On 6 July, the newly appointed Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, visited the staff of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). He was greeted by Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang and some 100 DESA staff members. “I want to convey to you my deep commitment to development”, said Mr. Eliasson, as he visited the department only four days into his new assignment.
Jan Eliasson was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the UN by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 2 March and he took office on 1 July. A veteran in the field of diplomacy and foreign relations, Mr. Eliasson has held many assignments for the UN including serving as Special Envoy of the UN Secretary-General for Darfur, and the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Iran/Iraq. He also served as Sweden’s Ambassador to the UN and to the United States, as Foreign Minister of Sweden and as Chair of Water Aid/Sweden. He was elected President of the 60th session of the UN General Assembly.
The Deputy Secretary-General shared some of his past experiences with DESA staff – how he served as Foreign Minister and dealt mostly with conflict resolution; and how he was assisting Olof Palme, then Prime Minister of Sweden, in mediating in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
“But later I got more and more into development and humanitarian affairs. As you may know, I was the first UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.”
Mr. Eliasson described his mission to Somalia as the first UN Emergency Relief Coordinator in the fall of 1992. “I will never forget what I saw during that absolutely horrible year. We started a 100-day-program and hopefully saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But the tragedy was that hundreds of thousands of lives had already been lost.”
Mr. Eliasson conveyed how this mission to Somalia made a deep mark on him and how he later stressed the connection between peace, security and development. “I felt like a fireman that comes in after the fire, instead of being there when the smoke develops, or when the arsonist reaches for the match.”
His assignment as the Special Envoy for Darfur also played an important role. “Then I saw how absolutely crucial it is to bring together peace, security and development,” he said.
After returning from Darfur, having seen first hand the horrors of war and the problems of desertification and poverty, Mr. Eliasson chose to dedicate his time to water and sanitation issues. “It was such an obvious state of affairs, with 800 million people without access to fresh water; 2.5 billion people without sanitation and with 3000 children dying every day because of lack of clean water.”
This is how he became an advocate for Millennium Development Goals (MDG), focusing on Goal 7 – ensuring environmental sustainability, as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s Advocacy Group of the MDGs.
Mr. Sha expressed his deep appreciation for Mr. Eliasson’s visit to the Department, emphasizing the important signal this visit sent in terms of the Deputy Secretary-General’s commitment to development and his recognition of the significant contributions of the Department.
Before greeting the staff individually, Mr. Eliasson thanked DESA’s staff for their excellent and important work and he also congratulated the Department on a successful Rio+20 Conference.