Although most people associate the United Nations with the issues of peace and security, the vast majority of the Organization's resources are in fact devoted to advancing the Charter's pledge to "promote higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development". United Nations development efforts have profoundly affected the lives and well-being of millions of people throughout the world. Guiding the United Nations endeavours is the conviction that lasting international peace and security are possible only if the economic and social well-being of people everywhere is assured.
Many of the economic and social transformations that have taken place globally since 1945 have been significantly affected in their direction and shape by the work of the United Nations. As the global centre for consensus-building, the UN has set priorities and goals for international cooperation to assist countries in their development efforts and to foster a supportive global economic environment.
International debate on economic and social issues has increasingly reflected the commonality of interests between rich and poor countries in solving the many problems that transcend national boundaries. Issues such as refugee populations, organized crime, drug trafficking and AIDS are seen as global problems requiring coordinated action. The impact of persistent poverty and unemployment in one region can be quickly felt in others, not least through migration, social disruption and conflict. Similarly, in the age of a global economy, financial instability in one country is immediately felt in the markets of others.
The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the principal body coordinating the economic and social work of the United Nations and its operational arms. It is serviced by the Department for Economic and Social Affairs. The entire family of United Nations organizations works for economic, social and sustainable development.
Setting the agenda
The UN has played a crucial role in building international consensus on action for development. Beginning in 1960, the General Assembly has helped set priorities and goals through a series of 10-year International Development Strategies. While focusing on issues of particular concern, the Decades have consistently stressed the need for progress on all aspects of social and economic development. The UN continues formulating new development objectives in such key areas as sustainable development, the advancement of women, human rights, environmental protection and good governance – along with programmes to make them a reality.
At the Millennium Summit in September 2000, world leaders adopted a set of Millennium Development Goals aimed at eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; and ensuring environmental sustainability — through a set of measurable targets to be achieved by the year 2015. Among these are: cutting in half the proportion of those who earn less than a dollar a day; achieving universal primary education; eliminating gender disparity at all levels of education; and dramatically reducing child mortality while increasing maternal health.
In September 2008, Governments, foundations, businesses and civil society groups announced new commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals at a high-level event at UN Headquarters.
Assistance for development
The UN system works in a variety of ways to promote economic and social goals.
The mandates of the specialized agencies cover virtually all areas of economic and social endeavour. The agencies provide technical assistance and other forms of practical help to countries around the world. In cooperation with the UN, they help formulate policies, set standards and guidelines, foster support and mobilize funds. The World Bank, for example, provided more than $38.2 billion in development loans in fiscal year 2008 to nearly 100 developing countries.
Close coordination between the UN and the specialized agencies is ensured through the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), comprising the Secretary-General, the heads of the specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Trade Organization.
The UN programmes and funds work under the authority of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council to carry out the UN's economic and social mandate. The UN Development Group, comprising the UN operational programmes and funds, enhances overall cooperation.
The UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN's largest provider of grants for sustainable human development worldwide, is actively involved in attaining the Millennium Development Goals. The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is the lead UN organization working for the long-term survival, protection and development of children. Active in nearly 160 countries and territories, its programmes focus on immunization, primary health care, nutrition and basic education.
Many other UN programmes work for development, in partnership with governments and NGOs. The World Food Programme (WFP) is the world's largest international food aid organization for both emergency relief and development. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is the largest international provider of population assistance. The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) works to encourage sound environmental practices everywhere, and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) assists people living in health-threatening housing conditions.
To increase the participation of developing countries in the global economy, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) promotes international trade. UNCTAD also works with the World Trade Organization (WTO), a separate entity, in assisting developing countries' exports through the International Trade Centre.
The UN system is increasingly pooling its efforts to tackle complex problems that cut across organizational areas of expertise and defy the efforts of any country acting alone.
The Joint UN Programme on AIDS pools the expertise of eight UN agencies and programmes to combat an epidemic that currently affects some 33 million people worldwide. In 2007 alone, some 2 million people died of AIDS, while 2.7 million were newly infected with HIV.
A Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, called for by the Secretary-General in 2001, is a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and affected communities. By 2009, it had committed some $15 billion in 140 countries to support aggressive interventions against these three diseases, which kill over 6 million people every year. Joint initiatives to expand immunization and develop new vaccines have enlisted the support of business leaders, philanthropic foundations, non-governmental organizations and governments, as well as UNICEF, WHO and the World Bank.
The Global Environment Facility, a $3.1 billion fund administered by UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank, helps developing countries carry out environmental programmes. And the UN system works closely with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an African Union initiative that serves as a framework for international support for African development.
The UN system works closely with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an African Union initiative that serves as a framework for international support for African development.