Report Offers Roadmap for Haitian Science

Haiti and the international community should work together to advance Haiti’s science sector, building on the nation’s existing science capacity to support earthquake recovery and long-term, sustainable development, says a new report from AAAS.

Science for Haiti was delivered to Haitian leaders in business, science, and education—and to a top adviser to President Michel Martelly—during meetings 19 to 20 September in Port-au-Prince. The report includes a set of strategic goals and more than three dozen specific recommendations to strengthen science and science education, and it urges the international science community, donor and aid organizations, and others to provide collaborative partnerships and other support.

“The report resolutely opts for long-lasting development,” said Fritz Deshommes, president of the newly formed Haitian Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology (HAAST). “It offers the possibility of a vision for Haiti that is more rational, authentic, and reassuring, one that is not limited to humanitarian aid nor condemned to perpetual dependence.”

Science for Haiti “is an important, ambitious document,” said Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science. “Through this collaboration, the authors have developed a roadmap for building Haiti’s prosperity and improving the lives of its people.”

The report is the result of workshops and discussions, organized by AAAS and its Caribbean Division, involving over 100 scientists, engineers, educators, and government leaders from Haiti, Puerto Rico, Canada, Rwanda, and the United States. It was based on a key principle: Haitians must chart their own goals for science and their own future, with the international science community supporting their efforts.

Among key recommendations, the report calls for Haitian policies to build science capacity as an “integral element of social and economic development”; hiring and training of more teachers and improved science education materials and textbooks; and expanded engagement between Haitian and international scientists through research programs in key disciplines.

Haiti, already one of the world’s poorest nations, was shattered by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on 12 January 2010. The quake killed 222,500 people and injured more than 300,000. Hundreds of government buildings, research facilities, and educational institutions were destroyed or badly damaged.

The project received support from the AAAS International Office, the University of Idaho, the University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras (UPR), and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

The authors of Science for Haiti include AAAS Fellow Gary Machlis, professor of conservation at the University of Idaho; AAAS Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón, professor of chemistry at UPR; and Jean McKendry, AAG senior researcher.

Machlis and McKendry arrived in Port-au-Prince on 18 September and attended one of the first meetings of HAAST. The next day, they presented the recommendations to scientists from universities and the private sector, including Jean-Vernet Henry, rector of L’Université d’État d’Haïti, as well as secondary school principals and science teachers.

McKendry and Machlis later discussed the report with a counselor to President Martelly, the Haitian Chamber of Commerce, Haitian journalists, and staff at the U.S. Embassy.

The report was presented at a AAAS event on 20 October.

Read Science for Haiti at www.aaas.org/go/haiti2011/.