By Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld and Dr. Reba Goodman
The United Nations was founded in 1945. The purpose, as stated in the prologue of the charter, was “to safeguard peace and security in order to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to “promote social progress and a better standard of life.”
Rivalries between major powers have prevented the UN from resolving some brutal conflicts, such as those in Yemen, Syria, and Afghanistan.
While still pursuing its activities in the political arena, it is turning its energy to humanitarian work and to promoting study and warnings of threats to the planet and to collective actions to cope with these dangers.
Global problems need global solutions
As the world’s only truly universal global organization, the UN has become the foremost forum to address issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any one country acting alone. Some examples are climate change, disease, migration, refugees, human trafficking, and international crime. Global problems require global action.
The way the crisis of climate change was promoted is an excellent example. A large independent group of scientists conducted studies and then launched major reports. Then, major conferences were held.
The destructive impact of the climate crisis, as predicted by the scientists, is beginning to be felt. More destructive hurricanes, monster fires, sea level rise, and cities facing drinking-water shortages are some examples of this impact. Furthermore, the ocean is becoming warmer and more acidic, destroying coral reefs and endangering fish populations. Worsening droughts are reducing food production.
Despite the urgency of the problem and the inspiring youth led-protests by millions on streets all over the world, action on the political front is disappointing.
The UN has a number of agencies to actively implement its mandate to promote a better standard of life. Let’s briefly look at some of these agencies.
Helping Refugees: UN High Commissioner for Refugees
There are currently about 60 million refugees, the highest ever, more than half of whom are under 18 years of age. Most are fleeing violence, civil wars, and crime. Many live in camps in countries neighboring their country of origin. UNHC helps in housing, providing clean water and some education. The funding for this agency comes almost entirely from voluntary contributions from governments and private donors.
Helping Children: UNICEF
The United Nations Children’s Fund, originally known as the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, has attempted to stop child labor, child prostitution, and trafficking. It provides vaccines to nearly half of the world’s children. In 2018, it helped supply safe drinking water to nearly 19 million people. Also last year, it supported basic education for 7 million children in 63 countries—a remarkable achievement.
Feeding the Hungry: World Food Program
The world food program provides relief to millions of people who are victims of disasters, assisting some 87 million people in 83 countries each year. On any given day, the World Food Program has 5,000 trucks, 20 ships, and 92 planes on the move. Each year it distributes more than 15 billion rations.
It should be remembered that the UN is, at its best, a mirror of the world. It reflects our divisions as well as our hopes and convictions.
Dr. Sylvain Ehrenfeld, International Humanist and Ethical Union Representative to the United Nations, and Dr. Reba Goodman are members of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.