Ban mourns deaths of top UN officials in Haiti quake

Special Representative Hédi Annabi at a press conference in Haiti on 7 January 2010

16 January 2010 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today paid tribute to the top United Nations officials who perished in the catastrophic earthquake which struck Haiti on Tuesday, voicing determination that the world body will persevere with its “noble work” in the impoverished Caribbean nation.

In a statement issued by his spokesperson, Mr. Ban said he was “deeply saddened” to confirm the deaths of his Special Representative to Haiti, Hédi Annabi, as well as his Deputy Luiz Carlos da Costa and Acting Police Commissioner Doug Coates of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

“In every sense of the word, they gave their lives for peace,” he said. [Watch video]

The Secretary-General characterized Mr. Annabi, of Tunisia, as a “true citizen of the world” for whom the UN was his life.

Having started his career with the world body as a desk officer for Cambodia, he was involved in almost all peacekeeping operations launched over a decade.

“He gave of himself – with energy, discipline and great bravery,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the envoy was the “gold standard of service against which all who had the privilege to work with him were measured.”

He characterized the Tunisian official as a “mild man with the heart of a lion,” recalling his dry sense of humour, integrity and work ethic.

The Special Representative “was proud of the UN mission in Haiti – proud of its accomplishments in bringing stability and hope to Haiti's people, proud of his UN staff,” Mr. Ban, who will visit the country tomorrow, stressed.

The deputy envoy, Mr. da Costa, a Brazilian, has been a UN peacekeeping legend, the Secretary-General said, noting that his professionalism and dedication were matched only by his charisma, warmth and devotion to his friends.

“Over decades, he brought many of the finest and most talented staff to the United Nations,” mentoring generations of UN staff. “His legacy lives in the thousands that serve under the blue flag in every corner of the globe.”

Doug Coates, Acting Police Commissioner, was “a true friend of Haiti and the United Nations,” Mr. Ban said.

He called the police chief “a great police officer who believed to his core in the importance of rule of law and justice.”

The three officials are among other UN officials who lost their lives in the devastating 7.0 magnitude tremors which struck Haiti, the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, on Tuesday.

“Our hearts are with them, the families and friends of Hédi, Luiz, Doug and the many other UN heroes who gave their lives for Haiti and for the highest ideals of the United Nations,” the Secretary-General said.

“Their dearest wish, I am sure, would be that we carry forward the noble work that they and their colleagues performed so well.”

The earthquake, which is believed to have affected one third of Haiti's 9-million strong population, is a “great tragedy,” according to Edmond Mulet, former Special Representative to Haiti and current Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who was dispatched to the nation to assume full command of the UN Stabilization Mission (MINUSTAH) in the wake of the disaster.

Upon arriving in Port-au-Prince on Wednesday, he held talks with President René Préval and other top officials, in which he stressed that MINUSTAH is in the process of building back its capacity and emphasized the Mission's full support of the Government as it rebuilds the devastated capital.

He has also flown over the capital, Port-au-Prince, the city most devastated by the tremors, with Mr. Préval, during which they saw first-hand the destruction wrought by the disaster.

UN emergency teams on the ground estimate that as many of half of the buildings in the worst-hit areas of the capital have been damaged or destroyed.

“We are still in the search-and-rescue phase, and we are trying to save as many lives as possible,” Mr. Ban told reporters, as UN agencies continue to rush assistant to Haiti.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) aims to reach up to 2 million people with one-week rations of ready-to-eat food, while also planning for food-for-work schemes to jump-start reconstruction and rehabilitation.

For its part, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is distributing water purification tablets, rehydration salts and other supplies in a bid to prevent the spread of diarrheal infections and diseases.

Two planes loaded with 70 metric tons of tents, tarpaulin, and medicine are also set to land in Haiti this weekend.

A major humanitarian operation is under way, Mr. Ban said, and “although it is inevitably slower and more difficult than any of us would wish, we are mobilizing all resources as fast as we possibly can.”

With the airport's capacity limited, roads still blocked and the lack of transport and fuel within Haiti, the logistical situation, he stressed, is a very difficult one.

“That said, the international community's response has been generous and robust, and we are gearing up rapidly and effectively despite the challenging circumstances,” he said, a sentiment echoed by Mr. Mulet.

Yesterday, Mr. Ban spoke by phone with President Préval and assured him the UN was fully mobilized to bring aid. The Haitian said that the biggest problem was coordinating all the aid efforts and that he would discuss the issue with Mr. Mulet. Mr. Ban said United States coordination with the UN was also very important.

The UN has launched a flash appeal for some $562 million, with a bulk of these funds to be directed to urgent needs, including food, water and shelter.

UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky announced yesterday that over 300 UN personnel are still missing or unaccounted for, with 36 military and civilian MINUSTAH personnel, as well as one WFP staff member, having been confirmed to have died.

The Christopher Hotel, which houses the UN headquarters in Haiti, and other buildings hosting the world body's offices collapsed in the tremors.


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

Secretary-General to travel to Haiti to show solidarity with quake victims

Related Stories





In-depth Interviews