Thursday, October 21, 2004

Lagniappe: Celebrating the United Nations - Most Americans know of the existence of the United Nations, but very few know much about the organization. For instance, it may come as shocking news to many people that the United States has set aside Oct. 24th as "United Nations Day." If you want to learn about the United Nations more completely, you can visit the UN website by clicking here. But a better site for US Citizens to check out is the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNAUSA). Their website can be accessed here.

The good number of United States citizens express either ambivalence or even outright hostility to the United Nations as an organization. And this comes primarily out of a very limited understanding of the United Nations in its POLITICAL role. We hear about the Security Council and most of us can recognize the name of the UN Secretary General (Kofi Annan). And we have probably also read about or heard about UN peacekeeping operations or, more recently, UN Security Council battles over the situation in Iraq. But this is simply a tiny fraction of what the UN is all about. What I would encourage reflective people to do is to make a distinction between the "politics" of the UN and the "on-the-ground" work of the UN.

The UN is the single most important agency that undertakes massive and coordinated efforts world wide to battle discrimination, poverty, hunger, displacement, health crises and any other daily life issues that affect the world's most marginalized and ignored populations -- a group that, in fact, sadly, makes up a vast majority of the world's people. One quick look at the organizational chart of the United Nations will give you just a surface-level sense of the magnitude, reach, and impact of the United Nations in the world today. Let me list some of the UN agencies whose works are not only critical to the health, happiness, and well-being of many of the world's dispossessed, but also without which there would be no effective protections or help for the poor and marginalized of the world. For example, there are the myriad of agencies strictly dedicated to humanitarian affairs. Among these are the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which protects and provides a living space for those people who have no "home" on the globe. There's also the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children & Armed Conflict and the office of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. Some other critically important UN Agencies include the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO), which is the main agency coordinating the UN's impressive Economic and Social Development Programs. Included in this broad umbrella category are institutions like the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme among many, many others.

Needless to say, as you can very well see, the United Nations is not primarily dedicated to issues of war and peace, though certainly this forms an important part of its work. Instead, the United Nations is prinicipally dedicated to helping people, saving lives, and making for a better world for those who live in the most troubled of circumstances.

Many states in the United States have their own particular events and festivities planned in celebration of UN Day on October 24. Please check out the United Nations Association of the United States of America to find out what's going on in your own area. And then join in and become a part of celebrating the good work that the United Nations undertakes.

To look at the United Nations another way, try to envision a world in which the United Nations doesn't exist. How would starvation in Africa be dealt with in the absence of the United Nations? How would the AIDS epidemic worldwide (or the SARS epidemic) be managed without the United Nations? How would peoples displaced by famine or war survive without the United Nations? Who would care about the health and well-being of the world's marginalized and dispossessed if it weren't for the United Nations? We take for granted the presence and the work of the United Nations after almost 60 years of its existence, much like we take for granted the Social Security system of the United States which has saved innumerable lives from destitution and death. In spite of the many failings and weaknesses of the United Nations, the world is undoubtedly in better shape than it would have been without the UN's existence. Anyone concerned with social justice and the fight against global poverty and hunger should embrace the UN, warts and all, as the best chance the global community has of dealing with some of the world's most pernicious problems. I encourage you to do so, and I leave you with a quotation by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to inspire you: "...keep in mind what the UN is, the UN is us. It isn't a separate organization that exists separately from its members. It is a creature of its member states...." (Sec. of State Colin L. Powell, 10/1/04). Indeed. The UN is us. It's successes are ours, as well as its failures. We should do no finger-pointing at the UN unless we're willing to assume responsibility for it ourselves. And we most certainly need to do our part to make the United Nations what we want it to be.

No comments: