Sunday, August 19, 2007

UNESCO Supports Iraqi Scientific and Cultural Institutions

The Director General of UNESCO has submitted a report on the UNESCO's programs in Iraq in preparation for the next meeting of UNESCO's Executive Board. He reports on progress achieved by UNESCO in contributing to ongoing reconstruction and development efforts by the United Nations in Iraq since June 2006. He states in introducing the report:
The period of reporting was characterized by a highly volatile security situation despite stepped-up security measures. Escalating sectarian violence, as well as violence targeting journalists, artists, academics, teachers and students were of particular concern to UNESCO. On 13 June 2007, a second bombing at the Al-Askari Shrine in Samarra destroyed two 36-metre high minarets. The first bombing, which occurred in February 2006, had destroyed the golden dome of the shrine and sparked inter-sectarian violence throughout the country. The second bombing is stirring fears for renewed inter-community tensions, including further attacks on religious sites and monuments. The phenomenon of targeted violence affecting professionals and academics continued, with over 830 documented murders of university academics, medical doctors, journalists, media workers, lawyers, as well as teachers and students. Through advocacy, research and the development of professional support and solidarity networks, UNESCO sought to raise continuous attention on this matter within the international community.

The number of displaced populations both internally and to neighboring countries have reached unprecedented levels. According to reports by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 1.9 million persons are now internally displaced and 2 million have left Iraq temporarily for neighbouring countries. This situation creates important humanitarian needs as large population groups suffer from problems of access to basic services. Of particular concern to UNESCO is the continued access to education for displaced schoolchildren, as well as the conditions and status of Iraqi teachers and academics who have left the country.
With regard to science, the report states:
UNESCO continued its active participation in the United Nations Country Team for Iraq’s Cluster A on “Agriculture, Food Security, Environment and Natural Resources Management”, playing a leading role in capacity-building on water resources management and on environment issues in close coordination with UNEP.

In the field of water management, assistance focused on enhancing technical capacities of water experts and strengthening institutional capacities in integrated water resources management, both through the UNDG Trust Fund project described below and in the context of the Organization’s regular programme activities. The project “Capacity-building of water institutions in Iraq” ($3.2 million, funded through the UNDG Trust Fund), was fully completed at the end of 2006. The project involved the participation of some 300 Iraqi water experts in a variety of capacity-building activities: 18 training courses, six workshops, one study tour and several meetings and conferences were organized, involving a wide range of participation from high-level government officials to postgraduate students. In the same context, a United Nations joint water conference was held in May 2007 in Amman with the attendance of several Iraqi ministers, GoI officials, parliamentarians and academia, to discuss long-term development of water-related issues in a concerted manner. Also, water sampling and laboratory equipments as well as 350 titles of technical books and academic journals were provided to the Ministry of Water Resources. The Ministry’s training centre for water experts was also equipped with necessary instruments and facilities. Within the project’s scope, another major achievement was the reactivation of the Iraqi National IHP Committee, now led by the Ministry of Water Resources, as a focal point for UNESCO’s water activities. In the process of implementation, UNESCO’s global water network has been fully utilized for the organization of training in UNESCO-IHE, and in the Regional Centre for Training and Water Studies (RCTWS) in Egypt in cooperation with the PC-CP programme.

Steady progress was also achieved on the trans-boundary water issues on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, through training, meetings and one joint seminar attended by government officials from Turkey, Syria and Iraq to discuss regional cooperation. Another joint workshop on international water resources modelling was also organized in cooperation with the US Department of Energy. These activities are expected to have a positive impact on ongoing diplomatic negotiations among the three countries. Following a trilateral meeting in May 2007, UNESCO received a request from the Iraqi authorities to further facilitate this negotiation process, through technical assistance and capacity-building activities.

A new project, based on an interdisciplinary approach on water and culture, on
“Rehabilitation and conservation of Kahrez systems in northern governorates” ($1.6 million, under the UNDG Iraq Trust Fund) was initiated. “Kahrez” is the Kurdish local name of the ancient water conveyance system which has had an important role in supplying drinking and irrigation water throughout history, but which has been neglected in the last decades, leaving the historical structure damaged and unusable in the longer term. The project aims at cleaning and rehabilitating selected Kahrez systems in Kurdistan governorates, thus creating local short-term employment opportunities, as well as updating knowledge and expertise in conservation and maintenance of these ancient hydraulic systems for long-term local water management. The project also aims at integrating the Iraqi authorities within UNESCO’s extensive network in this field, such as the International Centre for Qanat and Historical Hydraulic Structures (ICQHS) in Iran, which is an implementing partner of this project.

