Our power lies in unity
Wednesday, 01 October 2008

Nations can no longer protect their interests, or advance the wellbeing of their people, without coming together in partnership

Ban Ki-moon

We 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 wellbeing of their people, without the partnership of the rest.
Yet I see a danger of nations looking inward rather than toward 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 south-east 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 ton. 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.

Ban Ki-Moon is secretary general of the United Nations

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