As the estimated death toll from Tuesday’s earthquake in Haiti climbed to 50,000, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at Yale on Thursday, called on university leaders to help spread the benefits of scientific innovation to the developing world.
“Time and again, following a natural disaster like the earthquake in Haiti, we are reminded that we have technologies and knowledge that can reduce the impact of natural disasters and save lives,” he said at the Global Colloquium of University Presidents on Thursday afternoon. “The problem is that so many parts of the world are not benefiting from this knowledge and these technologies.”
Though Ban was originally scheduled to stay for the colloquium through Friday afternoon, he will cut his visit short and leave after speaking Friday morning in order to address the situation in Haiti. The conference — begun in 2005 by Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, and hosted this year by University President Richard Levin — annually brings together top university administrators from around the globe to talk about issues of importance to the United Nations. At the opening ceremony of the colloquium, Levin presented Ban with a $5,000 contribution for Haitian relief efforts.
In light of the recent devastation in Haiti, Ban emphasized the importance of the colloquium’s theme this year: the role of science in meeting global challenges. Speaking at the Greenberg Conference Center on Prospect Street, less than 48 hours after the earthquake struck, he expressed his sorrow at the events — which included the collapse of the United Nations headquarters in Port-au-Prince, killing 36, injuring 73 and leaving 160 unaccounted for as of 8 p.m. Thursday — and said the UN has already mobilized an emergency response team.
“We will spare no effort to help the people of Haiti in this hour of need,” he said.
Ban acknowledged the positive impact modern communication technologies, including Facebook, have already had in face of the crisis in Haiti. But, he said, scientific innovation and its benefits are too heavily concentrated in the developed world and are not doing enough to better the condition of most of the global population.
He said the governments of developing countries need to think about ways to bring scientific innovations to their own nations by encouraging research, improving education and strengthening ties between public organizations and private businesses.
Ban also spoke about the importance of international collaboration to address the UN’s goals of stability and peacekeeping. He used climate change as an example of a scientific problem that can only be addressed through cooperation.
“We are on the front lines in the battle against climate change and disease, economic decline, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “We at the United Nations want to work with you to use technological innovation in support of our aims of peace and stability and to enhance all our lives especially, the lives of the poor, the malnourished, those lacking health care, those who are struggling to survive.”
New York University, Columbia University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale are the co-sponsors and rotating hosts of the event. This year’s colloquium is the first in New Haven.