U.N. management under fire over silence after storm Sandy

Mon Nov 5, 2012 1:20pm EST
 
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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. delegations sharply criticized the United Nations' management on Monday for an almost "total breakdown in communications" with the world body's 193 member states after superstorm Sandy slammed into the U.S. East Coast a week ago.

The head of U.N. security, Gregory Starr, said last week that U.N. headquarters suffered severe damage when Sandy caused heavy flooding in basement levels of the world body's Manhattan complex along the East River. The headquarters remained closed for three days before reopening on Thursday.

Speaking at a standing-room-only meeting of the U.N. General Assembly's budget committee on the damage caused by Sandy, Algerian U.N. Ambassador Mourad Benmehidi said the United Nations ceased communicating with member states who were desperate for information.

"We all feel that the United Nations disappeared from the screens of the members for a very long time," the Algerian envoy said, adding that the world body also "disappeared from the screen of the world."

Benmehidi added that he did not agree with Starr's compliments to U.N. staff for their handling of the crisis, dismissing them as a "self-congratulatory assessment."

Starr told reporters last week that U.N. headquarters suffered "major damage" to its cooling systems, electrical switchboards and other sensitive technology due to flooding.

U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Management Yukio Takasu repeated on Monday that it was too early to assess the damage costs, though he said some of it would be covered by insurance. He said he hoped to have an estimate of the cost of the damage ready for the committee in the coming days.

It was not until Wednesday - nearly two days after Sandy made landfall - that information began trickling out of the United Nations. Security Council envoys told Reuters that day that they were forced to hold an urgent meeting on Somalia at a temporary structure on the U.N. campus due to flood damage.   Continued...