In the field of Ecological and earth sciences, some activities have been implemented in collaboration with the UNESCO Cairo and Amman Offices aimed at reviving the Iraqi National IGCP Committee. In this context, Iraqi scientists were invited to the regional IGCP meeting in September 2006 in Damascus, which resulted in the submission of a joint proposal on transboundary groundwater management to the IGCP Secretariat together with Jordan, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. A research paper on combating desertification is also under development by the Desert Research Centre of Anbar University.

The Iraqi National MAB Committee as well as the World Heritage National Sub-Committee for Natural Heritage have also been restructured, in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment. A representative of the Iraqi Ministry of Environment attended the fifth Arab MAB coordination meeting in June 2006 and was selected as member of the bureau for the coming two years. In addition, UNESCO, in collaboration with UNEP, FAO and UNDP, is developing joint project proposals for the inscription of the Iraqi Marshlands of Mesopotamia, one of the most important ecosystems in the Middle East, on the World Heritage List and the biosphere reserve site, so as to ensure its sustainable development. One of these proposals was recently submitted by the UNCT for Iraq for funding to the “Environment and Climate Change” window of the Spanish MDG Fund.

In the field of basic engineering sciences, the Iraqi authorities are in the process of applying for membership to the SESAME project. To this end, UNESCO planned an activity to strengthen their capacity to participate in SESAME during 2007. Finally, a UNESCO/ISESCO international workshop on “micro-science experiment” for Iraqi experts will also be organized in October 2007, in Amman.
With regard to communications and information programs, the report states:
Iraqi journalists continue to pay a high price for the exercise of freedom of expression and the toll of journalists killed in Iraq continues to mount. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented that since March 2003, 145 journalists and media support staff, mainly locals, were killed in Iraq and that numerous abductions, harassment, violent assaults and arrests took place, making it by far the deadliest conflict for the press. This issue has been at the heart of a UNESCO-led awareness-raising campaign on press freedom and safety of journalists culminated with the World Press Freedom Day celebrations. Under the patronage of the Higher Media Council (HMC) in Jordan, representatives from local and international press freedom organizations discussed the legal status of media professionals in conflict zones and the current levels of impunity with regard to crimes committed against journalists. In addition, the NGO Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), in joint collaboration with UNESCO, produced interviews and features on the current situation of Iraqi journalists, which were provided free of charge to radio stations all over Iraq.

In the context of the constitutional review process in Iraq and the United Nations inter-agency project for strengthening the constitutional process and good governance, UNESCO is continuing to promote the development of a legal framework conducive to independent and pluralistic media and to assist in securing freedom of expression throughout the review of the current constitution. To this extent, UNESCO Headquarters co-hosted the International Conference on Media Development in Iraq in January 2007, in cooperation with the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission (CMC), thanks to the financial support from Japanese Funds-in-Trust and the European Commission. The participants included 200 Iraqi delegates, among which journalists, members of the Iraqi parliament and government officials as well as representatives of international NGOs and many donors. The Conference highlighted the need for international support and advocacy for freedom of expression and access to information, by reinforcing independent regulation of the communications sector in Iraq and by abolishing legal provisions restricting the exercise of independent journalism. It was recommended that the CMC should continue to function as an independent body with exclusive authority to license public media broadcasters and regulate their work.

In parallel, UNESCO has also actively engaged with the United Nations Country Team for Iraq in supporting the constitutional review process by providing technical advice on constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression and access to information in the framework of the IRFFI-funded Constitution II UN Umbrella project. The UNESCO component ($1,047,039) was launched in April 2007 and is focused on reinforcing Iraqi capacity to develop and enforce a regulatory framework conducive to independent and pluralistic media. The project also includes capacity-building activities and support to encourage professional media to participate in the constitutional process and advocate for press freedom. After a three-month international competitive procurement process, UNESCO contracted a consortium lead by the BBC World Service Trust, to provide a $750,000 package of media development services, including assistance with the legal and regulatory framework, facilitation of a code of ethics, media training programmes and public information campaigns.

In the same framework, UNESCO, UNICEF and UNIFEM have collaborated in preparing a
joint commentary paper proposing some amendments to the Iraqi Constitution to be presented to the Constitutional Review Committee, in order to improve constitutional protection for human rights, especially freedom of expression and women and children’s rights in line with recognized international standards. Also, the NGO Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), in collaboration with UNESCO, organized specific training workshops on the current situation of Iraqi women, with the aim of their empowerment and enhancement of their social, economic and political conditions by encouraging radio journalists to work on gender-related topics, and increase public awareness on the challenges faced by women in today’s Iraq. MICT selected 30 Iraqi radio journalists and engaged them in a four-week online course designed to develop their skills in gender sensitive journalism. The service consisted of individual one-to-one training courses, a library (with content covering both journalism techniques and women’s issues) and a virtual meeting room that encouraged exchange of ideas, news and information. Reports, features and interviews that were produced as part of the training were distributed free of charge among radio stations all over Iraq.

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