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Established during the 1940s, the United Nations has been responsible for the distribution of international aid funds for decades. As the need for aid increased, the U.N. developed programs to assist in the way they distribute aid across countries in need.

United Nations Refugee Agency

There are four subdivisions, or entities, within the U.N. that regulate the distribution of international aid funds. Following the mission of the U.N., the subdivision, United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), focuses on the well-being of persons identifying as refugees, returnees, stateless people, internally displaced or asylum-seekers. The goal of this subdivision is to ensure the safety and security of those seeking refuge. International aid in this department helps stabilize and rebuild the lives of people forced from the place they call home.

UNICEF and the World Food Programme

There are two entities whose focus is centered around the welfare and well-being of children. History has shown that children displaced by poverty, war, famine or other uncontrollable circumstances, often fare the worst. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) center their international aid efforts around providing food and other services for children and families unable to secure resources in traditional ways. UNICEF helps secure medical resources for countries where hospitals have been destroyed and which have insufficient resources and manpower or where hospitals and medical centers are too far from underserved communities.

UNICEF, however, distributes more than just medical resources. Last year, UNICEF offered mental and psychosocial services to thousands of Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh.

The war-torn country of Yemen illustrates the need for the distribution of international aid to fund programs like WFP. Due to the war, men find it challenging to find work, which makes it difficult for fathers to provide for their children. Without food and proper nourishment, death is often the bleak future for young children, as was the case for a young boy named Mohamed in Hajjah. Shortly after being photographed, he passed away due to malnourishment. WFP works diligently to provide children around the world with food so that stories like Mohamed’s are anomalies, not the norm.

The United Nations Development Programme

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the fourth entity which provides strategies and plans to help implement sustainable change. This subdivision acts as an accountability partner for countries across the world, to ensure that governments are actively participating in the rebuilding and stabilizing efforts being produced through the U.N. The UNDP currently has a strategic plan in action supporting government partnerships with businesses. This three-part plan encourages economy growth within underprivileged communities.

Over 70 years later, the U.N. continues to handle the distribution of international aid funds by helping citizens, families, communities and countries across the globe.

– Christina Taylor
Photo: Flickr

Child RecruitmentThe Democratic Republic of Congo’s national army recently became child-free after being removed from the U.N.’s “list of shame” of armed forces recruiting and using child soldiers. This list details all of the parties in armed conflicts that have “committed serious violations of international humanitarian law against children”.

However, even with their history of abuse and child recruitment, the Congolese army, also known as the FARDC, made considerable progress by releasing 8,546 children from their ranks between 2009 and 2015. The mission was conducted with the help of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping unit in the country.

Since its creation in 2003, Congo’s national army has experienced a long period of violence and conflicts with multiple Congolese militias. Those conflicts were the scene of several human rights abuses such as sexual abuse, child recruitment and deaths, perpetrated mostly by the FARDC armed forces.

Even though child recruitment has been decreasing, sexual violence against children is still at the top of the list of violations committed by the FARDC. It affects mainly girls, who represent 40 percent of Congo’s child soldiers, according to a MONUSCO report. While some of those girls are forced to join, many of them enlist voluntarily, since being in the army gives them better opportunities than living in neighborhoods prone to poverty and a lack of educational resources.

MONUSCO also revealed that documenting the percentage of girls in armed groups has always been a challenge, as the number of girls is often underreported. Out of the 8,546 freed child soldiers registered by MONUSCO, only 7 percent of girls were documented, which is a radical difference from the 40 percent figure estimated by hundreds of witnesses.

Being delisted by the U.N. is, however, a major win for the Congolese armed forces, whose efforts in stopping child recruitment have led to a positive change towards respecting human rights. Training armed groups on child protection issues and creating standard operating procedures have both helped to free child soldiers and eradicate the practice of child recruitment. Eliminating sexual violence within armies is the U.N.’s next mission to better the lives of thousands of soldiers.

Sarah Soutoul

Photo: Flickr

CommCareTechnology has a direct association with the globalization and development of countries across the globe. Access to new technologies can give developing nations the means to build and sustain economies by providing access to global communication and new business information. Arguments against the integration of rising technology make points about forcing technologies that are not suitable for the communities asked to implement them. However, when applied with user awareness, it has contributed to the rise of democracy and reduced the occurrence of extreme poverty.

