One of the UN's central mandates is the promotion of higher standards of living, full employment, and conditions of economic and social progress and development. As much as 70 per cent of the work of the UN system is devoted to accomplishing this mandate. Guiding the work is the belief that eradicating poverty and improving the well-being of people everywhere are necessary steps in creating conditions for lasting world peace.

The UN has unique strengths in promoting development. Its presence is global and its comprehensive mandate spans social, economic and emergency needs. The UN does not represent any particular national or commercial interest. When major policy decisions are taken, all countries, rich and poor, have a voice.

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.

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 $17 billion in development loans in fiscal year 2001 to more than 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. To enhance overall cooperation, the Secretary-General in 1997 set up the UN Development Group, comprising the UN operational programmes and funds.

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 some 160 countries, areas 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.

Pooling resources

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 has struck more than 57 million people worldwide. The UN System-Wide Special Initiative on Africa — a 10-year, $25 billion endeavour launched in 1996 — brings virtually all points of the UN into a common programme to ensure basic education, health services and food security in Africa. The Global Environment Facility, a $3.5 billion fund administered by UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank, helps developing countries carry out environmental programmes.

UNICEF, UNDP, the World Bank and WHO joined forces in 1998 to launch a new campaign to fight malaria, which kills more than 1 million people a 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.

(Source The UN in brief)