants will include high level representatives from U.S. agencies with interests and responsibilities for water, the Director General of UNESCO, Ambassador Louise Oliver, and leading U.S. scientists.

Expected outcomes are:
1. Recommendations for greater infusion of US science and technology into addressing water issues in developing countries.
2. Direct input into an upcoming international conference involving several hundred people that will be sponsored by the US Committee on Hydrology (with UNESCO) on “Water Scarcity, Global Change, and Groundwater Management Responses” and to be held December 1-8, 2008 in Irvine, CA
Two major topics for the June meeting will be integrated water resource management in semi-arid and arid regions, and meeting needs for potable water and sanitation in the rapidly expanding urban environments of developing countries.

Madrid Declaration on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme and the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR)

The representatives of UNESCO Member States, biosphere reserves, and co-operating public and private sector institutions and civil society organizations gathered at the 3rd World Congress of Biosphere Reserves and the 20th session of the International Co-ordinating Council (ICC) of the MAB Programme during 4-8 February 2008 in Madrid, Spain, made the following recommendations:
Convinced of the need to strengthen and support the contributions of MAB and biosphere reserve networks to sustainable development in the context of new and emerging challenges and to document, disseminate and share lessons learned in the context of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD; 2005-2014):
• Urge UNESCO, its Member States and Secretariat, to make optimum use of biosphere reserves for the promotion of sustainable development and the WNBR and associated regional, sub-regional and national networks as forums for exchange of experience and lessons learned during the UNDESD;
• Encourage UNESCO Member States to establish MAB National Committees where they do not yet exist;
• Commit the Secretariat to review the implementation of the Seville Strategy and make recommendations to improve the working practices of the MAB Programme at the global, regional, national and local levels in order to enhance its relevance to sustainable development policies, planning and implementation at all levels;
• Call upon UNESCO to actively pursue coherent approaches and strengthen cooperation within the UN system, particularly with UNDP and UNEP with the aim to enable Member States to use biosphere reserves as places to demonstrate and promote the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and other UN targets, such as the commitment of Parties to the Conventions dealing with biological diversity, combating desertification and climate change;
• Call upon UNESCO and international funds for the creation of an innovative mechanism for sustainable funding aimed at reinforcing biosphere reserves, the MAB Programme as well as the regional networks and promote the implementation of the Madrid Action Plan;
• Capitalize upon the potential for action of biosphere reserves to address new challenges such as the loss of traditional knowledge and cultural diversity, demography, loss of arable land, climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development; and, in particular, as places for investments and innovation to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to promote the greater use of renewable energy in sustainable futures of rural and urban areas and to enhance and capitalize upon ecosystem services and products in sustainable development for human well-being;
• Build effective partnerships in biosphere reserves through cooperation among all governmental levels, private sector, mass media, civil society organizations, indigenous and local communities, research, monitoring and education centers and other such institutions for the implementation of the Madrid Action Plan during 2008-2013;
• Encourage cooperation between the MAB Programme and the other Intergovernmental Scientific Programmes of UNESCO, the World Heritage Convention and the One UN pilots;
• Promote MAB and WNBR as global, regional and national fora for involving people and generating new ideas to solve local problems and targeted actions to seek a dynamic and mutually beneficial relationship between People and the Biosphere.

IHP Burear Endorses U.S. UNESCO Center

The Bureau of the International Hydrological Program recently reviewed and endorsed the proposal of the United States of America for the establishment of an International Center for Integrated Water Resources Management (ICIWaRM) that would be hosted by the Institute for Water Resources of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and be set up in partnership with a consortium of U.S. universities and professional organizations. The latest regional meeting of IHP National Committees of Western Europe and North America – Region I (Istanbul, September 2007) had previously given its support to this U.S. proposal. Accordingly, the proposal is being forwarded to the forthcoming 18th session of the IHP Council.

World Press Freedom Day

Every year, May 3rd is a date dedicated to events which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom. On the day, we pause
  • to evaluate press freedom around the world,
  • to defend the media from attacks on their independence and
  • to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
This year's UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize was awarded to Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro. Members of the Prize's independent jury were impressed by her courage as she continues to expose political corruption, organized crime and domestic violence in the face of death threats, an attempt on her life and legal battles. The Prize, which honors the memory of the murdered Colombian journalist Guillermo Cano, is awarded every year by the UNESCO Director-General and since 2007 is supported by the U.S.-based Ottaway Foundation.

