Is the UN indeed the world’s most familiar and at the once familiar organization? A little over seventy-five years after it was birthed in 1945, has it achieved its noble calling, best described in the now-famous words of one of its early S-Gs as, ‘not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell’?
What are the apocalyptic choices facing us as people and our planet today that warrant the presence of a vibrant and proactive United Nations? It is a big question. The globally agreed Agenda 2030, more popularly known by the buzzword of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) seems to have it all covered.
The divide keeps ever growing between the very rich and the very poor. Simply put, inequality is growing and we face risks from long-running conflicts and new forms of violence. Forced migration and displacement are common threats everywhere. The rise in atmospheric temperatures is beginning to up-end economic planning like never imagined before. Sea-level rise, a visible consequence of human activity-induced climate change, is displacing hundreds of thousands and will displace millions more in our lifetime if action is not taken.
Take polluting emissions. There are readily available technological solutions that can help reduce roughly 70 percent of the emission problems. Digital technology is spreading fast but not always equitably. In 25 years, it had reached nearly two-thirds of the world population but less than half of women who ought to benefit equitably from such technologies. In the 47 least developed countries of the world, less than 20 percent of citizens have access to such technology. Technology has made us more informed and connected, helped feed more people, and prevent death and disease if not fully cured.
On the flip side, even as we seem to be drowning in data-glut, the notion of individual privacy seems to have gone out of the window. Buried in the hedonistic screens of our own making,
we are more disconnected and more lonely than ever. And because of the data and digital divide, not everyone will have the same access to the jobs of the future. Trolls, social media hate-mongers, and digital stalkers are just as sinister as their real-life prototypes of yore. In this dystopian world of today, there is thus both more unity and ever more division.
It is almost trite to repeat that solutions to these issues will require cooperation across borders, sectors, and generations. There is no other way. There is no better honest broker than the United Nations to get it done.
From transition economies to broken nation-states and countries flattened by cyclones and rising sea levels, I have seen first-hand the UN make a difference. From the frontlines of Aleppo in northern Syria and Abyei near South Sudan and from Mosul in Iraq to Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, I have walked under the UN flag, bringing smiles and much-needed hope in the lives of citizens caught in the cross-hairs of multiple parties to conflicts at withering odds with each other and their citizens.
I have seen ordinary citizens living under siege and used as human shields in one place while left to fight the wrath of nature in the other. Mere fat in the fire of someone else’s making.
In such forgotten and contested places, as indeed across much of the free world, in the eyes of some of the most hapless and helpless citizenry, I have seen the UN command awe and respect as the world’s first and most pre-eminent humanitarian friend.