Countries with a lack of Internet access and low percentages of computer owners make certain technologies virtually useless. The last few years have shown tremendous growth in cell phone and smartphone ownership, making it more necessary to improve the connectivity of these areas. Successful integration and improvement of Internet and emerging technologies relies on public opinion of how they might influence areas culturally. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of residents in 32 developing nations about attitudes toward Internet effects on culture. Of the 32 nations, 64 percent of those surveyed believe the Internet is a good influence on education.

At the U.N. Second Committee Debate, a representative speaking on behalf of the “group of 77” developing nations and China talked about the influence of information and communications technologies on areas like health, education, agriculture, early warning systems, disaster risk reduction and even humanitarian response. The representative of Bangladesh said that information and communications technologies are integral to sustainable development. In addition to praise for these technologies, the representative of Brunei believes there is a widening gap between developed and developing countries that needs to be overcome.

Dimagi has created an open source evidence-based mobile platform designed for low-resource settings. The platform is called CommCare and is currently being used in more than 50 countries. The platform is used to create apps for data collection, user updates and workflow management. The solution of CommCare puts the power of globalization and economic growth and communication in the hands of individuals. The platform can be used to create apps for business development in multiple sectors.

The apps designed with CommCare can be used offline, with multiple platforms like Android and iOS as well as multiple languages, making it an ideal solution for remote areas in developing nations that lack reliable Internet connections. The greatest achievement of CommCare is that it is free and open source, making it accessible to anyone who can get to a computer. If companies take note of these types of user-based technologies, the U.N., WHO and USAID goals of poverty reduction are within reach.

Rebekah Korn

Photo: Flickr

Global Education RatesThe United Nations Children’s Fund has recently put out a call for more funding after a report from the U.N. indicated that improvements on global education rates are stalling. Widespread poverty, humanitarian crises and ongoing military conflicts have been pointed to as the main causes for this significant stagnation. Although a quality education for all is one of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals signed by world leaders in 2015, the on-the-ground campaign for this goal has been considerably lacking in recent years.

Today, the UNICEF reports, around 123 million children are missing school, which represents 11.5 percent of school-age children; in 2007, this number was at 135 million, or 12.8 percent. This 1.3 percent decrease in a decade, the UNICEF indicates, is not nearly enough in order to attain education targets set for 2030. In fact, international aid for education, now standing at about $12 billion, has declined 4 percent since 2010. This is the sixth year in a row in which education has been a diminishing proportion of the overseas aid budget, further evincing that improvement on global education rates are stalling and are possibly at a risk of stopping altogether. By June 2017, UNICEF had only received 12 percent of the funding it needed to provide education for children in areas of crisis.

Although children in poorer countries are disproportionately affected, the latest U.N. report highlights that they are not necessarily the regions getting the most help. Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, accounts for around 50 percent of the global out-of-school children population, but only receives about one quarter of the budget destined for education aid. This is primarily due to more international support going to areas submerged in conflict. This has made ongoing military campaigns and war main factors in the denial of education to millions of children across the world, especially in poorer countries.

Overall, the overwhelming tendency is that improvement on global education rates are stalling. Irina Bokova, director of UNESCO, recently stated that, “Aid would need to be multiplied by at least six to achieve our common education goals and must go to countries most in need.”

In spite of this global stagnation, significant progress has been made in some areas. Ethiopia and Niger, two of the world’s poorest countries, have had respective increases of 15 and 19 percent in enrollment rates for primary school children. This was the largest recorded increase in the latest report given by the U.N.  It is evident that the international community, which signed on to the U.N Sustainable Development Goals, needs to build on the progress made in these countries to help others in need.

Alan Garcia-Ramos

Photo: Flickr

Environmentally-Sustainable Development
On July 14, 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a new report addressing global initiatives towards environmentally sustainable development. The Green Finance Progress Report assesses the progress made by the G20 and other countries in creating policies and financial reforms that are sustainable. Despite many countries falling short in the amounts of capital they invest in sustainable development, the UNEP highlighted many promising institutional changes that have taken place in recent years.

In 2015, the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development found that developing countries lacked investments by approximately $2.5 trillion in implementing environmentally sustainable development initiatives. While this financial goal is still largely unmet, the report noted that the majority of G20 countries have undertaken significant projects and proposals that suggest positive steps towards green finance. Thus, financial shortcomings aside, environmentally sustainable development is becoming a profitable and high-priority investment for many countries.

