CER conference: culture as a basic need

October 2006 -

"Ponder not only the consequences disasters have on culture, but also the impact culture has on humanitarian disasters," Jan Pronk urged the participants at the CER conference 'Culture is a basic need'. The conference took place in The Hague on 25 and 26 September 2006.

Jan Pronk asserted that the international system of the United Nations, based on respect of human rights and treaties to establish and sustain peace, has eroded in the past decade. The culture of peace that was created after the Second World War is losing ground to a culture of war governed by the right of survival of the fittest, with no room for other cultures or philosophies. In that sense, the Americans who 'cleared' the Baghdad Library are no different from the Taliban who destroyed Bamyan’s Buddha's.

The CER organized this conference on the occasion of its tenth anniversary, and many CER partners from all parts of the world made the journey to The Hague, to the delight of the city’s mayor Deetman. In the first work group, Positioning Culture in Humanitarian Emergency Relief, Georg Frerks, head of Disaster studies at Wageningen University, discussed the question of why it is so important to recover and maintain culture after a disaster. Culture is more than tangible materials: it also encompasses the identity and human dignity of the people in a disaster area. Good, effective aid requires that the workers understand the culture, the standards and values, all the ways of the victims’ society. This can only be achieved through intensive contact with the victims. Georg Frerks referred to them as actors to indicate that these victims were anything but passive. A dilemma exists in the fact that the large Western aid organizations are often based on a top-down structure, but an approach giving the population a deciding vote requires a bottom-up structure. For example: in a disaster area in India, pre-fabricated houses were quickly constructed but the inhabitants refused to move into them because the toilet was integrated into the homes.

At the occasion of the conference the 14th Journal of the Prince Claus Fund was published: Culture is a Basic Need. The journal can be downloaded as PDF-file on the ebsite of the Prince Claus Fund.

The conference was part of a Dutch programma on climate change called HIER.