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The State of the World

Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)

23 September 2008

By Ban Ki-moon

W e all recognise today’s perils. A global financial crisis. A global energy crisis. A global food crisis. Trade talks have collapsed, yet again.

There are new outbreaks of war and violence. Climate change ever more clearly threatens our planet. We say that global problems demand global solutions.

And yet, do we act? In truth, today, we also face a crisis of a different sort — the challenge of global leadership. New centres of power and leadership are emerging — in Asia, Latin America and across the newly developed world.

In this new world, the challenges are increasingly those of collaboration, not confrontation. Nations can no longer protect their interests, or advance the well-being of their people, without the partnership of the rest.

Yet I see a danger of nations looking inward rather than towards a shared future. I see a danger of retreating from the progress we have made, particularly in the realm of economic development and fairness in sharing the fruits of global growth.

Yes, global growth has raised billions of people out of poverty. Yet if you are among the world’s poor, you have never felt poverty so sharply. Yes, international law and justice have never been so widely embraced. Yet those living in nations where human rights are abused have never been so vulnerable.

Yes, most of us live in peace and security. Yet violence is deepening in many nations: Afghanistan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Sudan. Their problems are part of the development emergency we face. Over the past year, the price of fuel, food, and commodities rose alarmingly. Wealthy countries worry about recession, while the poor can no longer afford to eat. The Millennium Development Goals are part of the solution. But progress here has been uneven. Pledges have not been honoured. Yet we have achieved enough to know that the goals are within reach.

The United Nations is the champion of the most vulnerable. When disaster strikes, we act. We did so this year in Haiti and other Caribbean nations hit by hurricanes. We did so after Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, where the challenge now is to push for political progress, including credible steps on human rights and democracy.

We have helped people affected by severe flooding in Southeast Asia, and by drought in the Horn of Africa, where 14 million need emergency help. Since taking office, I have called for more strenuous action in Somalia. Must we wait — and see more children die in the sand?

The global food crisis will not go away by itself. It may now have faded from the headlines. Last year at this time, rice cost $330 a tonne. Today it is $730. People who used to buy rice by the bag now do so by the handful. Those who ate two meals a day now get by on one.

The UN has focused on getting seeds and fertilisers into the hands of small farmers. We seek a new “green revolution” in Africa. But we lack new resources. The international community has not matched words with deeds.

In Burundi and Sierra Leone, Liberia and Timor Leste, our resources are under strain because UN peacekeepers are helping nations turn the corner to peace. Yet the UN’s preventive diplomacy is often critical. We see the fruits in Nepal, Kenya and, we hope, Zimbabwe.

Likewise, there is a real chance to reunify Cyprus. In Georgia, the UN can help ease the tensions resulting from the recent conflict. In Cote d’Ivoire, we will help organise elections before year’s end — a major stride toward recovery and democracy.

But it is dangerous to think that the UN can address today’s complex problems without the full backing of its member states. In Darfur, for example, we face a continuing challenge in meeting deployment deadlines. We lack critical assets and personnel. If not matched by resources, mandates are empty. And now all of our work - financing for development, social spending in rich nations and poor, the Millennium Development Goals, peacekeeping - is endangered by the global financial crisis. We need to restore order to international financial markets.

We must think about a new global economic order that more fully reflects the changing realities of our time. Those realities call for continuous UN action on countless fronts: combating malaria and Aids, reducing maternal and child mortality, fighting global terrorism, and ensuring nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

On the Korean Peninsula, all the agreements of the six-party talks must be implemented, and Iran must comply with Security Council resolutions and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The area of human rights, above all, demands our vigilance. Justice must be treated as a pillar of peace, security, and development. We must advance the “responsibility to protect.” Despite the real political difficulties, we cannot let crimes against humanity go unpunished.

Climate change remains the defining issue of our era. We must regain our momentum. Our first test comes in three months in Poznan, Poland. By then, we need a shared vision of a new global climate change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012.

The foundation of all the UN’s work is accountability. We need to change the UN’s culture. We must become faster, more flexible, and more effective — more modern. We must replace our current system of contracts and conditions of service, which are dysfunctional and demoralising.

But the UN’s Member States must be accountable as well. Resolutions mandating peace operations cannot continue to be passed without the necessary troops, money, and materiel. We cannot send brave UN staff — 25 of whom died this year — around the world without assuring their security. We cannot reform this organisation without the required resources.

Today’s uncertainties will pass, but only if we act wisely and responsibly. By doing so, we will set the stage for a new era of stability and global prosperity, more widely and equitably shared.

Ban  Ki-moon is the Secretary-General of the United Nations