On Monday morning at 10 a.m., the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) based in Nairobi will begin the first plenary session of the UN Environment Assembly – and they’ll do so with empty seats.
That’s because according to estimates, up to 50 passengers aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302, which crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on Sunday, were traveling to the Nairobi destination for the conference. Among the 149 passengers, all of whom died alongside eight airline crew members, were people from 35 countries – including 12 on the African continent.
All told, there are more than 4,700 heads of state, UN officials, environment ministers and business leaders who are expected to attend a conference focused on achieving Paris Agreement climate goals, and concurrent events including the One Planet Summit. The focus of the weeklong event, with its theme of Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production, engages some of the world’s best experts on issues tied to reducing global carbon emissions and meeting sustainable development goals and national climate commitments.
With President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and President Emmanuel Macron of France among the world leaders on hand, the UN Environment Assembly is meant to look toward a new and achievable horizon. Today a shadow passes across it, with the loss of some of the planet’s climate and environmental leaders.
Among those lost to ET302
The UN’s Department of Safety and Security in Kenya says at least 19 people from across its affiliated agencies perished in the crash, which happened near Bishoftu, southeast of the Ethiopian capital, six minutes after takeoff from Bole International Airport at 8:38 a.m. local time.
“The United Nations is in contact with the Ethiopian authorities and working closely with them to establish the details of United Nations personnel who lost their lives in this tragedy,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres in his statement. He expressed condolences to all those affected.
Those lost include British aquaculture expert Joanna Toole, now living in Rome, who worked for the UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) agency in its fisheries sector. Seven people from the World Food Program died, with WFP Executive Director David Beasley expressing the profound grief of his people.
Two people from the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees died, including Jackson Musoni of Rwanda. Musoni, based in South Sudan, also was believed to be headed for the UNEP conference. An International Organization for Migration employee from Sudan, a UNSOM worker in Somalia, and people from World Bank and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) also were lost.
Among the 32 Kenyans who died – making up 21 percent of the fatalities — were six workers from the UN office in Nairobi. Other Africans headed to the UN Environment Assembly included two Moroccans, confirmed by government officials as delegates to the conference in Kenya. Others came from Egypt, Djibouti, Mozambique, Togo, Uganda and Nigeria.
Among the Nigerians who died were Abiodun Bashua, a retired diplomat serving with the UN Economic Commission of Africa. “Bashua also served as Secretary to the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),” said Nigerian officials in a statement.
Pius Adesanmi, a dual Nigerian and Canadian citizen who served as professor and director of the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, was aboard. His colleagues called him “a towering figure in African and post-colonial scholarship” whose contributions were immeasurable.
Losses to the world
Adesanmi was among 18 Canadians aboard ET302, six of whom have been identified by Global Affairs Canada. Among them was 24-year-old Danielle Moore, who was attending the UNEP conference. The Toronto-area native, now working in Winnipeg, shared her excitement about it in social media posts.
Peter de Marsh, from the Canadian province of New Brunswick, was president of the International Family Forestry Alliance based in Belgium. “He was due to attend a conference on family owned forests and climate change at Nairobi,” said Dominic Walubengo, director of Forest Action Network in Kenya.
Other countries whose citizens were affected include Ethiopia, with nine people on the flight including UN staff, and China and the United States, with eight victims each. France, Poland, Spain, Slovakia: A detailed list of the passenger nationalities is available here.
India’s external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, confirmed that a UN consultant working with her government’s Ministry of Environment and Forests had died. Two employees working for the Norwegian Refugee Council were on board, as was German Anne-Katrin Feigl, the IOM staffer working in Sudan.
Somali Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said a member of his staff, traveling on unrelated business, also was among the victims. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that three citizens – Ekaterina Polyakova, Alexander Polyakov and Sergei Vyalikov – died in the accident, but did not give a reason for their travels.
Ethiopian authorities say they continue to work with the UN and other governments to identify the victims and assist their families, while the investigation has begun into what went terribly wrong on an otherwise routine flight, taking off in favorable weather with an experienced pilot and crew.
And in Nairobi, where the missing represent so much expertise and commitment now lost to their loved ones and the global community, there is grief. That’s true across the world, where UN facilities will fly flags at half-staff in honor of Flight ET302 victims. Beasley, the WFP director, called on those who remain to consider their mission – one shared by so many in Kenya this week.
“As we mourn, let us reflect that each of these WFP colleagues were willing to travel and work far from their homes and loved ones to help make the world a better place to live,” he said. “That was their calling.”