United Nations Secretariat officials said Monday that the multimillion dollar renovation of the United Nations historic Headquarters complex was still on track despite the blow wielded by Hurricane Sandy that shuttered the doors of the New York City compound for three days last week.
Yet many delegates believed the Secretariat had not kept the Member States adequately informed of developments as the hurricane’s devastating storm surge hit the East River compound on 29 October and began flooding the facility’s third-floor basement.
Speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, Algeria’s delegate complained the United Nations had “disappeared from the radar” of its Member States, the Secretariat and the outside world. Denmark’s representative lamented that an Organization known for disaster prevention had not better managed a disaster at its own principal office.
Other delegates voiced concerns about the costs to repair printing operations, insurance coverage, and the status of the primary data center, as well as a back-up data cente in New Jersey.
Acknowledging that the communications with Member States was not perfect, Under-Secretary-General for Management Yukio Takasu said the storm and its related flooding was unprecedented. The United Nations e-mail list of delegations had been corrupted, effectively severing e-mail communication with the permanent missions. Updates had been made available on the staff website for emergency information. The website was now being changed to include delegations.
Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gregory B. Starr said management’s top concerns during the storm were twofold: the safety of staff and how the Organization could best carry out its operations.
“We obviously, obviously have issues to face,” Starr said. But he noted that a Security Council meeting was held on Wednesday at the North Lawn Building, a General Assembly meeting was held on Thursday, and the Organization’s global operations continued even as the natural disaster unfolded in the eastern United States.
The Committee then turned its attention directly to the Capital Master Plan, part of its programme budget biennium 2012-2013 agenda item. Many delegates commended the administration for maintaining the renovation plan’s schedule and already moving about 1,400 staff members back into the Secretariat building.
But some speakers were dismayed by additional cost overruns and the Secretariat’s inability to nail down this expanded spending. They also were concerned by the halt in the renovation of the Library and South Annex Building, because of the need for greater security protection requirements, and the deferment of the North Lawn Building’s demolition.
Algeria’s delegate, again speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, was very concerned that the Secretary-General had not presented viable alternatives to finish the project entirely. “The proposal to continue the suspension of the construction work, alongside the use of the $65 million to cover cost overruns, are tantamount to a de facto de-scoping of the project,” he declared, also firmly rejecting the proposal to defer demolition of the temporary North Lawn Building once the renovation project was wrapped up. It did not make sense economically, and negatively impacted the Headquarters’ architectural integrity.