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The flag of the United Nations is flown at half-mast, the morning after an Ethiopian Airlines passenger jet to Nairobi crashed.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations is “united in grief” in the aftermath of an Ethiopian plane crash that killed at least 21 staff workers from at least five UN agencies, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres says.

The crash of the Ethiopian Airlines jet on Sunday, shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa on its way to Nairobi, has been a catastrophe for the world’s humanitarian community. In addition to the 21 victims from UN agencies, many other workers from private relief organizations were among the 157 passengers and crew who were killed in the crash.

Flights between Addis Ababa and Nairobi are often filled with staff from humanitarian agencies, since both cities are major hubs and regional centres for UN agencies, private relief groups, diplomatic offices and other international missions.

Explainer: Ethiopian Airlines crash: What we know so far about the disaster and the 157 victims

Jessica Hyba, a long-time worker at the UN refugee agency UNHCR and previously at CARE Canada, was one of 18 Canadians who died in the crash. She had been the senior external relations officer at the Mogadishu office of UNHCR and was among three workers from the agency who died.

Among the other relief agencies whose staff died in the plane crash were CARE, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, the Red Cross of Norway, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Italian humanitarian agency Africa Tremila, and a number of human-rights and civil society organizations.

Many of those who died had been invited to attend the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, which began on Monday morning with a moment of silence for the victims as the assembly’s flags were lowered to half-mast.

Four Canadians – Stéphanie Lacroix, Danielle Moore, Micah Messent and Angela Rehhorn – were delegates to the UN Environment Assembly and were travelling to Nairobi when they died in the crash.

“The global tragedy has hit close to home, and the UN is united in grief,” Mr. Guterres said at the opening of a UN women’s conference Monday in New York, where a moment of silence was held.

He said the UN victims “all had one thing in common: the spirit to serve the world and to make it a better place for all.”

The UN agencies that lost staff in the crash included the World Food Program, UNHCR, the UN Environment Program, the International Telecommunications Union and the International Organization for Migration.

Seven staff workers of the World Food Program were among those who died. “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,” WFP executive director David Beasley said in a statement. “That was their calling, as it is for the rest of the WFP family.”

Catholic Relief Services said four of its staff members were killed in the crash. The four were Ethiopians who were travelling to Nairobi to attend training.

“Although we are in mourning, we celebrate the lives of these colleagues and the selfless contributions they made to our mission, despite the risks and sacrifices that humanitarian work can often entail,” Catholic Relief Services said in a statement.

An Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max that crashed on Sunday was fitted with a system called MCAS, or Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. MCAS is intended to help prevent a stall, but could surprise pilots unfamiliar with its action of lowering the plane's nose. A Lion Air 737 that crashed in October was also fitted with MCAS.