ICOMOS International Secretariat e-news – no 53, 12 April 2010

ICOMOS International Secretariat e-news – n° 53, 12 April 2010
SPECIAL EDITION: “ICOMOS actions in favour of Haiti – progress report April 2010”

Dear ICOMOS members,

I write to explain what has been occurring on the ICOMOS Haiti recovery proposal. It has been two months since the earthquake and while the ICOMOS assistance has accomplished much, it is still at the very beginning, as the delivery of the assistance plan we had foreseen has yet to be accomplished in accordance to the priorities established by our Haitian colleagues. It is important to underline that we are coordinating closely with UNESCO, who is the lead entity to guide the cultural assistance process.


Immediately after the earthquake many national and international ICOMOS Committees as well as dozens of institutions and universities indicated their readiness to help, and more than 300 individuals from all over the world came forward to serve as volunteers.  To harness these resources, an ICOMOS Steering Committee composed of eminent international experts was appointed with Dinu Bumbaru of Canada as its chair. The other initially appointed members of the Steering Committee are: Donald Del Cid (Guatemala), Rohit Jigyasu (India), Stephen Kelley (USA), Daniel Lefevre (France), Kanefusa Masuda (Japan), Susan McIntyre-Tomwoy (Australia), Axel Mykleby (Norway), Esteban Prieto (Dominican Republic), Trinidad Rico (Argentina), Samuel Stokes (USA), Tong Mingkang (China), and Rasool Vatandoust (Iran).

The decision on who to appoint as members to the Steering Committee was based on achieving a balance among the various areas of expertise that I felt would be required to lead and orchestrate the effort.  The mandate of the Steering Committee was to coordinate the many offers of assistance, and to tailor the specific set of activities that I proposed to them, adapting them to the local needs in consultation with our Haitian colleagues.

An integral part of the initial mandate also addressed the need to begin to expand the committee by creating sub-committees or task forces to which would be delegated the many facets of the ICOMOS recovery effort, thereby ensuring that all the talents and specialization of the ICOMOS Committees and individual members would receive their best application to meet the local necessities.  The intent was and remains for the Committee to enable these individuals to contribute by bringing in the additional expertise as it is identified.

Since the initial appointment, I have felt the need to appoint three additional members, all incidentally from the United States, who generously brought to ICOMOS the ability to enhance the work of the Committee in specific areas. They are: Norma Barbacci of World Monuments Fund, plus Randolph Langenbach and Patrick Sparks who came forward with a solution to fill the gap due to the absence of inventories by developing aerial photo murals, as explained further below. I have refrained from making additional appointments in the hope that the Committee members as a group would move in that direction on their own.

The appointment of Norma Barbacci has been extremely helpful in coordinating the activities of World Monuments Fund with those of ICOMOS and the Institut pour la sauvegarde du patrimoine national (ISPAN), the Haitian heritage authorities.


In the company of members from ICOMOS Dominican Republic, who have been the first line of support to their next-door neighbors, and colleagues from UNESCO, World Monuments Fund and CARIMOS, Dinu Bumbaru and Esteban Prieto traveled to Haiti twice to coordinate with ISPAN Director Daniel Elie and our Haitian colleagues, and to perform a reconnaissance of heritage damages, first to Jacmel, and later to Port au Prince.  He has issued reports to the members of the Steering Committee.

Another meeting for information sharing, convened by the Steering Committee and presided by Dinu Bumbaru, was held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. In attendance was ISPAN Director Daniel Elie, as well as international as well as national representatives from  UNESCO; WMF; the Dominican Committees of ICOMOS, ICOM, and DOCOMOMO; CARIMOS; the Spanish Agency for International Development ( AECID);  the Dominican Ministry of Culture; SIRCHAL; the Universidad Nacional Pedro Henriquez Ureña,  the Pontífica Universidad Católica Mater et Magistra, as well as preservationists and former government officials of Haiti.

In the meantime, I attended two international coordinating meetings in Paris. One was convened by UNESCO and was attended by high Government dignitaries from Haiti, including the Minister of Culture and ISPAN Director Daniel Elie. The sessions included a smaller informal meeting hosted by Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO. The second meeting, convened by the French Section of ICOMOS brought together representatives from French government and the private sector who are active in offering heritage assistance to Haiti.

On March 7, Steering Committee member Esteban Prieto met with Patrick Delatour, former President of ICOMOS Haiti , and currently  President René Preval’s appointee to coordinate the reconstruction and recovery of the Haitian Nation.  The meeting was useful for understanding how the ICOMOS heritage recovery plan fits within the larger, overarching priorities and needs that have been defined by the Haitians for the medium and the long term.

From all these discussions there has quickly emerged a clear consensus that the goal for all assistance to Haiti would be to view this catastrophic event as an opportunity not only to reconstruct the country to the conditions before the earthquake, but to strive build institutional, professional and legal tools and assist in training more heritage professionals that will sustainable heritage conservation in the context of social and economic development, and in accordance to the guidance provided by the Haitian authorities.

In the meantime, my assistant Sean Fagan has constructed a flexible database to contain and manage the information and capabilities of the more than 300 members of ICOMOS – along with many non-members, from all corners of the world who responded to our call for volunteers and have expressed a desire to help in the assistance program to Haiti.


