UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova yesterday (17 February) broke new ground with the EU for enhanced cooperation with the United Nations' educational, scientific and cultural organisation. Her compatriot Kristalina Georgieva, the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, outlined joint action to help alleviate the Haiti crisis.
Bulgarian diplomat Irina Bokova, who recently became the first woman and first East European to lead UNESCO (EURACTIV 23/09/09), held meetings with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Education, Culture and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Maria Damanaki and Georgieva, with whom she said she had a long-standing friendship.
The dire humanitarian situation in earthquake-hit Haiti appeared to be the main topic of Bokova's first visit to Brussels in her new capacity.
Speaking to the press, Bokova said UNESCO was active on the ground in Haiti, in particular in helping the country's education ministry.
“In fact, the ministry of education of Haiti functions from the UNESCO office bureau in Port-au-Prince, because it was not damaged,” Bokova said.
Another goal was to quickly establish a committee for the preservation of cultural objects at a time when bulldozers had little concern for historical heritage, she explained.
Expressing her delight with the visit, Bokova's host Georgieva said that in the field of humanitarian aid and crisis response, the Commission was eager to work hand-in-hand with the UN system.
Georgieva explained that the Commission was committed to covering educational aspects in responding to the Haiti crisis, as in her words, after securing food and shelter – even if that meant just temporary shelters or tents – the next priority must be to help children continue their education.
Somewhat surprisingly, it emerged that UNESCO had developed a system for tsunami alerts, which the Commission was eager to take on board in developing early warning capacities.
The system was developed after the 2004 tsunami in South-East Asia, and was recently successfully tested in a real disaster situation, Bokova said.
Both Georgieva and Bokova said they would visit Haiti very soon, although their visits would not coincide with one another.
Georgieva, who recently scored high marks at a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament (EURACTIV 04/02/10), said that her commitment was to be there “as soon as we have something to offer,” adding that now that the Commission was ready to deliver, it was “time to go”.
She explained that her aim was to identify the way to best spend recently-awarded extra assistance amounting to 90 million euros, so that gaps from other aid efforts would be bridged.
Asked by EURACTIV what other fields of synergy with the EU she was planning to develop, Bokova singled out addressing the problems facing the African continent and gender equality.
“In both of these horizontal priorities, we can have very fruitful cooperation,” she said.