Links of interest

President Bush's Statement on World Press Freedom Day

Article: World Press Freedom Day Supports Journalists Facing Threats

USAID Press Release on World Press Freedom

2008 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded to Mexican reporter Lydia Cacho Ribeiro

UNESCO World Press Freedom Day Website

Russians to Explore Africa under UNESCO program

The Russian geographic society will soon start the largest international science and research mission to Africa within last 10 years. The expedition is held within UNESCO's World Heritage program. Several cross-country vehicles will travel through 45 countries of Europe, Middle East and Africa, including 27 African states. The crew includes famous travelers, medics, ethnographers and archeologists. They will collect information about poorly studied peoples of Africa and test telecommunication and navigation equipment.

UNESCO’s New York Office commemoration of World Press Freedom Day

Justice Albie Sachs
© Thomas Khosa

UNESCO’s New York Office this week commemorated World Press Freedom Day with a keynote speech by Justice Albie Sachs, a chief architect of South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution, on "Access to information and the empowerment of people."
"Openness as a standard practice goes well beyond journalist access; it’s got as much to do with dignity of people to have voices and expression."
Justice Albie Sachs
The celebratory lecture and luncheon was attended by nearly 100 journalists, United Nations delegates, officials and representatives of media advocacy groups and foundations.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Sunday, May 04, 2008

UNESCO Releases Public Service Podcasts

UNESCO has released a series of nine video podcasts on human rights, peace, tolerance and the fight against discrimination. The videos were selected out of more than one hundred proposals submitted under a project on ICT-enhanced Public Service Broadcasting.

Check out all nine podcasts!

Camels, Goats and Books, Amit Tyagi, Kenya
On how camels contribute to knowledge sharing.

Science with Africa

Addis Ababa, 3 - 4 March 2008

To foster the contribution of science to the development process in Africa, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and African Union organized this conference on Science with Africa, in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in collaboration with the private enterprise Intelligence in Science and UNESCO.

Editorial: The Importance of International Hydrology

Source: "Rivers and conflict: Streams of blood, or streams of peace," The Economist, May 1st 2008.

Water is obviously a critical resource for human life, for agriculture, and for many industries. Hydrology as the scientific study of water resources is obviously important, and becoming more important as demands for water increase and it becoming a scarce resource in more and more populated areas.

Equally obviously, water does not respect national boundaries. Rivers flow across them, and aquifers are not limited to a single nation's territory. Indeed, not only do weather and climate systems ignore such boundaries, but they can not be understood without regional and indeed global data. Thus the science of hydrology gains from being international.

These facts alone would justify UNESCO's hydrology program. However, as this blog's postings have often described, UNESCO's programs are fundamentally oriented towards building the defenses of peace in the minds of men through intellectual cooperation. UNESCO's International Hydrological Program provides a forum in which hydrologists from different nations can come together to work to develop cross-national programs, and thereby reach consensus as to the true status of water resources shared by their nations, and indeed on the likely impact of alternative management strategies of those resources.

Does that contribute to the search for peace. I extract from The Economist article:
Researchers at Oregon State University say they have found evidence......showing that the world's 263 trans-boundary rivers (whose basins cover nearly half the land surface of the world) generate more co-operation than conflict. Over the past half-century, 400 treaties had been concluded over the use of rivers. Of the 37 incidents that involved violence, 30 occurred in the dry and bitterly contested region formed by Israel and its neighbours, where the upper end of the Jordan river was hotly disputed, and skirmished over, before Israel took control in the 1967 war. And some inter-state water treaties are very robust. The Indus river pact between India and Pakistan survived two wars and the deep crisis of 2002......

The Nile is vast. Geographers still argue over exactly where the White Nile rises. Its tributaries and tendrils extend over a tenth of Africa's surface, and 160m people live in the river basin, in ten countries. That number is predicted to double within a few decades. These pressures, and Egypt's record of posturing and occasional threats, have been cited by some as a harbinger of war....

There is certainly a mounting conflict of interest between China and some neighbours over the use of two rivers that rise in Xinjiang, a region that the government in Beijing wants to develop and populate. The Chinese have diverted part of the Irtysh river, which feeds Russia's Ob river and ends up in the Arctic, to a canal supplying the booming oil town of Karamai. And China is also making more use of the Ili river, which ends up in Kazakhstan's Lake Balkhash, a vast, shallow expanse. Perhaps exaggerating, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has said Lake Balkhash could turn into a salty mess, like the Aral Sea; and there are fears that wind-borne salt from its dried-up basin might speed the melting of glaciers on which China and Kazakhstan depend.....

For another “asymmetrical” relationship, take the one between Turkey, where the Tigris and Euphrates rise, and Syria and Iraq, both highly dependent on those rivers. Turkey's effort to build up to 22 dams on the two rivers is a constant source of tension, and tempers flared in 1990 when Turkey briefly interrupted the Euphrates.....