The initial ICOMOS plan of assistance that I prepared to be offered initially to the Haitians was simple yet extraordinarily ambitious. It consisted of a sequence of actions that began by cordoning off al heritage resources from immediate demolitions during the humanitarian rescue efforts. Once those were completed, the following steps were proposed for development with the Haitian heritage authorities:

  • Obtain from Haitian authorities heritage information, inventories and maps to identify the magnitude of the assessment and reconstruction effort
  • Develop a unified methodology to ensure the uniform assessment of damages to all individual heritage properties damaged by the earthquake and the immediate and long-term needs for protection and restoration.
  • Based on the range of building typologies and construction materials prevalent, identify the disciplinary composition of the assessment teams, as well as the number of teams that would be needed. The teams would then be deployed to Haiti
  • Adopt an electronic system, such as GIS, to receive all the assessment data and to continue to serve permanently into the future as a tool to manage, protect and monitor the heritage resources in the entire country.
  • Analyze the field data to prepare a comprehensive menu of all reconstruction needs, with associated cost estimates.
  • Convene, in conjunction with UNESCO, a meeting of donors to seek sponsors for the various components of the heritage reconstruction effort
  • Follow-through assistance as needed and identified, such as drafting proposals for new legislation,  contributing to the elaboration of new building codes, completion of the national inventory of historic places, etc

The above plan, along with the long-standing friendships between Haitian preservationists and many  ICOMOS members, and the magnitude of the resources gathered by ICOMOS in a short time led the national heritage agency, the Institut pour la Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National (ISPAN), to designate ICOMOS as the coordinator of all foreign assistance destined for the built heritage, a designation in which ICOMOS immediately asked UNESCO to be our partner.

The initial plan will need to be re-assessed and expanded as we continue to work with our Haitian colleagues. There are ambitious plans for training, for urban heritage conservation, for reinforcement of cultural traditions and crafts, and for tourism development.  With the rich resources of our International Scientific Committees, ICOMOS is particularly capable of providing all these types of cooperation.


As with all plans, unforeseen circumstances caused our progress to proceed slower than anticipated. The first obstacle, which we are still trying to overcome, was the absence of heritage surveys and inventories. This has meant that more than two months after the earthquake, we are still working on identifying the number of buildings and sites that will need to be assessed in Port au Prince, Jacmel, Petit Goave, Grand Goave and Léogâne.

A second unforeseen obstacle has to do with the national heritage legislation, which dates from 1940. As with all legislation dating from that time, the protection it provides focuses exclusively on monumental landmarks and iconic sites, and it is totally silent about heritage categories that have emerged since then, such as urban districts, cultural landscapes, vernacular architectural expressions, archaeological sites, etc.  This shortcoming has raised discussion among Haitian authorities about the legal right of the state to intervene in heritage sites that are neither listed nor held in public property.

In spite of these difficulties, the work of ICOMOS with our Haitian colleagues has continued. As a result of joint efforts from the beginning of this crisis, ICOMOS is coordinating and working closely with World Monuments Fund. With a special license from Pictography, high-resolution photographic mapping for identification of all potential heritage resources by ISPAN in April are being composed for all suspected heritage regions by US/ICOMOS member Randolph Langenbach and Patrick Sparks. In France great progress has been made along similar lines by specialized government agencies. The field assessment methodology has been developed by the Steering Committee under the lead of Steve Kelley and is currently being reviewed.  A number of our members in the United States and Australia are exploring and assessing the advantages and conditions of each of the several GIS systems that have been offered by organizations and private foundations.


To help the Haitian authorities and ISPAN coordinate and control the heavy traffic of proposals coming from the governments, institutions and universities of many nations, ICOMOS is establishing a task force of National Committees from countries that are offering massive heritage assistance packages for Haiti, such as Canada, the Dominican Republic, France, Macedonia, Spain and the United States . More National Committees from other countries offering specific packages of assistance will be added as they are identified. The objective is to develop a global database of all governmental and non-governmental proposals in each country to help avoid redundancy as well as promote partnerships among nations with similar projects.

A second objective of the National Committees task force is to secure monetary funding to sustain the ambitious work of ICOMOS from domestic sources in all these countries, which brings us to the issue of finances.


The unique wealth of ICOMOS in terms of human resources and professional knowledge stands in striking contrast to the scarcity of its financial capability. There are neither reserves available, nor funds in the ICOMOs budget to address this important work. Funding will all have to be procured through extra-budgetary donations and grants.

In spite of the extraordinary generosity of our volunteer members with their time and talents, there will be steep real costs associated with the ICOMOS assistance plan:  training workshops for Haitians and international volunteers, local field offices, field assessment equipment plus expensive software and hardware needs to be secured through purchases, grants or corporate donations, as will international travel and local lodging costs for the volunteer field assessment teams. Vehicles and fuel costs for travel within Haiti and travel costs for coordinating meetings are only two of the many other financial challenges.  A budget for all these imminent expenses is currently being put together for use in a global fundraising campaign. It will be finalized as soon as our Haitian colleagues are able to identify the number of buildings to be assessed and the magnitude of the assessment.

The funding needs will undoubtedly increase as ICOMOS moves into the next stages of professional training and institutional strengthening.

Securing the necessary funding is not something that can be done by a few, and it is a new experience for ICOMOS. That is why I am asking all National and International Committees of ICOMOS, as well as our individual members and affinity organizations to help in finding and securing the money that will be needed to help our Haitian colleagues.

So you can see, much has been accomplished, but much remains to be done. As this Haiti initiative is one of the first on the ground campaigns proposed by ICOMOS in many years, it will be useful as a lesson on to the steps to follow to respond to future disasters. I would like to thanks all persons named above, as well as the unnamed hundreds who have come forward as volunteers or that are already providing quiet assistance to our Haitian colleagues.

Gustavo Araoz
ICOMOS President