An assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has opened in Kenya’s  capital, Nairobi, under a dark cloud cast by Sunday’s plane crash that killed 157 people, including 22 UN staff, many heading for the annual event.

On Monday, delegates arrived at the event with the UN flag flying at half-mast, and the flags of the UN members that usually adorn the UNEP headquarters having been taken down.

As they wondered aloud who among their colleagues may have been on board the ill-fated Nairobi-bound flight, the delegates hugged and comforted one another, and observed a minute’s silence at the meeting’s start.

According to Maimunah Sharif, the head of UN-Habitat, at least 22 UN employees were among the 157 killed when the Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing jet crashed early on Sunday, just six minutes after the take-off from Addis Ababa, the capital of neighbouring Ethiopia. 

Many of the UN staff killed in Ethiopia Airlines crash were traveling to the UNEP assembly in Kenya’s capital.

“I stand before you on the first day of the UN Environment Assembly, which has officially commenced today in the wake of this tragedy.

“We will not forget this tragedy, nor those who perished. Let us reflect that our colleagues were willing to travel and to work far from their homes and loved ones to make the world a better place to live,” Sharif told delegates.

UN agencies say among the UN staff who died were some who worked for the World Food Programme, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration.