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UN slowly regaining indispensable role in global affairs, information committee hears

UN slowly regaining indispensable role in global affairs, information committee hears

USG Tharoor addresses information committee
Although the United Nations suffered in 2003 rumblings about its fading into irrelevance largely from the debate surrounding the war in Iraq, there are signs that a year later the Organization is slowly regaining its indispensable role in global affairs, the UN's top information official said today.

Addressing the opening of the Committee on Information's annual session, scheduled to meet through 7 May, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said while spirits at the United Nations had at times been low, its vital work continued around the world and the Committee understood that any attempt to reduce the UN's relevance to its conduct on any one issue was completely misconceived.

"We know the media prefers to focus on 'hard threats' - such as acts of terrorism or dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction," he told the Committee, which makes recommendations to the General Assembly on the policy and activities of the UN Department of Public Information (DPI). "The 'soft threats,' such as extreme poverty and hunger, endemic or infectious disease, or environmental degradation that afflict millions of people, rarely made the headlines."

For the Department of Public Information, the options were never simply "either/or," Mr. Tharoor noted. DPI had no choice but to respond to the insistent demands of the news stories of the day normally in the world's "hot spots," including Iraq and its future, and the allegations of wrongdoing in the management of the Oil-for-Food programme in that country.

"But we cannot afford merely to echo the media's priorities," he said. "We have to constantly strive to keep the big picture on the media's agenda, reminding the world that there are other critical areas that needed equal, if not more, attention."

The Committee's Chairman, Ambassador Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury of Bangladesh, noted that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had drawn attention to some of the more pressing and more immediate threats facing the vast majority of the world's population: threats of extreme poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation and endemic or infectious diseases.

The observance next year of the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations, Ambassador Chowdhury said, would provide an opportunity to take stock of what the Organization had done and how the Member States had helped to accomplish its goals.

"To millions of people affected by poverty, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases, the United Nations remains the best hope - often the only hope - for survival and for a better future," he said. "Of course, the United Nations has not solved all problems the world faces. But if we want to see them solved - including such problems as the turmoil in the Middle East, the question of Palestine, the questions concerning Cyprus and in West Africa - we need the UN more than ever."