Saturday, March 31, 2012

Africa on the Move

Interview of Lidia Brito, Director of Science Policy and Capacity Building, UNESCO

Science, technology and innovation (STI) are important issues for Africa, an increasingly dynamic continent. On the occasion of the First African Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) for Youth Employment, Human Capital Development and Inclusive Growth, from 1 to 3 April in Nairobi, Kenya, Lidia Brito talks about the importance of STI in the African context and how it will contribute to sustainable development in Africa in the run up to the Rio + 20 conference in June 2012.

Friday, March 30, 2012

More on the U.S. Funding of UNESCO

Public opinion about U.S. funding for UNESCO continues to be alive and well this week.
Several articles on the subject appeared including this one from the Minnesota Daily and this one out of Boston University

Ambassador Susan Rice on Capitol Hill

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice was on Capitol Hill this week to speak with Members of the House about the FY 2013 Federal Budget.
During her time on the Hill, the Ambassador spoke about the current status of U.S. funding for UNESCO. You can find more details here
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement in response, which you can seehere

How others see the U.S. action against UNESCO

The General Conference of UNESCO last fall voted, over America's opposition, to admit Palestine to membership. In response, and in keeping with laws passed in the early 1990s, the United States is withholding its contributions to UNESCO. Since the U.S. assessed contribution corresponds to 22 percent of its regular budget, this is causing a crisis in the Organization.

Here is a comment on the case by the Turkish publication, Todays Zaman:

Just by looking at UNESCO’s identity motto one can observe that something about the latest US decision is not quite right. 
Here it is: “UNESCO contributes to the building of peace, the alleviation of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information.” And, one may add, it pursues these noble objectives across many underdeveloped countries all over the world. 
How is it possible then that the Obama administration has announced that it will stop payments towards such an institution? The US, also known as the land of possibilities, has knowingly decided to deny their support for an organization that courageously helps people in need all over the world. I don’t mean to be cacophonic, but this resolution implies, and that’s the worst part of it, the taking away of the possibility of a better life for people in need around the world. 
In other words, a lot of programs will be shut down.......... 
The controversy within the position adopted by the US seems to be merely of a legal nature. We know that the US has proved all along to be a loyal ally of Israel. We also know that in the ‘90s two congressional laws were created to expressly prohibit the funding of any UN organization that accepts the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a full member. The purpose of the laws was to encourage negotiation between Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a just and broad peace. What we might not know is that the laws are reversible, and the US Congress could abolish these laws if it wants to. It could vote at any given time to invalidate them, as declared by the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
Read the entire article titled "Why US decision to deny support to UNESCO is extremely controversial"
by Eleonora Galasso.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

UNESCO Director General Travels Across the USA

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (left)
with UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova (right)
 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Thurs 3/15/12
UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova has continued her 10-day trip across the U.S.A this week with stops Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Two weeks ago in Washington she spoke about the importance of Women and Girls Literacy before a lunch hosted by the UN Foundation and the Women's Foreign Policy Group.

On Thursday 3/15 the Director General was in Philadelphia where she attended an event that highlighted the importance that World Heritage sites can play in promoting tourism and economic development. Later in the day she attended the inauguration of the UNESCO Chair in Learning and Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Over the weekend she was in Chicago where she spoke before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, met with Senator Richard Durbin, talked to the McCormick Foundation, and held an editorial board meeting with the Chicago Tribune. During her stay she also met with representatives from the IDP Foundation, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. 

On Monday of last week the Director General visited Miamiwhere she visited theEverglades and participated in a public-private sector roundtable about World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism.

From there she traveled to San Francisco on Tuesday where she spoke to students at the University of California at Berkeley about freedom of information in the digital age and also met with city officials. On Wednesday she spoke about science education for girls at an event hosted by the Friends of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women.
Mon 3/19 Roundtable on Sustainable Tourism in Miami

L’ORÉAL-UNESCO Award for Women in Science - 2012

Professor Bonnie BASSLER has won the North American Award
Department of Molecular Biology, Princeton University, USA
For understanding the chemical communication between bacteria and opening new doors for treating infections.
Bonnie Bassler has devoted herself to studying the revolutionary notion that bacteria are not simply individual organisms working on their own for better (helping us digest food, for example) or for worse (causing disease). In fact, as she discovered, they are ineffective on their own and must work as coordinated ‘armies’ to be able to be successful at both keeping us healthy and making us sick. It would be impossible for groups of bacteria to act in unison, however, if they did not communicate with each other. Bassler has shown that bacteria ‘talk’ using chemicals as their words. These startling discoveries may someday lead to the development of new antibiotics that interfere with bacterial conversations as well as many other applications, such as infection-resistant surgical implants.
Congratulations to Professor Bassler!

