HEAD OF UNESCO VISITS NORTH PACIFIC

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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, RMI (Marianas Variety, Aug. 5) –The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said Wednesday that he wants to see greater use made of UNESCO programs and resources throughout the Pacific and particularly in three small north Pacific nations.

In an interview during a five-day, three nation tour of the north Pacific, UNESCO director general Koichiro Matsuura said in the Pacific UNESCO is promoting regional teacher and statistician training programs, cultural heritage protection and recognition, and stronger links with "civil society" through its national commissions.

The Paris-based Matsuura, wrapped up his first visit to Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands Thursday.

Matsuura, now in his sixth year as the head of UNESCO, said he is keen to see Pacific islands take greater advantage of opportunities through UNESCO.

He said, for example, that there is only one natural heritage site — in the Solomon Islands — that has been recognized as a World Heritage for its unique environment. Matsuura said there are many opportunities other Pacific countries to gain recognition and support for their various cultural resources through the World Heritage program.

While saying that there may not be too many natural sites that qualify for World Heritage recognition in the Pacific — the ruins of Nan Madol in Pohnpei he described as a "rare exception" — Matsuura said Pacific countries have "very rich cultural traditions of dance, music and crafts" that are eligible for inclusion and protection in a new convention on "intangible heritage preservation."

He said that during meetings with the presidents and other government officials in these three north Pacific nations he encouraged them to apply for cultural recognition.

But Matsuura did not only meet with government leaders. In an interview, he said that participation of non-government organizations and others in "civil society" is crucial to improving education in the islands.

"The National Commission for UNESCO in each island member is very important," he said, adding that in the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau the national commissions are not very strong because they are still relatively new members of UNESCO.

The national commissions involve government and civil society representatives to oversee UNESCO’s grants and other projects in each country.

"We hope the national commissions in the three countries are strengthened and involve more civil society members," he said.

Particularly for improvements in education, the participation of civil society is essential, he said. The government handles formal education, but civil society organizations oversee non-formal education opportunities, he said. "It’s very important all over the world," he added. "We can’t have 100 percent literacy without cooperation from civil society."

Matsuura said that training of teachers and statisticians are crucial for the region, which is facing a shortage of both, Matsuura said.

"Reliable statistics are lacking in this part of the world," he said, adding that the Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia are not able to provide basic statistics. "To measure progress, you need reliable statistics," he said.

UNESCO is keen to get country-specific trainings going in these two areas. "Education is a priority area of cooperation," he said.

Friday, August 5, 2005

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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