Assistant Secretary General Speech


May 2, 2016 - Washington, DC

Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Juan Jose Arcuri,

Secretary General Luis Almagro,

Distinguished Delegates,

Sixteen days ago our brothers and sisters of Ecuador suffered a national tragedy of massive proportions. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Ecuador on April 16 has been the worst natural disaster to affect that country since 1949. To date, it has claimed more than 660 lives, wounded over 51,000 and according to our reports,left some 22,000 citizens in shelters.

The regions of Manta, Pedernales and Portoviejo accounted for over 70 percent of total casualties. Ecuador's government has estimated that the overall cost of the damage may rise to $3 billion.

The OAS and the international community quickly mobilizeda post-disaster response to this tragedy where two days after the disaster, on April 18, this Permanent Council adopted a Resolution entitled, “Solidarity with the People and Government of Ecuador,” in which it reiterated its “support, commitment and cooperation for the Government of Ecuador in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.”

During that same Special Meeting, Secretary General Almagro proposed a number of measures to strengthenOAS disaster assistance efforts. Among them, he called for the activation of the Inter-American Emergency Aid Committee, which was established in 1995 through General Assembly Resolution 1327, but until now had been largely dormant. Secretary General Almagro also asked that I chair this Committee.

The Committee has been working assiduously tohelp with the massive emergency efforts already underway in Ecuador. Today, I wish to update the Permanent Council on some of the activities that the Committee has carried out in the last two weeks.

On April 19, I convened an urgent meeting with Permanent Observer Missions to the OAS; the Chair of the Permanent Council, Ambassador Arcuri; the Permanent Representative of Ecuador, Ambassador Marco Albuja; and the Director of the White Helmets, Ambassador Alejandro Carlos Daneri. The purpose of the meeting was to receive an update on the situation in Ecuador, the on-going relief efforts, and ascertain the post-disaster needs of the Country with a view to coordinating our response with the relief efforts already being carried out on the ground. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador,Guillaume Long, joined the meeting and provided the updates.

I was very pleased by theoverwhelming support from Permanent Observersand Permanent Missions. Over 30 countries were represented at the meeting and expressed their support and solidarity with the people of Ecuador. Minister Long thanked the Permanent Observers and the OAS Secretariat for their assistance. He highlighted the enormous challenge of providing shelter for all those affected, as well as for the reconstruction phase which, as he indicated, may cut Ecuador’s GDPby 3 percentage points.

In terms of infrastructural damage, Minister Long mentioned widespread damage to hospitals, roads and schools noting:
• 805 buildings destroyed,
• 608 buildings in poor conditions and likely to be destroyed and;
• 146 schools affected
Secretary General Almagro visited Ecuador on April 22, and accompanied by Minister Long, traveled to Manta, one of the most affected zones of this tragedy. He was able to survey the damages and see how the people of Ecuador united to work shoulder to shoulder in the national emergency.

On April 20,the first meeting of the Inter-American Emergency Aid Committee on the post-disaster situation in Ecuador was convened with representatives from the OAS Secretariat, the Chair of the Permanent Council and the Chair of CIDI, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Inter-American Defense Board, and the Pan American Development Fund (PADF). Participantsalso included other strategic partners for response to disasters such as the White Helmets, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA),the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM).

At this first meeting, the Committee agreed to establisha “Situation Room” to coordinate the responses of the various agencies in the immediate to short-term period. This crisis center, located in the OAS Administrative Building,is manned by experienced personnel from the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). In order coordinate our efforts with on the ground needs, all participants agreed to share information on their relief efforts thus far and their capacity to assist Ecuador in the future. The IADB was tasked with compiling and processing these reports, andproviding continuous up-to-date- assessments of needs.

Another outcome of the meeting was the establishment by the Department of Sustainable Development of the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI/DSD) of a webpage dedicated to providing timely information on the on-going relief efforts. The webpage can be accessed through the DSD Website, as well as through the Home page of the Inter-American Network for Disaster Mitigation (INDM).

The Webpage, available in English and Spanish, includes the Situational Reports issued by the Secretariat for Risk Management of Ecuador, Statistics from the National Information System, and the Solidarity Campaign to collect Donations for Humanitarian Assistance of the Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion, as well as links to relevant sites of members of the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR).

I would also like to note that on April 25th, the Secretary General issued Executive Order No. 16, requiring all Secretariats to take the necessary steps to mainstream disaster risk management in their policies, and projects. I am confident that this institutional policy will enhance the work of the Secretariat and its capacity to mitigate, respond and better facilitate post-disaster contributions.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to remind delegations that last week I invited your Governments to designate a National Coordinating Authority to serve as the official point of contact with the General Secretariat of the OASin an effort to coordinate relief assistance among states during a post-disaster situation. I urge your cooperation in submitting the name of the institution, along with the contact details of the designatedofficial. This will greatly improve our disaster preparedness and responseandhelp in our ongoing relief efforts in Ecuador.

Mr. Chairman, the task ahead is enormous and challenging. Meeting the needs of the Ecuadorian people will require a strong and long-lasting commitment. Together withthe solidarity of the Member States and the Inter-American System, we will continue to meet these challenges and assist the people of Ecuador.

Ladies and gentleman, I now ask the Inter-American Defense Board to brief the Permanent Council on the latestSituation Report.

Thank you,