Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at a wreath laying ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti, in New York today:
We are here together today to honour the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who lost their lives in the devastating earthquake on 12 January 2010, and to express our condolences and solidarity with the millions who continue to suffer the impact of this tragedy.
When the earthquake struck, many Haitians were starting the new year with a sense of renewed optimism and trust in the future of their country. In a few seconds, their hopes turned to dust. Cities were destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, and millions of lives were changed forever.
I will never forget the shock and sadness across the world and throughout the United Nations as the scale of the tragedy became clear.
An unprecedented humanitarian operation saved lives in the first days and weeks, as international aid organizations worked with Haitian first responders and local partners on the ground.
But the earthquake created serious new threats to Haiti’s security, stability and prosperity. Recovering from the many wounds it inflicted — physical, emotional, social and financial — would challenge any nation.
Following one of the darkest days in its history, Haiti drew on the courage and determination of its people and the assistance of its many friends. Roads were cleared, homes were rebuilt, schools were reopened, businesses got back to work.
Among the many challenges, the United Nations deeply regrets the loss of life and suffering caused by the cholera epidemic. I welcome the significant progress that has been made towards eliminating the disease. We are also committed to resolving pending cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.
The magnitude of the tragedy was such that it took many years for any sense of normality to return. Today, insecurity and slow economic growth are contributing to rising social tensions and a deteriorating humanitarian situation. I urge Haitians to resolve their differences through dialogue and to resist any escalation that could reverse the gains of the past decade.
The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti and the 19 agencies, funds and programmes present in the country will continue to work in partnership with the Haitian people on their path to recovery and prosperity.
Today we also remember the 102 colleagues, from 30 different countries, who died in Haiti — the single greatest loss in the United Nations history.
I have just paid my respects at the moving new memorial, “A Breath”, that has been brought here from Port-au-Prince. I thank the sculptor, Davide Dormino, and everyone who helped to transport it. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of rubble from the Hotel Christopher, where so many of our colleagues perished.
Those who died were in Haiti to help build stability and prosperity and consolidate peace and security, with international, national and local partners. Among them were policy advisers, political officers, humanitarians, development specialists, security officers, soldiers, lawyers, drivers and doctors.
When the quake hit, many United Nations personnel took part in search and rescue operations and carried injured people into the United Nations compound. Some had the heart-breaking duty of accompanying the body of a colleague home to their loved ones, for burial or cremation.
A loss of this scale leaves permanent reminders and scars, on Haiti and on the United Nations. It binds us together and we will never forget.
Today, we renew our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims, and our sympathy for those whose lives continue to be affected by this tragedy.
We also renew our commitment to honour the legacy of those we have lost, by working alongside the people and Government of Haiti, and with the country’s friends and supporters throughout the international community.
Together, we will safeguard Haiti’s future and build lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all Haitians.
Kenbe fèm. [Stay strong/keep going.] And now let us pause for a moment of silence in memory of those who died.
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