18/01/2005
Press Release
SG/SM/9679
GA/10327


Secretary-General, addressing General Assembly meeting on tsunami disaster,


underlines need to focus on longer-term recovery, reconstruction


Urging Unity in Healing Old Wounds, Long-Running Conflicts,

He Calls Moment Opportunity, Reminder to Address Other Emergencies


Following is the text of Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s statement at the General Assembly meeting on tsunami disaster, in New York, today, 18 January 2005:


Let me thank the General Assembly, in particular the Asian Group, for making this meeting possible.


Above all, let me once more offer my condolences to the countries affected by the tsunami disaster, and pay tribute to their people for the courage and solidarity they have displayed over the past three weeks.


I return from the region proud to be a member of humankind. 


On the morning of 26 December 2004, a word that most of us had never used before took on a universal and terrifying meaning.  In the space of seven hours, the onslaught of the tsunami had struck 12 countries across two continents.


The total death toll now stands at almost 160,000, half of them children, as we heard the President of the General Assembly cite earlier.  That figure is likely to rise.  At least 27,000 people are still missing.  More than 1 million have been displaced.  Another million are homeless.  Roads, bridges, schools and hospitals have been destroyed or swept away.  And let us not forget the thousands of nationals from dozens of other countries around the world who also perished in the tragedy.


I have just returned from a tour of three of the most affected countries:  Indonesia, where the cost in human life was by far the most catastrophic; Sri Lanka, which also suffered massive human losses, as well as destruction of key parts of its economy; and the Maldives, where one third of the population was directly affected, and several islands have been rendered uninhabitable.


I have seen mile after mile of desolation, where once vibrant communities have suddenly ceased to exist.  I have looked into the eyes of fishermen whose silence expressed their loss as no words could.  I have seen families torn asunder, mothers inconsolable, livelihoods gone.


But I have also seen examples of the best that humanity has to offer.


Governments of the affected countries moved quickly to do their part, with civil society and the private sector joining forces with them.  Communities organized themselves spontaneously, reaching out to their neighbours, without waiting to be told what to do.


In Aceh, I met displaced persons being sheltered in the best buildings -- government houses and schools -- instead of being left to fend for themselves on the margins of society.


In Sri Lanka, I met families being housed and cared for in a mosque, whatever their religion or ethnicity.


In the Maldives, I met islanders who had been spared the direct impact of the emergency, working day and night to help their fellow islanders in need.


And if this natural disaster was without parallel or precedent, so was the international response.


Neighbouring countries, whether affected or not, came to the aid of those hardest hit.  Singapore and Malaysia, India and Thailand, provided early and crucial assistance to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and continue to do so.  


Governments around the world offered pledges and contributions in an outpouring of compassion.  More than 60 countries have pledged assistance so far.


The Core Group and other countries with military assets in the region provided essential logistical support for the humanitarian effort.


The United Nations mobilized itself early and quickly.  I am sure I speak for all of us in thanking Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, and Margareta Wahlström, our special coordinator in the region, as well as Carol Bellamy of UNICEF, Jim Morris of World Food Programme, and Ruud Lubbers of UNHCR, for the leadership they have demonstrated since day one.


Above all, I thank our men and women in the field for the wonderful job they are doing in difficult circumstances.  Our UN country teams, led by the Resident Coordinators, were joined within 24 hours of the disaster hitting by UN disaster assessment and coordination teams.  These combined their efforts with the governments affected, with the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and other NGOs, as well as with countries deploying military assets.


As part of the response, leaders from the region came together in Jakarta to discuss the relief and reconstruction effort.  They agreed that the United Nations should coordinate that work.  The Core Group, by unanimous agreement, is being folded into the activities of the UN.  The collaboration between us has been excellent.


In Jakarta, I also launched a Flash Appeal for $977 million to cover the humanitarian emergency needs of an estimated 5 million people in five countries.


In response, there have been generous pledges and, more importantly, some firm commitments.  Official pledges now stand at $739 million, or more than 75 per cent of what we asked for.  I fervently hope they will be converted into cash as soon as possible.


There has also been an unprecedented response worldwide from the general public and the private sector, whose contributions now total almost $1 billion.


We are determined to live up to the trust of our donors.  Price Waterhouse Cooper is working with us to strengthen existing financial tracking systems and ensure transparency in the use of funds donated for the Flash Appeal.


Today, we can say with some confidence that the humanitarian response is on track.  The World Food Programme is feeding more than 300,000 people.  The World Health Organization is providing technical support for water, nutrition, sanitation, immunization and women's health, while monitoring for communicable diseases.  So far, no major outbreaks have been reported.  UNHCR is providing shelter, while UNICEF has shipped tonnes of education materials to help children get back to school as quickly as possible.


At the same time, the long-term challenges are considerable.  We know from experience that the poor always suffer the most enduring damage from such natural disasters, as their assets are often completely wiped out.  So we need to focus on longer-term recovery and reconstruction, and ensure that from now on, there are no gaps in the future funding effort.


The World Bank, in collaboration with UNDP and international and regional financial institutions, is already working to determine rehabilitation and reconstruction needs, while exploring ways to address them.


And as called for at the Jakarta meeting, I will name a special envoy by the end of the week, to liaise with governments in the affected countries, ensure coordination of the response, and encourage the world community to remain engaged for the longer term.


The generosity and support we have seen over the past few weeks have set a new standard for our global community.  It is my hope that we will find a way of capturing this moment, nurturing this spirit, and bringing it to bear in other crises around the world.


I hope we will unite around it to heal old wounds and long-running conflicts.


I hope we will seize it as an opportunity and a reminder to address other emergencies.


I hope we will hold to it as a measure of our humanity.


* *** *