Assistant Secretary General Speech


November 15, 2016 - OAS-GSB Building, Padilha Vidal Room

Mr. Luis Ubiñas, President of the Board of Trustees, Pan American Development Foundation;
Ms. Alexandra Valderrama, 2nd Vice President;
Ms. Kathleen Barclay, Treasurer;
Ms. Alexandra Aguirre, Secretary;
Mr. John Sanbrailo, PADF Executive Director

PADF Board of Trustees;
Management and Staff;

Ladies and Gentleman
Good morning  

It is indeed a pleasure to open, on behalf of the Organization of American States, the Fifty-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF). I take this opportunity to recognize the members of the Board of Trustees, Mr. Luis Ubiñas, President, and the rest of the members, as well as Mr. John Sanbrailo, Executive Director of the PADF, for their leadership in steering the work of this Foundation.


Background PADF:

I am sure that all of you know the long-standing history of the PADF in the hemisphere, which was established by the OAS more than a half a century ago to assist disadvantaged communities and mobilize private-sector support for community-based initiatives.

Since then, the PADF has been instrumental in rendering assistance during times of natural disasters and implementing projects that directly impact the most vulnerable populations.  For example, in my own country, Belize, the PADF has implemented several projects such as that on disaster preparedness and climate change adaption and the Youth Engagement Services (YES) employment project. The PADF has also provided invaluable support to Belize’s disaster relief efforts and programs for micro-enterprise development.

The PADF has physical presence in many countries of the hemisphere including Colombia, Haiti, Suriname, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The PADF remains one of the OAS’ most important partners in the area of disaster management and its work has been well recognized throughout the Hemisphere.

I wish to highlight a pioneering program that the PADF, in partnership with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has launched in Central America to strengthen democracy and advance human rights. The project will strengthen responsive actions to address human rights issues, and put in place sustainable Early Warning and Protection Systems for internally displaced persons and migrants. PADF and its partners will increase attention to highly vulnerable populations including women and girls, LGBTI, and persons with disabilities.  This is another example of how the OAS-PADF partnership is advancing our common agenda in the region. 


Background Haiti/Ecuador:

Let me touch on some of the collaborative work being done between the OAS and the PADF.

The issue of natural disasters has become a major concern for our Organization, especially in light of recent disasters in the Hemisphere.  In the last year alone, two major natural disasters have impacted the region: the April 16 earthquake in Ecuador and last month’s Hurricane Mathew in the Caribbean and the United States, which both caused profound damages and deaths.

The earthquake in Ecuador was the worst natural disaster to affect that nation in decades. The Ecuadorian government estimated that the overall cost of reconstruction would be in the billions

Likewise, Hurricane Mathew brought widespread destruction and catastrophic loss of life during its journey across the Western Atlantic, including, Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the United States.

As you are all aware, Hurricane Matthew had the greatest impact on the people of Haiti leading to loss of lives, a Cholera outbreak, and leaving many homeless and living in shelters.

Following both of these natural disasters, the OAS and the international community quickly mobilized to respond to the needs of the affected countries. The OAS Inter-American Aid Committee was activated. This is the Organization’s disaster-response mechanism that brings together representatives from the OAS, the Chair of the Permanent Council and the Chair of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (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) to coordinate efforts in the aftermath of a natural disaster in the hemisphere.

The Committee met numerous times to inform of post-disaster relief needs in the affected countries and to coordinate relief efforts.  Meetings with the Permanent Observer Missions to the OAS were also held to receive updates on the on-going relief efforts.

In the case of Ecuador, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ecuador, Guillaume Long, joined the meeting and provided those updates. In the case of Haiti, a list of urgent needs and information on the channeling of financial assistance to the country, which were provided by the Republic of Haiti, was shared with all OAS Member States and Permanent Observer Missions to the OAS.

Today the situation in Haiti remains particularly critical and I urge all of you to expand your support to that country. In addition to the Cholera outbreak, the country also faces severe food shortages as the hurricane destroyed part of the agricultural sector. We know that the PADF, through its office in Haiti, has been rendering much needed assistance to affected communities.  However, there are urgent needs for additional funding to combat Cholera and other health challenges.  The international community and the private sector must continue to be fully engaged and accompany the Haitian people in their long-term social and economic reconstruction efforts.

While hurricanes such as Mathew are constant reminders of the devastation wreaked by tropical storms, we are prone to multiple threats--all with equally devastating effects on lives and economies. These include earthquakes such as the one experienced in Ecuador, as well as other disasters such as floods, mudslides, tornados, and droughts.  Furthermore, our vulnerability is not limited to localized events. This is why the OAS places a priority on promoting social and economic development and works with Member States to identify common challenges and find ways to overcome them.  Reducing vulnerability, managing risk, and preventing disasters has become one of the main strategic initiatives of the Organization.


