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United Nations Global Issues


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.

“With a view to the creation of conditions of stability and well-being which are necessary for peaceful and friendly relations among nations … the United Nations shall promote: higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development …”

Article 55 of the UN Charter

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.

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.

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. The 2010 UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals concluded with the adoption of a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by their 2015 target date and the announcement of major new commitments for women's and children's health and other initiatives against poverty, hunger and disease.

The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) is the principal body coordinating the economic and social work of the United Nations. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) provides support to the intergovernmental processes on development issues in the General Assembly and in the Economic and Social Council, its functional commissions and expert bodies.

The UN is the only global institution committed to development. Nearly every organization in the UN family has some aspect of development assistance and cooperation as its focus, either directly or indirectly.  The United Nations Development Group unites the 33 UN funds, programmes, agencies, departments, and offices that play a primary role in development efforts.

Taking the lead in this effort is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is on the ground in 166 countries. The annual Human Development Report, commissioned by UNDP, focuses the global debate on key development issues, providing new measurement tools, innovative analysis and policy proposals.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) is the lead UN organization working for the long-term survival, protection and development of children. Active in 190 countries, its programmes focus on immunization, primary health care, nutrition and basic education.

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) promotes socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.

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.

The World Bank Group extends billions of dollars every year in low-interest loans, interest-free credits and grants to developing countries for a wide array of purposes that include investments in education, health, public administration, infrastructure, financial and private sector development, agriculture and environmental and natural resource management. 

To accelerate development in Africa, which has 39 of the world’s poorest countries, 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.