Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today pledged to release up to $10 million in United Nations funds to support relief and recovery efforts in Chile, as he began a two-day visit to see the earthquake damage and assess how the world body can help.
“I am very moved to see such strong courage and resilience of the Chilean people,” Mr. Ban said upon his arrival in the capital, Santiago, where he was greeted by Foreign Minister Mariano Fernández and the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena.
The 8.8-magnitude quake that struck the coast of Chile last Saturday killed several hundred people and affected around 2 million.
“Chile has been extraordinarily generous in assisting Haiti in its time of need. Now is the moment for the United Nations and the international community to stand with Chile and its people,” stated Mr. Ban, who had offered immediate support and aid to country through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the wake of the disaster.
The Secretary-General met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to discuss the country’s immediate and long-term needs, and they also held a joint meeting with government ministers and the heads of UN agencies in Santiago.
“The UN Country Team represented at this meeting is working with the international community to provide the emergency relief goods indicated by the Government of Chile, including generators, satellite radios and mobile hospitals,” said Mr. Ban.
“We are ready to help provide any assistance that the Chilean Government requests, immediate and long-term,” he added, while commending what he described as Ms. Bachelet’s “extraordinary leadership,” as well as her Government’s coordination with President-elect Sebastián Piñera.
The President voiced her gratitude for the UN’s technical and financial support for the recovery efforts, as well as Mr. Ban’s visit to the area to personally see the damages caused by the quake.
The Secretary-General 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 that will be released from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), particularly in health, emergency shelters, education and water and sanitation.
ECLAC and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), along with OCHA, will coordinate the working group with the Chilean authorities.
In addition to meeting with top officials, Mr. Ban will later today visit “A Roof for Chile” Foundation for a ceremony with hundreds of young volunteers who will go to the damaged areas. The Catholic Church-based non-governmental organization builds temporary housing for slum dwellers and seeks to provide them with education, social services and micro-credit, as well as guide them in acquiring permanent housing.
Tonight he will join Ms. Bachelet in the launching of a 24-hour telethon to be broadcast on national television to help raise $30 million for earthquake victims.
On Saturday, the Secretary-General will travel to Concepción, the second largest city in Chile, over 300 miles south of Santiago, and the adjacent port of Talcahuano, two of the most devastated areas close to the epicentre of the quake. He will also meet with the heads of the 22 UN agencies operating in Chile.
Meanwhile, Chilean officials have assured the public that drugs and medicines will be available free of charge. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the Government has said there is no evidence of outbreaks of communicable diseases, although disease surveillance has been stepped up given unsanitary conditions in some areas which remain without safe drinking water and where garbage is accumulating.
WHO is working with the Government to coordinate international health aid arriving from other countries, as well as to coordinate technical aspects related to mobile field hospitals and to support communication needs.