Secretary-General's press encounter after helicopter over-flight of flood-affected areas and visit with evacuees (Q&A below)
Bangkok, 16 November 2011First of all, I would like to thank Professor Phirom Kamolrattanakul, President of Chulalongkorn University, and the faculty and staff of the Chula flood relief centre and many volunteers who are working here.
I have just toured over the flood-affected area in a helicopter and I have met some of the flood victims and I met many volunteers.
I am deeply saddened and humbled by what I have seen by helicopter while travelling over these affected areas. I am also very much sorry to hear of all the hardships from the victims. Words fail to describe what I am feeling, what I have seen, and it is beyond description. The reality is very shocking and alarming and surprising.
This is a natural disaster. I have seen many areas of natural disasters but it is beyond any imagination and I would like to take this opportunity to express my most profound sympathy and condolences to all the people who have lost their beloved families, who have lost their properties.
The Government is working very hard. The United Nations is also very much committed to working with the concerned ministries and partners of the Government and international partners.
I shall never forget what I have seen. Many houses ruined and isolated, surrounded by water. Roads impassable. Many industrial plants destroyed. Even the airport, Don Muang airport, is just completely unoperational. This is really a great challenge.
Before waters recede, I am afraid it may take many more days. But at the same time I am deeply moved and encouraged by such a strong determined will of the Government and people and resilience of the Thai people to overcome this. I am sure that the Thai Government and people will be able to build back better.
It may take long days, it may be a huge challenge to recover and reconstruct what has been damaged. This is again beyond description at this time.
More than 8 million people have been affected. The number may be increasing. People are concerned about getting safe drinking water and basic food items. They are coping with the loss of schools, clinics and shops and their livelihoods.
I am also very much grateful to many volunteers who are working day and night. They are very smart and sometimes creating life-saving tools and kits, even though they are under great stress from the crisis with no end in sight. I am sure that they will overcome.
I have discussed this matter, this very serious crisis, with Prime Minister Yingluck, this afternoon.
While conveying my deepest sympathies, I have also conveyed the United Nations' deep commitment to work together with the concerned ministries and other international communities to help Thai people and Government to overcome this.
I wish to express again the deep solidarity of the United Nations. Bangkok is a major UN headquarters and the gateway to our operations across Asia. We, too, have been affected by this disaster. Some of our agencies are closed, either fully or partially, but our staff continue to report to work whenever possible and they are working very closely with the ministries and people.
I commend again the Government of Thailand under the leadership of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra for responding efficiently to these exceptional circumstances.
I also thank those countries that have offered aid and bilateral aid, from boats to funding, food and medical kits and [providing] basic needs to save lives.
The United Nations stands ready to help.
Let me again express my sincere and strong solidarity to work with the Thai people to help overcome this crisis.
Thank you very much.
Q. How can the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community help Thailand?
SG: I was told by the Prime Minister that she was going to discuss this crisis with the ASEAN leaders when she goes to Bali tomorrow. And I will also be going to Bali. We will discuss this matter - how ASEAN as a regional organization, how the international community can help in this matter. One important lesson which we have to learn - either the Thai Government or all the Member States of the United Nations - is that we need to strengthen our capacity to reduce disaster risk. The United Nations has launched a global campaign to strengthen the capacity of each and every country for disaster risk reduction preparedness. Depending upon how well you are prepared, even though we may not be able to predict natural disasters, we can save many more human lives. We have seen such good examples in many countries. Therefore, I am again urging all Member States to strengthen their preparedness against disasters. And the United Nations will continue to provide technical and logistical support. Thank you very much.
Off-the-Cuff on 16 November 2011