United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Opening of the 181st session of UNESCO’s Executive Board

The 181st session of UNESCO’s Executive Board was opened on 20 April 2009 by its Chairman, Mr Olabiyi Babalola Joseph Yaď. This session was the occasion for Mr Koďchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the Organization, to defend the proposed programme and budget for 2010-2011 (35 C/5), which was presented to the Board in the special context of the current economic and financial crisis.

The Director-General first spoke about the extent of the crisis and the danger of it becoming a social and human catastrophe, and stressed that the response of the international community had also been unprecedented. The G20 summit, held in London on 2 April, had sent a strong signal of solidarity and political will, and entrusted the United Nations with setting up mechanisms for monitoring the impact of the crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable. The meeting of the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), which was hosted by UNESCO shortly afterwards on 4 and 5 April and chaired by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, marked a significant step forward in international action in reinforcing response to the crisis. Thus, the CEB reaffirmed the determination of the system to respond as one to the crisis and fulfil its duty to protect the poorest from the effects of the crisis, considering that a coordinated response was necessary and that the multilateral system had a central role to play.

The Director-General added that UNESCO had a special responsibility to advocate in favour of the most vulnerable, especially in favour of education and particularly for Africa. The Director-General recalled his appeal to the members of the G20 about the importance of investing in education. The role of UNESCO is also to advise governments, for example in the field of scientific policies and innovation. Finally, the Director-General pointed out that the Organization is ready to play its role in monitoring the effects of the crisis, notably through such tools as the ‘Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report’ in the field of education and the ‘United Nations World Water Development Report’ for freshwater.

“The 35 C/5”, the Director-General continued, “has been drafted in order to meet those needs and challenges on the basis of a ‘zero real growth’ scenario (…) to preserve both the overall purchasing power of the Organization and its capacity for action”. While recognizing the budgetary difficulties which the Member States are facing today, the Director-General continued to plead in favour of the zero real growth scenario: “However, do allow me to insist: it is today that we must invest, in real terms, in education, science, culture and communication, for the needs are enormous. While this is the main responsibility of the multilateral system, it also sets UNESCO an obligation for solidarity, which we know will ensure a return to growth and sustainable development”.

The Director-General added that this does not mean maintaining the same budgetary structure, but rather drafting a ‘budget of priorities’, in keeping with the guidelines given by the Board at its last session and with the objectives of the Medium Term Strategy for 2008-2013 (34 C/4), by reinforcing programme activities, and first and foremost education.

After giving technical arguments to justify the calculation of the amount estimated as zero real growth, the Director-General insisted that the real issue was not much technical as political. “First and foremost, it concerns the will of States to fulfil and maintain their commitment to cooperation and multilateralism despite budgetary constraints”, he stressed.

While describing the contents of the C/5 project, the Director-General added that it had been designed to reinforce the priority action areas of every programme sector, while maintaining the two major global priorities, Africa and gender equality, which are fully integrated into every major programme.

The Director-General also underscored that priority had been given to two major programmatic areas: policy advice and capacity-building. He emphasized the priority for every sector: the three pillars of EFA, literacy, teachers and technical and vocational training; the formulation and implementation of genuine science, technology and innovation policies, based on reliable scientific data to respond to the challenges of climate change; access to drinking water; pressure on ecosystems and the intensification of natural disasters; assistance in the formulation of policies concerning migration; youth; the social impact of climate change and access to new information technologies; the continued implementation of conventions while focusing on culture and development issues.

Finally, the Director-General added that the C/5 project would reinforce still further cooperation with the United Nations System and the Organization’s decentralization policy.

“This morning I spoke on very different subjects, and their sometimes technical aspects should not make us lose sight of the essentials: we must now invest in UNESCO’s fields of competence as the guarantee of a lasting return to growth and social cohesion. The social effects of this crisis are already disturbing and could get worse. The crisis is affecting, first and foremost, the people who are most vulnerable. They are the people that I am thinking of as I address you today”, concluded the Director-General.

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Author(s): Office of the Spokesperson - Source: Flash Info N° 066-2009 -  Publication Date: 24-04-2009

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