Friday, March 16, 2012

John Oliver Explains U.S. UNESCO Policy

The Daily Show of March 15th broke its normal format in order to devote a major portion to satirize the law which required the United States to withhold funding from UNESCO after UNESCO admitted Palestine to membership.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The public was interested when the USA cut UNESCO funding

UNESCO strips Dresden of World Heritage site title
Vancouver Sun - Jun 25 2009   
Bulgarian diplomat wins UNESCO race
Philadelphia Inquirer - Sep 22 2009   
UNESCO adds 7 sites to World Heritage List
Ynetnews - Aug 1 2010   
UNESCO to assess mining impact at S.Africa
Ninemsn - Nov 16 2010   
US cuts UNESCO funding after Palestinian membership vote
CNN - Oct 31 2011   
Palestinian flag raised at UNESCO
The Hindu - Dec 13 2011  

The upper graph gives the frequency that the term "UNESCO" was used as a search term on Google over the last several years, while the lower graph shows how often the term was used to search Google News over the same period. The graph shows a long term downward trend and seasonal phenomena such as a dip at the end of the calendar year. The decision of the General Conference to admit Palestine to membership and the decision of the United States Government to withhold funding from UNESCO as a consequence of that vote led to a very definite spike in interest in UNESCO. Bad news is news!

Two New U.S. UNESCO Clubs

Two new clubs have been added to the roster of UNESCO Clubs in the USA.

The first is the Inter-America's UNESCO Club of Houston in Houston, TX. The second is the Racines Heritage Foundation in Kensington, MD. This brings the number of clubs in the USA to seven.

Welcome to the clubs!

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO welcomes information about clubs, associations, and centers operating in the USA that have an interest in U.S. activities as a Member State of UNESCO or align themselves with UNESCO’s goals.
No, not this kind of club!

UNESCO's 189th Executive Board Adjourns

UNESCO's 189th Executive Board adjourned last week. During the course of the meeting the U.S. spoke out about several issues the we view as serious challenges for the agency.

During the meeting members of the Executive Board considered several resolutions that affirmed Palestinian membership in UNESCO as a state. The U.S. voted against these; you can see our Ambassador's statement about these votes here.

The Executive Board also considered the legitimacy of Syria's position as a seatholder on the UNESCO Committee that deals with human rights. We supported the removal of Syria from this committee, you can our Ambassador's statement about that vote here.

Lastly, the Executive Board attempted to resolve a long-standing impasse relating to the funding of a proposed prize for research in the life sciences, named after Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who leads Equatorial Guinea. You can see our Ambassador's statement regarding that vote  here.

Princeton system tracks drought to aid disaster relief

Drought is often the precursor to disaster, but getting leads on its stealthy approach through remote or war-torn areas can be so difficult that relief agencies sometimes have little time to react before a bad situation becomes a calamity.

The problem is that there is often no easy way to get data about water supplies in these areas — water monitoring stations don't exist, or they don't work, or they are simply too dangerous to operate. Groups such as AGRHYMET, an intergovernmental hydrology, agricultural and food security agency based in Niger, often have to rely on far-flung observers, often volunteers, to obtain the information manually.

"AGRHYMET conducts the drought monitoring for the whole of West Africa from Cape Verde and Mauritania to Chad and Nigeria," said Abdou Ali, a senior scientist with the organization. "Many areas of this region are drought prone. The ground-based data is not enough and even when the data exists, the transmission system is very weak."

But researchers at Princeton University have come up with an approach that dodges those problems and uses satellite data and historical records to track drought as it emerges. Experts believe their monitoring project, installed this month at AGRHYMET's research center in Niamey, Niger, may go a long way in addressing problems related to drought that have long plagued Africa.

UNESCO Involvement

A conversation at a 2006 international conference on the hydrological impacts of climate change led to a working arrangement between the Princeton team and the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

"Africa is a priority for UNESCO, so it fits very well into the strategy to make sure that we have a system in place to have an early warning on drought," said Siegfried Demuth, chief of hydrological systems for UNESCO's Division of Water Sciences. "We are looking to provide the knowledge base, the tools, with which countries can be better prepared."

NASA is also involved in the program.

