UN stands with Chilean people - Ban

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Santiago - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday expressed the solidarity of the United Nations with the people of Chile as they seek to recover from last week's devastating earthquake, as he visited one of the areas hit hardest by the disaster.

"The United Nations stands with the Chilean people in the difficult challenge ahead of overcoming this natural disaster," Mr. Ban told reporters during a visit to Concepción.

"I am convinced that with your bravery and strong determination, you will rise back on your feet again to build a better future."

Concepción, Chile's second largest city, is located over 300 miles south of the capital, Santiago, and was among the areas that suffered the most from the 8.8-magnitude quake that struck on 27 February, killing several hundred people and affecting around 2 million.

"Words fail to describe my feelings after what I have seen," the Secretary-General, who was accompanied by Chilean Government officials and UN colleagues on the ground, told survivors.

Among the sites Ban visited was what has been called the "zero zone," in the downtown area of Concepción, where a new, 15-floor building collapsed on its side during the quake, trapping over 100 residents. About 40 people survived and one remains missing.

He said that, having a fuller picture of the extent of the damage and destruction caused by the earthquake, he will report to the General Assembly and will discuss with the international community how best the UN can help mobilize humanitarian assistance and assist with reconstruction.

Following his stop in Concepción, Ban flew over the coastal city of Talcahuano on his way back to Santiago. The port and naval base in Talcahuano were severely damaged by the tsunami that followed the earthquake.

After meeting with President Michelle Bachelet, the Secretary-General announced the release of up to $10 million in UN funds to support the relief and recovery effort in Chile.

He also announced the creation of a joint working group between UN agencies and the Chilean Government to define the priority areas in which to allocate the funds, particularly in health, emergency shelters, education and water and sanitation.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) - headquartered in Santiago - and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), along with the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will co-ordinate the working group with the Chilean authorities.

The Secretary-General wraps up his two-day visit today after meeting with the heads of the 15 UN agencies operating in Chile.