Addressing the Forum were: Doctor Paula Dobriansky, Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs; Doctor Sharon Hays, Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, representing the Executive Office of the President; Doctor Arden Bement Jr., Director of the National Science Foundation; and Ambassador Louise Oliver, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to UNESCO. The meeting brought together US experts and agencies with representatives from several African countries.
“With thousands of lives lost every day due to poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water, the question of how to mobilize cutting-edge technologies for water services in Africa is of utmost importance”, the Director-General stated in his address to the opening ceremony in the morning of 27 June.
After introducing the four main pillars of UNESCO’s work in freshwater, Mr Matsuura turned to the specific challenges in Africa, highlighting what the Organization was doing to address them, and what he saw as the opportunities for future cooperation with the US. The Director-General focused in particular on the need for improved management and monitoring of freshwater resources, underscoring the importance in both areas of strengthening human and institutional capacity in Africa at the local, national and regional levels.
“UNESCO has identified several core areas for support in the years ahead. These include building capacity for: the management of trans-boundary water resources; the assessment of drinking water quality in urban and rural areas; and the improvement of water information systems, in particular through the use of advanced technologies such as satellite imagery. UNESCO is also working to strengthen African National Committees of UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) so that they can exercise real leadership on these issues, in collaboration with the African Ministers’ Council on Water. Many of these activities have links with the US scientific community – links that I hope can be strengthened,” the Director-General said. In this context, Mr Matsuura welcomed the US proposal for the creation of an International Centre for Integrated Water Resources Management under the auspices of UNESCO, which will serve as a hub for the development and transfer of best water management practices and technologies for the benefit of developing nations, in particular in Africa.
“I would like to leave no doubt that UNESCO warmly welcomes a strengthened US initiative in freshwater at the international level. We are ready to explore further cooperative arrangements within the scope of UNESCO’s freshwater programmes in order to help make the incredible wealth of US water knowledge and technology more accessible globally, particularly in Africa”, the Director-General said in conclusion.
While in Washington the Director-General met with several top level officials, including: Acting Secretary of State John Negroponte; Deputy National Security Council Adviser Elliot Abrams; and Assistant Secretary of State Kristen Silverberg, newly named US Ambassador to the EU. Together, they confirmed their satisfaction at the positive way in which cooperation between the US and UNESCO had developed since the US returned to the Organization in October 2003. They further discussed how to strengthen collaboration in coming years in key areas, especially education, in particular literacy, and freshwater.
During his stay, Mr Matsuura visited the Library of Congress to speak with Doctor James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, on progress in the World Digital Library project. He met Mr Tim Wirth, President of the UN Foundation, to discuss UNESCO’s cooperation with the Foundation. At a dinner hosted by Esther Coopersmith in his honour on Thursday 26 June, Mr Matsuura also had the occasion to speak with Chairman Howard Berman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as other members of the Committee.
In the evening of Friday 27June, the Director-General attended an informal reception of the US National Commission for UNESCO, where he signed with the vice-President of External affairs of the University of Washington, Ms Barbara Perry, an agreement for the establishment of a new UNESCO Chair on sustainable rivers. The Director-General also paid tribute to the Executive Director of the US National Commission, Susanna Connaughton, who will soon be leaving her position.
On Saturday 28 June, Mr Matsuura visited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he spoke with Ms Sarah Ogilvie, Director of the National Institute for Holocaust Education, on possible avenues for collaboration. He also toured the National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival accompanied by Doctor Richard Kurin, Acting Under Secretary for History, Art and Culture and Culture Director of the Centre for Folklife and Cultural Heritage at the Smithsonian Institution, and by Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian.