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Scientists, Educators Chart Course For Haiti’s Future Prosperity

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—As Haiti struggles to recover from a shattering January earthquake, a grassroots, multinational team of scientists, educators, and business leaders is developing a plan that sets science and education as a foundation for rebuilding and future growth.

Under a framework that emerged from a workshop organized by the AAAS Caribbean Division, Haiti’s science and technology capacity would be systematically built through Haitian policy, new investment, and international collaboration. While specific recommendations are still taking shape, they will range from rebuilding laboratories and improving school materials to assuring that Haitian development policy is informed by the latest environmental science.


Rebuilding and renewal. Among those at the workshop Haitian science were (clockwise from top left): Nadine Francis, a Haitian chemist who works in water purification; AAAS Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón; Evens Emmanuel, dean of science and engineering at Quisqueya University in Haiti; and Gary Machlis, a professor of conservation at the University of Idaho.

“These recommendations are being shaped by Haitians who have a ground-level view of current conditions and future needs,” said Caribbean Division President Jorge Colón. “It’s important that they lead the effort, since any role that science and science education will play in the reconstruction of Haiti should be based on Haiti’s development goals. But it is clear that support from the science community in the Caribbean and beyond will be important for success.”

“The shortcomings of science education and the science culture in Haiti help explain the extraordinary scope of damage caused by the earthquake,” said Fritz Deshommes, vice rector of research at l’Université d’État d’Haiti. “Now we desperately need to integrate science into the process of reconstruction and renewal. For that reason, the workshop was very important—it will help build the scientific community in Haiti and strengthen bonds with the regional and global scientific community.”

Workshop organizers and participants already have shared preliminary recommendations with key science and education leaders in Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the United States. A final report is expected in late summer or early fall.

The workshop—held l0-12 July in Puerto Rico and 15-18 July in Haiti—appears to have been the first meeting of its kind since 12 January, when the impoverished nation was rocked by a 7.0 magnitude earthquake. The quake killed more than 300,000 Haitians and injured 300,000 more; some 1.5 million people were left homeless.

The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy joined the Caribbean Division in sponsoring the workshop. Additional support was provided by the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the College of Natural Resources at the University of Idaho, and the Association of American Geographers (AAG).

The Puerto Rico portion of the workshop convened 10 scientists, educators, business executives, and policy experts from Haiti and the Haitian diaspora, along with 12 colleagues from Puerto Rico, the United States, Canada, and Rwanda.

Haitian speakers set the context, describing the science-related challenges facing their country, the destruction of laboratories and education facilities, and the potential for rebuilding and expanding science capacity. U.S. and Puerto Rican scholars discussed such issues as earthquake recovery, land use, and reforestation.

Thus far, participants said, the Haitian government’s recovery plans have not set science and science education as priorities. In subsequent sessions, they developed more than 30 preliminary goals and recommendations.

The most overarching goal: Build Haitian science capacity to address specific Haitian challenges. New investment would be needed in science education, research, and information technology to further Haiti’s sustainable development and prosperity.

Other initiatives could establish an association of Haitian scientists, build understanding of science among the Haitian public and political leaders, and develop international research collaborations aligned with Haiti’s sustainable development goals. Jean McKendry, a senior researcher at AAG, and Gary Machlis, a professor of conservation at the University of Idaho, joined Colón in presenting the preliminary results as the workshop re-convened in Port-au-Prince.

They met with the Haitian presidential commissions on education and technology, information, and communication, and with groups of working scientists and school principals. At each meeting, they gathered suggestions for refining the preliminary recommendations.

“The challenges of rebuilding Haiti are extraordinary—and so are the Haitian scientists, science teachers, and university leaders,” Machlis said. “If the science and education communities in the Caribbean, the United States and other areas can match their commitment, the partnerships emerging from this workshop can produce great progress.”


Edward W. Lempinen

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