There is growing recognition of the lead role played by the United Nations, and by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself, in finding solutions to some of today’s toughest challenges, including the food crisis and climate change, as well as peace and security issues, ranging from Darfur to the Middle East, two of his top aides said today.
Mr. Ban has had over 100 – and still counting – bilateral meetings over the course of the past week with leaders from around the world who gathered in New York for the General Assembly’s annual debate, which is set to conclude today.
What was seen during those discussions was a “distinct shift” in the concerns of Member States – away from peace and security issues and towards global crises, such as the high costs of food and energy, climate change and the slow progress towards achieving the anti-poverty targets known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“It is in these areas that the UN is more readily accepted as a factor of organization and coordination for a solution to these problems,” Nicholas Haysom, Director for Political Affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, told reporters.
“And these are the areas in which the Secretary-General’s leadership has been more readily accepted and is accepted, and over the last years he’s taken a very distinct lead,” he added.
However, that is not to say that discussions did not focus on pressing peace and security matters. In fact, on that subject, there was recognition that the UN is “pretty stretched” with regard to its peacekeeping operations, particularly in Africa, noted Mr. Haysom.
Leaders are also aware that the UN is experiencing difficulty in getting Member States to live up to their commitments and to act with what Mr. Ban calls ‘due accountability’ to the Organization and other Member States in that regard.
“We’ve had one or two positive indications that helicopters might be forthcoming in respect of Darfur,” Mr. Haysom stated. The UN and the African Union have deployed a joint peacekeeping force to that strife-torn Sudanese region, but it is still lacking key essential equipment, including helicopters.
“And we’ve had a number of positive indications of States that may be willing to play a role, and perhaps a lead role, in the construction of an international stabilization force for Somalia,” he added.
Other issues of concern included the Middle East, where the UN saw “some window of opportunity” in light of the dialogue that now exists between the various parties concerned, Georgia and Myanmar.
Last week also saw a plethora of special events intended to focus attention on issues such as the MDGs, climate change and the food crisis. Among the centrepieces was a day-long high-level event on the Goals, which saw Governments, foundations, businesses and civil society groups pledge $16 billion in new commitments to meet the MDGs.
“We are still sorting… but we feel quite confident that we’re talking conservatively at least $16 billion in new pledges and commitments to the MDGs. And that is significantly more, quite frankly, than we were expecting,” Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning.
Among the many new initiatives announced last week was the $76 million “purchase-for-progress” scheme, announced by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation, to develop new ways for WFP to purchase food locally in developing countries. “This is not just about ‘old school’ food aid. This is really the new generation of assistance to address food needs,” said Mr. Orr.
He added that although much of the world is focused right now on the financial crisis, “there’s no question that over the last week to 10 days in this building there has also been a very key focus on the food crisis.”
Mr. Orr also noted that the UN itself came together to address climate change with the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) Programme. The partnership between the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNEP and UNDP is designed to combat climate change through creating incentives to reverse the trend of deforestation, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
“In several areas we saw concrete embodiments of new ways of doing business, new coalitions of member governments, private sector entities, philanthropists and civil society coming together to address the challenges,” he stated.