Disaster Mitigation:

In terms of disaster mitigation, I wish to highlight some of the important work being carried out in this area by the OAS Executive Secretariat for Integral Development, also known by its Spanish acronym as SEDI.  Through SEDI, the OAS provides ongoing technical support to the ministerial meetings and other forums for political dialogue.  It also coordinates and implements programs, projects, and cooperation activities designed to reduce poverty and promote socio-economic development.

Through General Assembly and Summit of the Americas resolutions, the Member States have underscored the importance of the Inter-American Program on Sustainable Development (PIDS), which establishes the priorities and policy guidelines of the OAS with respect to sustainable development and environment.

The Forty Sixth Regular Session of the General Assembly, held in June of this year in the Dominican Republic, adopted the current PIDS (the PIDS 2016-2021), where Disaster Risk Management is identified as the first of six strategic areas.

Furthermore, in April of this year, Secretary General Almagro issued Executive Order No. 16, requiring all Secretariats to take the necessary steps to mainstream disaster risk management in their policies, and projects. This institutional policy aims at enhancing the work of the Secretariat and its capacity to mitigate, respond and better facilitate post-disaster contributions. Since then, SEDI and its Department of Sustainable Development have been providing training to all staff so as to integrate Disaster Risk Management as an integral objective of all General Secretariat’s programs and projects.

Currently, the OAS Secretariat is working in collaboration with the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) to train government officials of CARICOM Member States on the application of international disaster relief and humanitarian assistance instruments and mechanism so as to facilitate international assistance in case of disasters.

SEDI also collaborates with the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and its Regional Office for the Americas, in the implementation of the Regional Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction of the Americas.  

With its wide range of instruments and mechanisms, the OAS General Secretariat is well positioned to support the efforts of its participating Member States, particularly those most vulnerable, in mitigating and preventing disasters, reducing the vulnerability of those most exposed and building resilient communities. Adding to this, the OAS Charter places the Organization in a unique position, as it is the only regional inter-governmental organization in the Americas that can address the underlying causes of disasters that lie on issues of governance and access to rights for all, and hemispheric security, on top of those inherent to development processes previously described.

Good governance for Disaster Risk Management can only be achieved in the presence of strong democratic institutions and observance of human rights for all, as well as hemispheric security, political stability and economic prosperity.



Yet, some challenges remain. Perhaps the most evident is the lack of financial resources. In addition to the Organization’s budgetary constraints, the implementation of new instruments and mechanisms within the UN System has created additional competition over scarce financial resources.

It is against this background that I urge Member States, agencies of the Inter-American System and the UN System, international cooperation agencies, international organizations, International Financial Institutions and other donors, to make use of the mechanisms and instruments of the Inter-American System, namely the INDM and the IACNDR, and promote the use and application of the Inter-American Convention and Inter-American Plan, so as to rationalize the use of financial and human resources, capitalizing on the wealth of instruments and mechanisms that already exists, rather than creating new ones, duplicating efforts and placing more stress on scarce resources.


Strengthening of public/private partnerships and cooperation:

Due to these limited financial and human resources, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen our successful public-private partnerships and build upon existing cooperation with civil society to promote economic development and opportunity for all.  The OAS is committed to pursuing this engagement with the private sector and civil society.

Since my election as Assistant Secretary General, I have said that I want to see the OAS be a dynamic organization which fully embraces partnerships as a way to solve the development challenges of the region. I see the OAS actively engaged with institutions of the Inter-American and multilateral financial systems, private sector groups as well traditional and non-traditional partners, so that together, we can provide more opportunities for more people.

PADF has helped the OAS pioneer new initiatives and has played a key role in facilitating greater private sector involvement in development and disaster assistance. I commend you for your work and for your commitment to advancing PADF’s mission in the hemisphere.

We should all be proud that PADF is a great OAS success story, especially in the area of encouraging public-private partnerships.  The support being provided today through PADF by Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) and Caterpillar for relief efforts in Haiti and other Caribbean countries merit all of our support.  Together, we can forge innovative partnerships to mobilize our resources and better respond to the needs of the peoples of the Americas.

In closing, let me reiterate the OAS Secretariat’s unwavering commitment to working with the Member States and with our partners in the inter-American system in the vital area of disaster mitigation.  We remain committed to supporting PADF and its programs in the hemisphere.  As Vice-Chairman of the Board of Trustees, you can certainly count on my continued support.  I wish you a successful meeting.

Thank you very much.