Press Conference by Permanent Mission to United Nations on Situation in Chile

5 March 2010

Press Conference by Permanent Mission to United Nations on Situation in Chile

5 March 2010
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Permanent Mission to United Nations on Situation in Chile

Having suffered an earthquake of “historical proportions”, Chile was returning to normality though it faced huge reconstruction needs, Heraldo Muñoz, the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

“Chile’s standing up; we’re recuperating slowly,” said Mr. Muñoz, who was joined by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Amir Dossal, Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP).  “Life is returning to normal and what we have ahead is the enormous task of reconstruction.  And that’s where the solidarity of the international community is very important.”

He noted that, at 8.8 on the Richter scale, last week’s earthquake was among the five strongest in world history.  It was 350 times stronger than the January quake in Haiti and the latest estimates of its impact counted 2 million homeless people and some $30 billion in economic losses.  While casualty figures were being adjusted downwards from the 800 dead cited earlier, they would still reflect hundreds of lives lost, he added.

As a middle-income country with disaster reduction capacity, Chile’s recovery situation was very different from that of Haiti, he said in response to questions, noting that many fewer people had died, possibly due to strict building codes.  Food relief was available in-country, although distribution was difficult, and services had been restored relatively quickly, to the extent that a large proportion of ATMs in Concepción and other affected cities were now operating.

However, the destruction of major infrastructure was much greater than suspected, with naval shipyards having disappeared in addition to the highways, bridges and communication towers and cables destroyed, he said.  An estimate for rebuilding those facilities had yet been made, but the Government was considering applying for low-interest credit rather than using its sovereign funds, since there was no doubt that a large part of the reconstruction would have to be done by the Government.

In addition, the seismic activity had not ended, he continued, noting that Conception had experienced an aftershock measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale.  That would be considered a full earthquake anywhere else.  “By no means have we overcome this tragedy.  It will take a long time,” he added.

He said that, for the emergency response, Chile had requested targeted aid through the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to fill the gaps in its own capacity.  The request covered field hospitals with surgical capabilities, mechanical bridges and power generators.  Satellite telephones had been quickly provided, but were no longer needed due to the restoration of wireless service, he said, adding that the Government had not requested rescue teams.  It was itself providing temporary shelters for the worst-affected victims.

To mobilize aid for housing and other humanitarian needs, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was now visiting the hardest hit areas and would appear in a telethon aimed at raising $30 million, he said, adding that a website, ChileHopes, was being established in conjunction with UNOP.  Along with linked sites, it would mobilize donations and collect money from music downloads and auctions of donated art.

Ms. Ferguson, who praised Chile for its progress in women’s empowerment, pledged to support the country’s recovery efforts in any way she could, respecting the need for action rather than words, particularly when it came to housing the millions of children left homeless.  Acting as a mother concerned with the world’s other mothers and their children, she had been developing the “Mother’s Army Initiative” with the aim of linking mothers in need with other women all over the world.  She said she planned to return to Chile soon to find “a good woman colonel” in Concepción so she could have a continuing source of information on the country’s real needs.  She would then mobilize mothers and the private sector to help meet those needs.

Mr. Dossal said priorities for partnerships with the private sector would be assistance for the long-term rebuilding process, with an emphasis on investment opportunities, in collaboration with the European Foundation Centre and the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.  He said UNOP had hosted a conference call yesterday with the Association of Small Foundations to provide their donor community with information on Chile’s long-term development needs.  Multinationals such as WalMart and Hewlett-Packard had already pledged funds, he said, adding that he had sought ways to involve the United States Chamber of Commerce.

In response to questions, both Mr. Muñoz and Ms. Ferguson stressed that there was no competition between Haiti’s and Chile’s needs.  “Generosity should not recognize limits,” said Mr. Muñoz, affirming that Chile would continue providing aid to the other country, including through troops for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and volunteer teams.  At the same time, the international community should be with Chile for its different needs, he said.

Asked whether aid was being distributed fairly, he replied that the Government was making sure it went to those who needed it.  The violence that had resulted from chaos and frustration had subsided and much international relief would be channelled through credible organizations such as Caritas Chile and the Chilean Red Cross.  Hopefully companies doing business in Chile would contribute to rebuilding, he added.

Regarding the rebuilding of individual homes, Banco d’Estado, the main housing lender, would help the middle class by postponing their mortgage payments, he said, adding that more direct housing assistance would be needed for the least fortunate.  The United Nations was playing a mainly coordinating role, and OCHA had already sent an assessment team for that purpose, he noted.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.