What about Israel, a country that (in matters aquatic, as in much else) views itself as eternally vulnerable while its neighbours often regard it as a hard-nosed bully? Israel's strategic situation was transformed after 1967: it no longer had to fight over water, and was able to co-operate “asymmetrically” with its neighbours in Jordan and (at least while the Oslo peace accords still worked) the Palestinians.

And as Israel builds up its capacity to turn sea water into fresh, a new form of co-operation has been proposed. This would involve pumping desalinated water from the Mediterranean to supply the West Bank—with the rider that Israel would retain access to a rich underground aquifer on the West Bank, under the terms of any settlement. This would lock the Palestinians into deep dependence on Israel.

Some of the gloomiest forecasts of water wars have focused on sub-Saharan Africa. The ever-cheerful UNDP said in 1999 that the basins of the Nile, Niger, Volta and Zambezi were all potential flashpoints. But even in Africa, outright inter-state war over rivers seems unlikely. As in other places, rivers in Africa often make for more neighbourliness, not less; the more countries a river passes through, the greater the regional co-operation. Indeed, as that UNDP report came out, Namibia and Botswana amicably accepted an international court ruling over an island in the Chobe river, a tributary of the Zambezi.
If the world is to continue its record of resolution of disputes over the allocation of increasingly scarce water resources it seems obvious that those negotiating water treaties and disputes will be well served by accurate, holistic hydrological knowledge gained through cooperative research and analysis, and agreed upon by a global consensus of hydrological experts.

UNESCO's hydrological program is modestly funded, making its impact by bringing together people and information. It makes a modest contribution to the maintenance of peace, but a contribution that alone may more than justifies its modest budget.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

UNESCO and Knowledge Sharing

UNESCO has published a set of four short documents assessing its own efforts in knowledge sharing:

NSF funds IOC

The U.S. National Science Foundation Established the First Grant Agreement with UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission for Ocean Carbon Research Support

The U.S. National Science Foundation has awarded UNESCO a three-year grant to support two Ph.D. personnel in managing the ocean carbon programs of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC). Awarded earlier this month, this is the first direct grant agreement between the U.S. National Science Foundation and UNESCO.

The IOC serves as a liaison between the international research community and UN mandates that specifically call on the Commission to develop a global network of systematic observation and research on the ocean’s role as a sink for atmospheric carbon dioxide, and to assess the state of the marine environment in response to a changing climate.

Annual Meeting of the U.S. National Commission For UNESCO

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO will host its Annual Meeting on Monday, May 19 and Tuesday, May 20 at the Marriott Georgetown University Conference Hotel in Washington, DC (3800 Reservoir Road, NW).

The Commission will have a series of informational plenary sessions and subject-specific committee and thematic breakout sessions on Monday, May 19 and the morning of Tuesday, May 20. The Commission will meet in plenary session to discuss its final recommendations on Tuesday, May 20, 2007, from 1:00 p.m. until 2:30 p.m.

The meetings will be open to the public, and those who wish to attend should contact the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO (202-663-0026; no later than Thursday, May 15 for further information about admission, as seating is limited.

"Closing the gender gap"

SciDev.Net, the online magazine started by Science and Nature magazines which is devoted to science and technology in developing nations, has an interview with Prudence Mutowo, winner of a 2006 L'Oreal UNESCO fellowship. I quote:
Question: What has the L'Oreal UNESCO fellowship award meant to you, and have you found the experience valuable?

Answer: It has been absolutely brilliant. At the end of the first year [of my PhD] I needed to find funding to be able to continue. That is when I applied for the fellowship, which paid for my tuition fees.

But it's not just the money — the networking has been amazing. It introduces you to other award winners across the world. In day-to-day science you only really come across the people in your lab, and it is really quite difficult to make contacts.

At the Women in Science week that the L'Oreal Foundation runs annually in Paris, the Laureates — women who have made an impact in science — are available for you to go and ask questions. It helps especially that they are women, who may have had to make similar decisions to you. You can really use them as a reference point.

New Edition of the UNESCO Courier Online

© UNESCO/Aleksandar Dzoni-Sopov

Information: a game of hide and seek

“As long as I live, I will continue to write and writing will keep me alive.” says Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho Ribeiro (45), laureate of this year’s UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize. Like many of her colleagues, she lives under constant threat, but has learned to master fear; she fights for freedom of expression and against the monopolization of the Medias. The exclusive interview she granted us introduces several of the subjects covered in this month’s issue. They range from retention of information to censorship by killing and include tactics aimed at breaching press freedom and the impunity of crimes perpetrated against journalists. (More)