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Clinton Kicks Off 6th CGI, Focusing on Disaster Relief

By Susan Carey Dempsey on September 21, 2010One Comment

There was a bit of an Irish lilt in the air at the opening of the Clinton Global Initiative this morning. The 42nd president called attention to Haiti, the cause to which he’s deeply devoted, in his opening comments and singled out Denis O’Brien, the Irish head of Digicel, for the telecommunications company’s prompt and powerful response to the earthquake’s devastation.  O’Brien heads an Action Network focused on Haiti, which includes several commitment-makers who had been in Haiti before the earthquake, and who are now coordinating their efforts with the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.

The first “Mega-Commitment” was announced  by former Irish president Mary Robinson, reflecting a multi-nation endeavor to encourage support for “waste-pickers,” who are overwhelmingly women, and cleaning up landfills. Clinton described the removal of landfills from cities as a “silver bullet,” which can provide fuel, organic material for fertilizers, and land which can be put to productive use.

Among several commitments highlighted during the opening session, Clinton also brought up Dominic McSorley from the Irish humanitarian agency Concern, to present a commitment to fight water-borne disease in Pakistan in the wake of flooding that has impacted 20 million people. Working with local NGO partners, Concern is providing food, aid for farmers and funding for infrastructure to more than half a million of the most vulnerable flood victims. In discussing the catastrophes in Pakistan and Haiti, Clinton cautioned his audience to be better prepared to prevent and minimize the impact of natural disasters:

In the last decade, insurance payments relating to natural disasters were three times higher than in the decade before. We have every reason to believe that economically devastating natural disasters will accelerate around the world due to the changes in climate.

By the opening session, Clinton said, 291 commitments had been made – bringing the total since the first CGI to 1,946 – representing $6 million, which brought the six-year total to $60 billion, which he credits with impacting some 296 million lives. Robinson is one of 67 present and former heads of state, along with more than 600 business leaders and more than 500 leaders from NGOs and philanthropic organizations participating in CGI, which parallels the opening session of the United Nations on the other side of Manhattan.

Clinton spoke warmly of his hope that the effect of CGI would spread far beyond the Sheraton hotel where the conference was held, especially as CGI was webcast, allowing individuals around the world to make their own commitments:

I believe the definition of a good citizen in the 21st century must include some activity like this, in addition to paying your taxes, obeying the law, etc. The world is so interdependent, that there is a complicated ongoing blizzard of conflicts between positive and negative forces. We all have to do more, too, to keep the pace of experimentation and change moving forward.

Over the next three days, onPhilanthropy will follow CGI’s focus on several key action areas, including empowering women and girls, harnessing human potential, strengthening market-based solutions, and increasing access to modern technology.

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