The UNESCO Director-General makes the case for UNESCO in the USA

On a visit to the United States, from 13 to 25 March, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova will travel to Washington DC, Philadelphia, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Los Angeles where she will participate in events highlighting UNESCO’s role in promoting lasting peace and more inclusive and sustainable development. She will bring a sharp message focusing on women’s and girls’ education and literacy, on UNESCO’s action for freedom of expression across the world, and on the importance of protecting world cultural and natural heritage, especially in this year commemorating the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention.

The Director-General will inaugurate a new UNESCO Chair in Literacy and Learning at the University of Pennsylvania, where she will also sign an internship programme agreement with the University that will enable graduate students to gain experience in UNESCO’s field offices across the world as well as at Headquarters.

During this visit, Irina Bokova will meet Government officials, representatives of US foundations as well as the private sector, along with multiple media outlets.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

International Women's Day Celebrations

Every year on 8 March, UNESCO celebrates International Women's Day by hosting a flagship programme consisting of round-tables, conferences, exhibitions and cultural events that highlight issues relating to the empowerment of women and the promotion of gender equality.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Decision time at UNESCO

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, presented a roadmap to respond to current financial difficulties to the 189th session of Executive Board, meeting in Paris from 27 February to 10 March.

“The international community faces strategic cross-roads that require UNESCO’s full contribution,” said the Director-General referring to the 40thanniversary of the World Heritage Convention, the 6th World Water Forum, the 3rd International Congress on Technical and Vocational Training, Rio +20, the Expo 2012 on “The Living Ocean and Coast”, the 20th anniversary of the Memory of the World, our work on youth, including in Africa, and much more.
“All of this demands a stronger UNESCO,” declared the Director-General. “The difficulties we face call for action immediately and over the long term (…) I am pleased to have this opportunity now to report formally on my assessment of the situation, on the actions I have taken and on the steps I propose to move forward,” she continued, explaining actions that were taken to close year 2011 on balanced terms and measures put in place to help bridge the funding gap.
The Director-General highlighted the three major principles on which the roadmap is based. “First, an initial refocusing of the programmes; then, mobilizing additional resources; and last, the reduction of administrative expenses,” said Irina Bokova.
“It is vital that UNESCO manages its current difficulties while remaining focused on its objectives, its ability to maintain its status and to guide the world debate,” said the Director-General. “I think it is important to start thinking of the UNESCO that we want. There is no time to waste”.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Obama Administration Seeks UNESCO Waiver Legislation

In the UNESCO General Conference last year, Palestine was elected as a member state over the opposition of the United States. According to a provision of law a couple of decades old, the United States was then required to withhold its contributions to the Organization. Doing so has created a major problem for UNESCO in that the United States pays a portion of the UNESCO regular budget roughly proportional to the U.S. portion of the global GDP, in this case 22 percent. Funds began to be withheld with the final payment of dues for 2011, and are being withheld now.

The Obama administration plans to seek legislation to permit the President to waive the provision requiring withholding of those contributions. It is normal to allow the President to waive such provisions when it is appropriate to the foreign policy of the United States to do so. This is in keeping with the foreign policy responsibilities assigned to the president in the Constitution, and allows for more timely changes than would be possible through the Congressional process of revision of the legislation.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. and Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia., have announced that they will oppose that legislation. Both apparently feel that it is more important to show support for Israel in its negotiations with the Palestinians than to support the educational, scientific and cultural activities of UNESCO.

Secretary of State Clinton meeting with
UNESCO Director General Bokova
UNESCO not only implements a broad program promoting international cooperation in these fields, but it also is carrying out a number of U.S. funded projects, many of which are important to U.S. security interests and all of which have been undertaken at the initiative of the United States government. (See About the U.S. and UNESCO and U.S. Contributions to UNESCO.)

Interestingly, both Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Ackerman face redistricting, threatening their previously secure seats in the House of Representatives. The legislatures in each state will be revising Congressional districts in keeping with the changes in population revealed in the 2010 census.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Miami), will be based in a new District 27, centered around her Miami hometown and no longer including the Keys which were the core of the district which she represents currently. In Florida a Representative need not live in the district which he/she represents, but most do.

Representative Ackerman too is facing shifts in the borders of the district that he represents. It is reported that it's possibile that Ackerman will see his district extend into a district now represented by his congressional neighbor and fellow Democrat Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island.

A New Issue of A World Of Science is available

The new issue (Volume 10, Number 1) focuses on biodiversity, but also provides news about UNESCO's Natural Science programs.