Bob Rae says countries must work together to shore up infrastructure as disasters multiply

Canada's Ambassador to the UN Bob Rae says the recent deadly calamities in Libya and Morocco should be convincing the governments of the world to work together to harden vital infrastructure against natural disasters.

An earthquake in Morocco and floods in Libya have killed thousands

A man wearing glasses speaks at a podium.
Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae speaks to delegates before a vote at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Canada's Ambassador to the UN Bob Rae says the recent deadly calamities in Libya and Morocco should be convincing the governments of the world to work together to harden vital infrastructure against natural disasters.

"This is not going to go away. This is it, folks. What we've seen this summer is the new pattern," Rae said in an interview on CBC's The House airing Saturday.

Rae is preparing for one of the biggest events in the UN calendar. World leaders — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — are gathering in New York City next week for the annual opening of the UN General Assembly.

Rae, the former NDP premier of Ontario, told host Catherine Cullen that Canada must work with other nations to shore up infrastructure to prepare for future natural catastrophes — including ones driven by climate change, which are expected to become more common.

"What we bring to the table has to be engagement, a willingness to really listen carefully to what's being said and how can we be constructive partners with everybody else in trying to make sure the global responses to these crises are more effective than they have been so far," Rae said.

A week before world leaders are set to meet in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, the international community is scrambling to respond to two major disasters in Libya and Morocco, along with other more long-running concerns. Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Bob Rae, joins The House to discuss the difficult issues facing the world and how best to tackle them.

Rae said the world must be prepared for more intense natural disasters driven by a warming planet.

"We're going to see much more of it globally," he said. "This is not a one-off. This is our present and it's our future."

The international community is scrambling to respond to a series of crises. They include both long-term threats — like Russia's war on Ukraine — and more recent events like the flooding in Libya and a major earthquake in Morocco. Officials say the flooding may have claimed up to 20,000 lives, while the magnitude 7 earthquake in Morocco killed more than 2,000 people.

People inspect the damage caused by an earthquake.
People inspect the damage caused by the earthquake in the village of Tafeghaghte, near Marrakech, Morocco, on Sept. 11, 2023. (Mosa'ab Elshamy/The Associated Press)

Rae said the first priority should be to ensure that the international response to these disasters is effective and well-funded.

"That is not easy in the face of governments right across the West, in the advanced economies, saying, 'Well, you know, there's a limit to how much we can do," he said.

Speaking Friday, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan also noted that President Joe Biden would make the case for greater global cooperation during his time at the General Assembly next week.

Libya has been embroiled in political turmoil since 2011 and is now governed by two rival administrations. Rae said UN relief agencies have significant experience working in difficult political situations.

Rae, who as interim federal Liberal leader in 2011 pushed for Canada to remain involved in Libya after its air combat mission there concluded, said Canada still has a responsibility to respond to crises.

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Canada took part in a months-long international mission in Libya in 2011 to enforce a no-fly zone over the country to protect civilians fighting the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. While Libya has since experienced ongoing instability, Rae cautioned against embracing the idea that the post-intervention chaos is the only cause of the recent disaster, which saw two major dams fail.

"I think if you're trying to draw a line between what happened 10 years ago and what's happening today, it's not a straight line. The under-investment in infrastructure did not start 10 years ago. It was a feature of Gadhafi's regime," he said.

Rae also said Trudeau would be leading a meeting at the UN on the situation in Haiti to try to push toward a solution.


Christian Paas-Lang covers federal politics for CBC News in Ottawa as an associate producer with The House and a digital writer with CBC Politics. You can reach him at christian.paas-lang@cbc.ca.

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