Overwhelming Concern over Massive Destruction Caused by Haiti Earthquake Dominates Discussion, as Economic and Social Council Holds Organizational Meeting

19 January 2010

Overwhelming Concern over Massive Destruction Caused by Haiti Earthquake Dominates Discussion, as Economic and Social Council Holds Organizational Meeting

19 January 2010
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Economic and Social Council                                

2010 Organizational Session                                

1st Meeting (AM)

Overwhelming Concern over Massive Destruction Caused by Haiti Earthquake Dominates

Discussion, as Economic and Social Council Holds Organizational Meeting

United Nations Doing All It Can to Provide Support, Says Deputy Secretary-General;

Also, Council Elects New President - Hamidon Ali of Malaysia – and Bureau for 2010

Overwhelming concern over massive destruction caused by a 7.0 earthquake in Haiti that impacted 3 million people – one third of the population -– and left much of the Caribbean nation in shambles dominated discussion in the Economic and Social Council today, as the 54-member body held its first organizational meeting of 2010.

In its primary business, the Council elected by acclamation Hamidon Ali, of Malaysia, as its new President, on the recommendation of the Asian States Group, and adopted the provisional agenda for its 2010 organizational session (documents E/2010/2 and Corr. 1).  It also elected by acclamation four Vice-Presidents:  Somduth Soborun of Mauritius (African States Group), Alexandru Cujba of Moldova (Eastern States Group), Heraldo Muñoz of Chile (Latin American and Caribbean States Group), and Morten Wetland of Norway (Western European and Other States Group).

Expressing her deep condolences to the people of Haiti after the Council observed a minute of silence, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said her heart also went out to colleagues, families and friends who had suffered a great loss.  “In these extremely challenging times, the United Nations is doing all it can to provide support,” she said.  Against that backdrop, she assured the Council of her full support, that of the Secretary-General and the entire Secretariat in the wake of the 12 January disaster.

Turning to the Council’s work ahead, she said the next half-decade must see accelerated progress in delivering on long-standing commitments to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.  While important gains had been made -- in combating extreme poverty, improving school enrolment, expanding access to clean water, controlling malaria and making AIDS treatment more widely available -– “we are not on track to meeting all the Millennium Development Goals”, she stressed.  The United Nations had yet to deliver in the areas of financing, technical support and partnerships, and this year’s 2010 High-level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals would be a crucial opportunity to reinforce efforts in the run-up to 2015.

The Council had a special role to play in the 2010 review, she explained.  The Annual Ministerial Review in June would evaluate progress towards the Goals, while the Council’s 2010 Development Cooperation Forum must help push the development agenda further.

On the issue of system-wide coherence, she said the General Assembly would soon launch a new round of consultations and two reports had been submitted to facilitate that process, the first of which covered operational activities for development, with a focus on enhancing the functioning of governing bodies, like the Council.  The second report contained a proposal for a composite gender entity and “the sooner we can get this entity up and running, the better”, she said.

Indeed, the Council had a vital role in coordinating system-wide work in the social and economic fields, she said.  As multiple crises persisted -– and development challenges grew more inter-linked –- the entire United Nations family looked to the Council for policy and operational guidance.

Briefing the Council on events in Haiti, Rashid Khalikov, Director of the New York Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, welcomed the Council’s intention to be engaged long-term in Haitian earthquake response efforts.  Giving an overview of the situation, he said some 1,800 personnel had arrived in Haiti and more than 150 dogs were being used in search and rescue work.  Immediate priorities centred on providing medical assistance, corpse assistance, and food, water and sanitation services.  Needs were expected to increase in the short-term, as access was still “very difficult”, with the airport congested and seaport badly crippled.

Despite such challenges, humanitarian assistance was increasingly reaching Port-au-Prince and Fond Lagon, among other areas.  A $575 million flash appeal had been launched and the Secretary-General had approved $25 million to be allocated from the Central Emergency Response Fund.  Of the $575 million, $115 million -– almost 20 per cent -- had been received.  Humanitarian coordination was being led by the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, and military coordination was being prioritized.  Logistical clusters were being led by the World Food Programme.  While the situation remained calm, there was still serious concern over the threat to law and order. 

In that context, John McNee ( Canada), Chairman of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, called on donors to provide continued relief, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to help Haitians get back on their feet as quickly as possible.  He also urged a quick and commensurate response to the Flash Appeal.  As humanitarian assistance moved to recovery and reconstruction phases, sustained efforts should centre on the long-term development needs of the Haitian people.  It was crucial that such efforts be grounded in the priorities of the Haitian Government and help strengthen its lead in reconstruction.

