Assistant Secretary General Speech


November 9, 2020 - Washington, DC

• H.E., Audrey Marks, Chair of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the OAS;
• Yil Otero, Director of International Cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Panama;
• H.E. Rita Claverie de Sciolli, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS;
• H.E. Luis Fernando Cordero Montoya, Permanent Representative of Honduras to the OAS;
• H.E. Olger Ignacio Gonzalez Espinoza, Interim Representative of Costa Rica to the OAS;
• Laura Frampton, Alternate Representative of Belize to the OAS and Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Belize in Washington, D.C;
• Tim Callaghan, Senior Regional Advisor for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA);
• Distinguished Members of the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disasters Reduction (IACNDR);
• Distinguished Permanent Representatives and Alternate Representatives;

Good afternoon,

I am pleased to welcome you to this virtual meeting of the Inter-American Committee on Natural Disaster Reduction (IACNDR). As Chair of the Committee, I have convened this meeting to consider the pressing situation in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and other affected nations in the wake of the passing of Hurricane Eta.

You may recall Hurricane Eta made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane last Tuesday along the northeast Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and, for the next several days it has slowly moved through Central America bringing dangerously high storm surge, torrential rainfall, widespread flooding and landslides. Its maximum sustained winds reached 150 miles per hour, making it one of the strongest hurricanes of the season.

Several of our Member States have been severely impacted including, the Bahamas, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. As we meet today, the storm is threatening communities in the South Eastern Coast of the United States.

According to news reports, the storm has already claimed more than 60 lives in Central America and more than 100 people are feared dead. It will be days before the true toll of Eta is known, but we can also expect a significant impact to the economies of the affected countries, which were already facing huge challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. On behalf of the Secretary General and the OAS, we extend our deepest sympathy to the governments and peoples of the nations who have been impacted.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had initially predicted an abnormally active hurricane season this year. Regrettably, the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season has surpassed the forecasts predicted by experts. There have been so many named storms this year that the World Meteorological Organization ran out of hurricane names in the alphabet in September and resorted to using Greek letters.

Eta is storm number 28 and the 12th hurricane this season, making 2020 the year with the most named storms in recorded history. During most years, hurricane activity would have decreased by November. However, this year with approximately one month left of the official hurricane season, forecasters anticipate even more storms to form.

In recent years, climate change has triggered frequent and more intense hurricanes as well as more rapidly intensifying storms. As ocean temperatures rise, storms are increasingly stronger and more devastating. Eta also proved to be one of the fastest-intensifying storms on record.

Undoubtedly, we are living through a climate emergency. The Americas is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, and these natural disasters will continue to have severe consequences on the livelihoods, infrastructure, and economies of our countries.

As a top priority of the OAS, we are committed to undertake ambitious efforts to combat the threat of climate change and adapt to its effects. To that end, last month the OAS General Assembly adopted an important Resolution to advance the hemispheric response to climate change in the context of the Covid-19 Pandemic, by which among other goals, calls on those OAS Member States that are party to the Paris Agreement on climate change to continue the momentum of climate change action in the Americas.

I am also pleased to announce that the Member States of the OAS, pursuant to Resolution AG/RES. 2939 of 2019, have undertaken a comprehensive review of the tools and entities established within the Inter-American System to address natural disaster response.

The review was based on recommendations from a study prepared by the Department of Sustainable Development of the Executive Secretariat for Integral Development in coordination with the Secretariat for Multidimensional Security.

According to the recommendations set forth in the study, the Committee on Partnership for Development Policies of the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI) proposed a number of amendments to the Statutes of the this Committee, aimed at strengthening the role and work of the Committee. These were subsequently adopted by Member States at the General Assembly through the Resolution on “Advancing Hemispheric Initiatives on Integral Development: Promoting Resilience.”

One of the amendments aims to heighten the visibility of the work of the Committee by allowing the Chair to invite member states with voice but without vote and, when necessary, invite permanent observers, and representatives of national, sub regional, regional, and international organizations and mechanisms to participate in these meetings of the Committee with voice but without vote. For that reason, today we are joined by several Member States and Permanent Observers. As this is the very first meeting of the Committee since the recent adoption of the new statutes, the other regional and international organizations will be invited to subsequent meetings.

The main purpose of today’s meeting is to receive an update on the situation in the countries impacted, and our specific goal is to define concrete and practical actions, and strengthen coordinated multilateral action to respond to the immediate needs of those affected.

The different agencies represented here today will be able to offer and exchange information on the on-going relief efforts, and ascertain the post-disaster needs with a view to coordinating our response with the relief efforts already being carried out on the ground.

We hope that today’s meeting will benefit from the most up to date official reports from the representatives of the impacted nations, particularly as this relates to their immediate needs, and provide information on the efforts being undertaken by the Committee Members.

At this moment, I would like to respectfully remind all those who wish to take the floor that we have a substantial list of important presentations and we want to have enough time to listen to all of them. Your cooperation in keeping your interventions short would be most appreciated.

Thank you