Ethiopian Airlines Crash: a Tragedy for the UN, Italy, and International Cooperation

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UN Members holding a moment of silence/Flickr

NEW YORK, MARCH 11 – A tragedy for the United Nations, for Italy, and for international cooperation as a whole. Flight Ethiopian 302 crashed on Sunday with no survivors after it began a sharp nose dive shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa. Close to two dozen of the victims on board were representatives from the United Nations and international organizations, of which some were were Italian; Virginia Chimenti and Maria Pilar Buzzetti from the WFP; president of Link 2007 Paolo Dieci; Carlo Spini, Gabriella Vigiani and Matteo Ravasio representing the Africa Tremila NGO; and, archeologist Sebastiano Tusa working on a project for UNESCO.

Today, the United Nations Environment Assembly began in Nairobi, Kenya with a minute of silence to mourn the victims of the crash. Flags at half mast were ordered at the Headquarters in New York and Geneva. Profoundly saddened by the loss of lives, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his condolences and offered solidarity with the victims’ families. “This is indeed a sad day for many around the world, and for the UN in particular. Yesterday’s terrible air crash in Ethiopia took the lives of all those on board — including at least 21 of our UN colleagues, according to the latest information, not to mention an undetermined number of people that have been working closely with the UN”, said Guterres adding that the men and women who died in the crash “had one thing in common — a spirit to serve the people of the world and to make it a better place for us all”.

“Let us keep their spirit of service alive”, said the Secretary General.

The crash took the lives of employees of OIM, UNCHR, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), UNEP, FAO, the World Bank, Somalia’s UNSOM mission, and six staff members from the UN’s office in Nairobi (UNON).

The passengers and crew of flight ET 302 represented 35 countries. The flight was nicknamed “the UN Shuttle” for its frequent high concentration of United Nations staff that travelled between the UN offices in Nairobi and Addis Ababa.

While many of the passengers were heading to the Environment Assembly, Paolo Dieci was in route to Somalia. Prior to departing for Addis Ababa from Rome, Dieci told Nino Sergi, a close friend, that “I am departing to let my collaborators know that they’re not along in this difficult situation, I am there too.” As well as being a close friend to the late Dieci, Sergi helped co-found and lead Link 2007, a network of 14 NGOs. He is currently the President Emeritus of Intersos.

Paolo Dieci, one of the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

Dieci was also the president of the International Committee for Human Development (CISP), an important Italian NGO founded in 1983. “He was a man of great reliability and great ability,” says Sergi, “[Dieci] had a gift in finding solutions that put various perspectives together. He was a man dialogue and not confrontation.” The entire network of Cooperazione Italiana has come together to bear the pain felt by the victims’ families. The Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation tweeted yesterday saying “We are dismayed by the loss of Italian cooperators and Paolo Dieci, a great figure of cooperation.”

The Ethiopian airline tragedy marks the third air disaster that has directly effected the UN. In November of 1999, a Atr-42 carrying UN members crashed against mountains in Kosovo killing 24 people. Just a year earlier, a Swissair DC-10 crashed and sank off the Canadian Atlantic coast. Of the 215 people that died many where UN functionaries travelling between the New York and Geneva offices, including Jonathan Mann who was head of OMS’ program fighting HIV/AIDS. Additionally, The UN lost its second Secretary General, Swedish Dag Hammarskjöld, in a plane accident over Zambia. The circumstances of the crash are still unclear. (@OnuItalia)