Thanking the Council for devoting much of today’s meeting to his country, the representative of Haiti and former Council President Léo Mérorèssaid his Government was very sensitive to the tragic scene on the ground.  The situation was “disastrous and unimaginable” and Haitians were grateful for the international community’s surge of solidarity.

Taking the floor after his election by acclamation, Mr. Hamidon pledged the Council’s strong support to Haiti and its people.  The Government had expectations of the Council, through the Ad Hoc Advisory Group, and among its first tasks would be to determine how best to support Haitians in “this hour of need”.

“ECOSOC must continuously prove its worth or be consigned to irrelevance,” he said.  Efforts to reform the Council had been all too frequent, reflecting profound dissatisfaction with the body’s inability to fulfil its Charter-mandated functions and desire to make it “fit for purpose”.  The latest effort in that regard, General Assembly resolution 61/16, provided a sound basis for progress.  But more had to be done to strengthen “software” -– issues that related to national and personal attitudes toward ECOSOC, the body’s culture and ethic, and its relations with other entities, including the Bretton Woods institutions.

Outlining changes to be made, he called first for adopting a proactive, constructive agenda.  The Council’s actions must be purposeful.  Next, the body had to adopt shorter, more focused agreements and resolutions.  “Instead of an avalanche of words which bury us all, we must have a flood of results,” he said.  Next, he urged that more be done to improve the “atmospherics” surrounding the Council, saying that while many arguments were compelling, compromise solutions could be found.  “We tend to lose focus of these facts since we all too often credit those across the political divide with a… talent for subterfuge,” he said.  To improve that, transparency and honest dialogue were needed.

It was also important to move beyond stale arguments.  While he accepted that there were profound differences over the United Nations’ role in development and international economic governance, he urged finding technical solutions to issues, rather than viewing them as reflective of political principles from which there could be no compromise.  Finally, justice must be done by the Council’s role in the operational aspects of United Nations’ work.  By way of example, he said it was disheartening that the Council’s engagement with the Chief Executives Board took up slightly more than an hour.

“Things must change,” he said.  There were opportunities to capitalize on the Council’s ability to advance development, including at the General Assembly’s High-Level Plenary Meeting in September. At the Annual Ministerial Review, the Council would highlight the gender-related Goals, tackle challenges that hampered their achievement and hone in on aspects that had to be taken into account in policy implementation.

Further, the Council should strive to integrate global, regional and national perspectives into its work, he said.  Paramount to its success would be engagement with a broad range of actors who could contribute to the objectives of the 2010 Ministerial Review and advance implementation of the gender agenda.  On the 2010 Development Cooperation Forum, he highlighted the need to convince “the treasuries of the world” that difficulties in achieving internationally agreed development goals would only be compounded if development assistance were curtailed.  Special focus would be given to issues of quality and impact of aid in the area of gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Finally, he said the Council must enhance its capacity to respond to crises by providing a forum to enhance understanding of their impacts on development efforts.  “We have a testing year ahead of us”, he said, and a collective duty to ensure the Council played its part in the goal of achieving development for all.

Reviewing her tenure, outgoing President Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg) said the Council’s work during her time in office had to be seen in the context of global crises -– food, energy, financial and economic -– that had wreaked havoc on the world economy.  As a consequence, progress towards the Millennium Development Goals had been significantly slowed and the adverse impacts could be long-lasting.

The Council had tried to respond appropriately and effectively to the challenges of those crises, she said, citing the Special High-level Meeting of the Economic and Social Council with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), held last April, which had brought together the concerned international parties and offered a first opportunity to have an inclusive exchange of views on the global financial and economic crisis.

Other issues reviewed by the Council in recent months included the strengthening of humanitarian coordination and the roles of the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in that context, she explained.  Other mandates -- like that for a more effective intergovernmental process to carry out financing for development follow-up -- had been fulfilled.

Also, the Council had not lost sight of the global dynamics of development cooperation and she was pleased that efforts to strengthen interaction with the Peacebuilding Commission were starting to bear fruit.  Throughout 2009, the Council had strived to effectively fulfil its role as the intergovernmental, multi-stakeholder mechanism for addressing emerging challenges and advancing the implementation of the development agenda. 

That notwithstanding, important challenges remained, she said, and she urged the Council to regularly strengthen its mechanisms, use its full potential to mobilize action, establish synergies and generate momentum for realizing the development agenda and the Millennium Development Goals.

In other business, the Council, following tradition, set the seating arrangements for the new session by lottery.  By the results, Zambia would take the first seat and be followed by Argentina.  Seating of the remaining members would continue in the English alphabetical order.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Spain (on behalf of the European Union), Saint Lucia (on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)), Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at a time and date to be announced.

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