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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used a U.N. ceremony Friday marking the 10th anniversary of the devastating Haiti earthquake to urge Haitians to resolve differences through dialogue and “resist any escalation that could reverse the gains of the past decade.”
The U.N. chief told about 200 staff members and diplomats at U.N. headquarters that “insecurity and slow economic growth are contributing to rising social tensions and a deteriorating humanitarian situation” in Haiti.
The Western Hemisphere's poorest nation has been roiled by street protests and economic stagnation for much of President Juvenal Moise’s nearly three years in office. Opposition leaders have demanded his departure, accusing him of mismanaging the economy and failing to tackle corruption.
Guterres said the 7.0 magnitude quake that hit Haiti's capital and surrounding area Jan. 12, 2010, “created serious new threats to Haiti’s security, stability and prosperity.”
He said the United Nations “deeply regrets the loss of life and suffering caused by the cholera epidemic” that researchers say was introduced to Haiti’s most important river system in October 2010 by Nepalese soldiers serving in a U.N. peacekeeping mission. The epidemic has sickened over 800,000 Haitians and killed more than 9,000.
Guterres said the United Nations is “also committed to resolving pending cases of sexual exploitation and abuse” by U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti.
The earthquake's estimated death toll ranges from around 100,000 to more than 300,000 people.
A decade later, thousands of Haitians still don't have adequate shelter, and the long-term quake response is widely seen as a failure by both the Haitian government and foreign governments and aid groups.
Among the earthquake’s casualties were 102 U.N. staff members from 30 countries, almost all buried in the rubble of the collapsed Hotel Christoper where the U.N. peacekeeping mission had its headquarters. The head of the U.N. mission, Hedi Annabi, and his deputy, Luis Carlos da Costa, were among the victims.
Friday’s ceremony took place in front of the mounted U.N. flag that once flew at the hotel. At the end, the secretary-general, senior U.N. officials, ambassadors and relatives of the victims each walked to the wreath in front of the flag and laid a white carnation in remembrance.
Before the ceremony, Guterres visited what he called “the moving new memorial” of the earthquake called “A Breath” by sculptor Davide Dormino that was transported from Haiti. He said he was particularly impressed that it included rubble from the Hotel Christopher.
Guterres said the U.N. staffers who died were in Haiti “to help build stability and prosperity and consolidate peace and security.” He renewed the U.N. commitment to honor their legacy by working alongside Haitians and their supporters to “safeguard Haiti’s future and build lives of peace, prosperity and dignity for all Haitians.”
Haitian diplomat Patrick Saint-Hilaire stressed that there is “much work left to be done” and said it is “not too late to take up the challenge of the complete reconstruction of Haiti.”
“We must not lose sight of the fact that our country remains very impoverished and as vulnerable to natural disasters as it is to human wrongdoing," he said.