An assembly of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has opened in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, under a dark cloud cast by the Sunday’s plane crash that killed 157 people, including 22 UN staff, many heading for the annual event.
On Monday, delegates arrived at the event with the UN flag flying at half-mast, and the flags of the UN members that usually adorn the UNEP headquarters having been taken down.
As they wondered aloud who among their colleagues may have been on board the ill-fated Nairobi-bound flight, the delegates hugged and comforted one another, and observed a minute’s silence at the meeting’s start.
According to Maimunah Sharif, the head of UN-Habitat, at least 22 UN employees were among the 157 killed when the Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing jet crashed early on Sunday, just six minutes after the takeoff from Addis Ababa, the capital of neighboring Ethiopia.
“I stand before you on the first day of the UN Environment Assembly, which has officially commenced today in the wake of this tragedy,” Sharif told delegates.
“We will not forget this tragedy, nor those who perished. Let us reflect that our colleagues were willing to travel and to work far from their homes and loved ones to make the world a better place to live.”
Nairobi hosts the global headquarters of the UNEP and is the regional seat for many UN agencies.
The annual UNEP assembly gathers heads of state, ministers, business leaders and civil society representatives to work on ways to slash pollution and build a greener global economy.
In a statement before the conference, the UN said it was “deeply saddened” by the news of the Ethiopian Airlines’ plane crash.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those affected. We are following developments closely,” it said.
A member of the UNEP secretariat told the AFP news agency on Monday it was “still trying to consolidate” the number of staffers killed.
Among the UN staff were some who worked for the World Food Program, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration, the agencies have said.