If you’ve been exposed to Republican talking points, chances are you’ve heard many bad things about the UN, that it’s horribly corrupt and mismanaged, very ineffective, even worthless, and, if you’re an evangelical Christian, that it’s going to give rise to the Antichrist and a UN takeover of America. Poll after poll show Republicans have a negative view of the UN, while Democrats and independents do not. Though certainly some legitimate criticism should be levied against the UN, repeated Republican calls for America to disengage from and withdraw funding for the UN are silly. Their negative characterizations ignore the fact that the UN is awesome for many reasons.
Below are just some highlights of its work.
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO/DPKO)
Peacekeeping missions are among the most important activities the UN undertakes and have had a tremendous impact. Currently, there are 15 UN peacekeeping operations and one political mission led by DPKO. These operations occur all over the world and currently deploy nearly 100,000 troops, police, and military observers from 116 nations, plus nearly 17,000 civilians. These operations are helping to stop (or failing that, lessen the effects of) some of the worst, most intractable conflicts in the world, helping to save untold thousands of lives and to rebuild civil society and governance in places where it has been destroyed. Since 1948, through the course of 68 peacekeeping missions, 3,149 people have given their lives serving in UN peacekeeping missions, including 71 Americans. (Report on 2012 operations.)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
UNHCR is the agency of the UN that deals with people who have fled their country for fear of their lives (refugees), people who have fled their homes but who are still displaced within their countries’ borders (internally displaced persons, or IDPs), and stateless people. It has less than 7,700 staff in over 125 countries. They are helping nearly 40 million people (14.7 million IDPs, 10.5 million refugees, 3.1 million returnees, 3.5 million stateless people, more than 837,000 asylum seekers and more than 1.3 other persons of concern) survive, find their way back home, or find a new home. And these numbers don’t include some of the newest displaced coming out of Syria.
Its main activities involve protecting the displaced, responding to specific major emergencies, finding long-term solutions (repatriation, local integration, or resettlement) for the displaced, and assisting the displaced with health care, food and nutrition, water/sanitation/hygiene, and education. In its nearly 63-year history, UNCHR has helped save, return, and resettle tens of millions of people. (Report on 2012 activities.)
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)
UNRWA was created in 1949 to help Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Today, it helps over 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendant who have grown up in exile. As part of its services, UNRWA currently educates almost 500,000 Palestinian children (nearly half girls), provides health care to 3.1 million Palestinians, provides nearly 300,000 Palestinians with a social safety net, has awarded almost 300,000 microfinance loans worth almost $340 million, has improved infrastructure and refugee camps for 1.5 million Palestinians (including rebuilding over 8,000 homes). They have also helped Palestinian refugees who have been getting caught up in regional conflicts over the last 60 years, including over 500,000 who are being affected by Syria’s war, with about half of those now displaced. (Report on 2012 activities.)
World Health Organization (WHO)
WHO is the UN’s body that deals with health issues. It operates nearly 200 programs/projects and has a very ambitious formal agenda that is already underway. It’s involved in a large variety of public health activities and research, and historically, it’s been very successful at fighting the spread of the worst diseases known to man, including achieving major progress on polio, HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, malaria, and the eradication of smallpox, which was killing millions every year) from nature in 1980. WHO also produces many valuable reports and statistical compilations on global health issues. (Approved budget for 2014-2015 w/ activity descriptions.)
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
UNDP provides massive amounts of assistance to developing nations, focusing on poverty reduction and reaching the UN Millennium Development Goals, democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, and environment and energy for sustainable development. With thousands of projects in 177 countries, UNDP truly has a global impact. It also releases an important annual report on human development. (Report on 2012 activities.)
World Food Programme (WFP)
In 2012 alone, WFP provided 3.5 million metric tons of food to nearly 100 million hungry people in 80 countries, has fed over 1.4 billion people since its founding in 1963, and it also works to create conditions that help avoid hunger. (Report on 2012 activities.)
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
UNICEF (you know, the Halloween thing) has been helping children worldwide since 1946. Its current plan focuses on child survival and development, basic education and gender equality, HIV/AIDS and children, child protection, and policy advocacy and partnerships, helping millions of children around the world every year. (Report on 2012 activities.)