As the United Nations 68th General Assembly commenced on Tuesday, September 17th, the Syrian conflict topped the agenda. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon provided an overview to representatives regarding the chemical weapons attack perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad upon his own civilian population. However, as pressing as the Syrian crisis is, there are a host of very daunting challenges that will require the full attention of the General Assembly in the days ahead.
Secretary-General Highlights What Awaits
With 2015 quickly approaching the U.N. Secretary-General, at his press conference before the General assembly began, stressed the importance of meeting the targets set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Mr. Ban Ki-moon stated he "...will call on world leaders to uphold their political and moral responsibilities to serve, to listen, to invest, to respond to the rising and justifiable demands of people across the world for levels of freedom and prosperity. There have been two important reports released which do address the vital issues that lie ahead: one is the Secretary-General's report titled "A Life of Dignity for All: Accelerating Progress Towards the illennium Development Goals and Advancing the United Nations Development Agenda Beyond 2015" and the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that will highlight what has been known for quite some time: global warming is an actual threat; it is not some imaginary phenomenon that skeptics such as the conservative Heartland Institute might have us believe.
In addition, the Secretary-General made a point to draw attention to the first session of the General Assembly: the plight of persons with disabilities. Mr. Ban Ki-moon provided a very alarming statistic indicating that 15% of people in the world "live with some form of disability." This is an extremely large segment of the global population, and he wants the post-2015 agenda to address this issue. Furthermore, matters of peacekeeping and diplomacy are priorities for the General Assembly with respect to the ongoing crisis and conflicts in Afghanistan, Egypt, Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR).
The U.N. leader pointed out that poverty remains the single greatest challenge the global community must confront. It is imperative that the world body focus its attention on this issue. He concluded his remarks by saying "...the events of the past days [Syrian crisis] have shown once again the power of the United Nations to uncover the facts - to resolve the differences - to help avoid bloodshed and forge consensus for peace and progress."
Examples of Successes Achieved by the MDGs
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has achieved measurable success in the eastern part of Kenya assisting 5,000 households in conserving rain water that can be used for crop use - and also to avoid soil erosion - assisted in constructing dams which allows the farmers to collect rain water when needed during the dry season. Moreover, what farmers deem most important are the vouchers they receive for their work that they can use to purchase food or materials needed for building the dams. Sweden has provided $3.6 million, and the FAO in conjunction with the local government has made an effort to help the elderly and single mothers.
The locals are extremely grateful to the FAO for their assistance . In addition, the U.N. organization is also
educating the people about nutrition while allowing them to build skills they can use such as vegetable
farming and poultry raising.
In the Philippines, the FAO, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), International Labour Organization (ILO), World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are working to establish food security and nutrition standards for infants and children up to 2 years old. In this country a staggering 25% of children under the age of 5 are underweight.
In Bangladesh UNICEF is the lead agency, with assistance from WHO, in reaching out to the children of this impoverished nation in managing a widespread campaign to ensure that 33.5 million are immunized against measles. They have also made polio immunization a priority as well in their campaign.
Over the last week, a parade of world leaders took to the podium at the U.N. to espouse the interests of their nation
and what they expect from the global body going forward. These speeches will continue for another week or so, but soon the lights will dim and the spotlight will shine a little less brightly; it is at this point and time the real work
begins on how to proceed beyond 2015.
The post-2015 development agenda obviously will garner the most attention of the world body, but as always unforeseen problems may detract the focus of the U.N. from the tasks at hand. However, the U.N. cannot lose sight of the big picture. It must continue upon the successes achieved through the MDGs, and carry on into 2015. Also, 2015 is a watershed moment for climate change as a global legal agreement is to be completed.
As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this past week, "We come together not to preserve the status quo, but to drive our world forward." He continued by saying that the peoples of the world are letting their leaders know that they want "...a life of dignity for all."