NEW YORK, United States, Sunday November 11, 2012 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has highlighted the world body’s challenges, responses and lessons learned from the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Caribbean and along the eastern seaboard of the United States.
“Storms and emergencies pose great tests and challenge. They may bring out the best in people who work beyond the call of duty in trying and even heroic circumstances,” Ban said. “But emergency situations can also lay bare where we may have been operating on flawed assumptions and must do better.
“Such was the case over the past two weeks. The United Nations continued to provide its vital global services despite major disruptions,” he added. “At the same time, where there were mistakes – there must be lessons. We are determined to work with all of you to learn and move forward.”
The General Assembly’s informal meeting was convened by UN President, Vuk Jeremic, to address issues that arose in the wake of the storm.
In addition to expressing condolences on behalf of the General Assembly to all those who lost loved ones due to the storm, Jeremic also called for a minute of silence to pay respect to its victims.
Beginning in late October , Hurricane Sandy grew into what has been described as a “once in a generation” storm, causing death and destruction across the Caribbean region and the eastern seaboard of the United States.
In the Caribbean, five million people were affected and 72 people died, the UN said. In Haiti, 54 people died, and hundreds of thousands of people were hit by floods and heavy winds.
In Cuba, 20 per cent of the country’s population was affected while Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas also suffered significantly.
Along the US eastern coastline and the New York metropolitan area, more than 100 people lost their lives and many families are still without power.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, the UN chief spoke with the Presidents of Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as the Prime Minister of Jamaica.
“I expressed my solidarity to each, and pledged the full support of the United Nations for the recovery effort,” he told the Assembly.
Immediately after the storm, the world body allocated US$5 million to Cuba and US$4 million for Haiti from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).
Managed by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and funded by voluntary contributions from Member States, non-governmental organizations and others, CERF enables the fast delivery of life-saving assistance to people affected by natural disasters and other crises worldwide.
In addition, the UN said Jamaica is to receive an emergency grant for health and food security support.
“The United Nations is working closely with national authorities, donors and emergency organizations to ensure the strongest possible support for national efforts to see to their needs today and to strengthen disaster risk reduction for the future,” Ban said.
The Secretary-General said he has written a condolence letter to US President Barack Obama and spoken with the Governors of the US states of New Jersey and New York, Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, respectively, as well as the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, and the chairperson of the American Red Cross, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter.
Hurricane Sandy’s arrival, and its effects, in New York City, where the United Nations is headquartered, led to the world body’s offices being closed for an unprecedented three days straight, with most meetings cancelled, before re-opening on Thursday, November 1.
The issue of climate change was also addressed by both the Secretary-General and the General Assembly President .
“Extreme weather events caused by global warming are but one manifestation of the reality of climate change. This is a very serious issue that requires us to work much more closely together in order for it to be adequately addressed,” Jeremic said,
The Secretary-General, in his speech, acknowledged the difficulties in attributing any single storm to climate change, adding, “But we also know this: extreme weather due to climate change is the new normal.” (CMC)