Focus in Myanmar on saving lives, not politics, Ban Ki-moon tells Assembly

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

16 May 2008 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the United Nations is concerned with saving lives, not with politics, as he tries to ramp up aid efforts following Cyclone Nargis which struck Myanmar and has severely affected up to 2.5 million people.

Addressing members of the General Assembly, Mr. Ban said, “I want to emphasize that this is not the time for politics. Our concern right now is to save lives – to help the Government of Myanmar and its people.”

He said that he had asked UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes to deliver a third letter to Myanmar’s leadership with the aim of discussing how the world body can assist the Government’s immediate and longer-term relief effort. He added that unless more aid gets into the country quickly, “we face the risk of an outbreak of infectious diseases that could dramatically worsen today’s crisis.”

Mr. Ban. said he hoped that the meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) next week, and a further high-level pledging conference that he has proposed for 24 or 25 May, would help mobilize resources in response to the crisis in Myanmar, as was the case in response to the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Turning to the China earthquake, the Secretary-General described it as a “humanitarian catastrophe, no less serious than Cyclone Nargis.” He commended the Beijing authorities for their fast and effective action and expressed his sincere condolences to the victims and their families. Mr. Ban added that, while fully confident in the Chinese Government’s capacity to manage the crisis, the UN has offered resources from its Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and is dispatching experts from rescue and relief operations.

The Secretary-General also said that the current global food crisis “demands urgent, coordinated action by the international community,” and noted the work carried out earlier this week by the international task force on the food crisis which he chairs. He said the task force is working hard to bring together a comprehensive plan in time for the summit on world food security in Rome, scheduled for early June. He called the summit one of the most important events planned for 2008.

Mr. Ban also signalled that he was personally increasing his engagement for a successful agreement on climate change at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is set to take place in Copenhagen in December. The Secretary-General committed himself to raising global awareness on the importance of an effective climate change agreement that all nations can embrace. He also said he would lead by example by reducing the climate footprint at the UN.

Mr. Ban’s office earlier announced that he would be unable to attend Harvard University near Boston in the United States to give a speech next week because of commitments related to the current major humanitarian disasters.

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