UN credits New Zealand’s effective disaster preparedness
Secretary-General, at memorial service for earthquake victims, credits New Zealand’s efficient response with preventing greater disaster
Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the memorial service for New Zealand earthquake victims, in New York, today, 11 March:
It is especially poignant that we gather for this memorial as we absorb the news from Japan. I offer my deepest condolences to the Japanese people. The United Nations stands ready to help in every way possible.
As I watch the images coming out of Japan, I recall vividly the disturbing scenes from the calamity in Christchurch. Dozens of people killed; dozens still missing; thousands of homes destroyed and tens of thousands more damaged; schools, churches and businesses turned instantly to rubble.
To all the families and friends of the victims, to all those here today at this service and all others touched by loss, I offer my sincere condolences. I am deeply saddened by the devastation visited upon a beautiful city and its people.
But there is also something to be grateful for, strange as that may be to contemplate. The magnitude and location of the earthquake could have caused far more extensive damage had the Government of New Zealand not been so efficient in its response, and so diligent about disaster risk preparation.
Last September, Foreign Minister Murray McCully told the General Assembly, “ New Zealand’s experience with major earthquakes has taught us how to mitigate risks, enforce strong building codes and implement effective recovery plans.” How those words rang true in the moments after the earthquake.
Within hours, the Government had a full emergency management structure in place. The New Zealand Police, Fire Service, Defence Force and many other agencies and organizations worked in coordination with Civil Defence. They carried out search-and-rescue operations, conducted controlled demolitions and ensured overall security. The Government has been providing emergency care from the very beginning, and recently established 10 recovery assistance centres.
The United Nations immediately expressed its readiness to support the Government of New Zealand in any modest way we could. The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was in daily contact with the Permanent Mission here in New York. I thank those Member States that also sprang into action. That spirit of solidarity is among the ideals on which the United Nations was founded.
This tragedy underscores the importance of disaster risk reduction. Extreme weather is among the expected impacts of climate change. Time and again in recent years, we have seen the destructive power of disaster: the Indian Ocean tsunami; flooding in Pakistan and Australia; earthquakes in Haiti and Chile; and now, today, the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The United Nations system continues to invest time and resources in disaster risk reduction and in building resilient societies. We are strongly committed to learning from experience and sharing the knowledge of what works. We are sure to be tested again, and again and again.
We will continue this important, urgent work. But today it is time to pay our respects to those who lost their lives in the terrible tragedy in Christchurch, and to offer best wishes to those who survived but whose lives have been forever altered.