According to the report, both public and private sectors have shown great improvements in laying the groundwork for green finance plans. With global initiatives in place such as the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, climate change has become of major importance in terms of global cooperation. This has greatly accelerated recently, with more developments in green finance taking place in the last year than any one-year period in history. Most notably, the number of green bonds, or money issued towards environmental projects, increased by 100 percent in 2016.

The plans underway are primarily large-scale, ambitious overhauls that will require careful and swift mobilization in upcoming years. According to the UNEP report, the majority of changes in the financial market have included developments to “reallocate capital, improve risk management, enhance transparency and clarify responsibilities of financial institutions.” The challenge is now to set these plans in motion and continue incentivizing projects towards environmentally sustainable development.

Achieving these goals requires global leaders to continue diverting funds toward sustainable development. This presents a huge opportunity for private market innovation, as the report emphasizes the need for businesses that, “support our sustainable development objectives and create commercially viable green businesses for decades to come.”

According to the UNEP, there are many ways businesses can meet investors’ increasing preference for sustainable projects. Primarily, the report suggests that providing investors with clear, accessible data on environmental impact is extremely important. Negative environmental impact is no longer a risk that can be overlooked, and a shift towards green finance is imperative in addressing climate change.

Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

Global Agricultural Market
In July 2017, the United Nations and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published the 2017-2026 OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook. The report predicted many positive developments in the global agricultural market for the next decade. Most important among these were lower food prices, increased productivity and reduced malnutrition.

According to the report, recent government initiatives and market changes are likely to create higher availability of nutritious food; stable food prices; high production rates of maize, meat and dairy; and lower demand for food. This high level of production can be achieved through significantly higher crop yields, using only slightly more land. As demand in developed countries lowers and crop yields increase, developing countries will be able to attain higher-calorie, nutritious diets.

While these predictions suggest a decade of stability for the global agricultural market, they can only be achieved with constant government upkeep and a continued focus on developing nations and environmental impact. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, about one in nine people globally were suffering from chronic undernourishment from 2014 to 2016. Additionally, many of the production techniques in developing countries are beginning to deplete natural resources. Consequently, creative and sustainable production and trade practices need more attention in order to improve food access and alleviate pressure on natural resources.

Although the Agricultural Outlook report focuses on the global agricultural market, the end of the report looks particularly at sustainability issues in Southeast Asia. The region had a significant amount of economic growth in the past few years, primarily due to the booming agriculture and fish sectors. This growth helped address undernourishment in the area.

However, such immense growth in these sectors put a significant amount of strain on the environment. Because of this, the next decade will require a scaling-back of the fishing and palm-oil exports from the region. According to the report, “improved resource management and increased [research and development] will be needed to achieve sustainable productivity growth.” For example, the report suggests expanding the rice industry to promote diversification.

Essentially, the report states that while the global agricultural market is looking towards a period of stability and low cost, maintaining this requires a watchful eye. OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría stated, “unexpected events can easily take markets away from these central trends, so it is essential that governments continue joint efforts to provide stability to world food markets.”

Julia Morrison

Photo: Flickr

Relief in Bangladesh
In the wake of Cyclone Mora’s rampage, the world has risen to provide relief in Bangladesh for the estimated 2.8 million victims.

On May 29, Mora swept the coast of Bangladesh between Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. Immediately after the storm hit, on-the-ground aid arrived to assist the nation. Later, the IOM (the UN Migration Agency) appealed for $3.7 million to help the hundreds of thousands of people, including Rohingya refugees, that the storm had displaced.

The refugee settlements were makeshift and not built to withstand the 117 km/h cyclone winds. The IOM’s appeal aims to help up to 80,000 people in such communities.

Mora damaged an estimated 80 percent of refugee settlements and completely demolished another 25 percent in Bangladesh. IOM plans to use UN funding throughout the remainder of the year to provide relief in Bangladesh. They improve water access, sanitation, and other protections in the aftermath of the disaster.

Although local hospitals treated 20 refugees, there were no major human casualties in the camps. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)attributes this fact to the urgent coordinating and preparation that took place before Mora hit.

UNHCR was on the ground working with Bangladesh authorities before and as soon as the storm found land. Agents in schools and other community buildings prepared to take in any individuals who needed shelter.

The storm has also brought international attention to the growing refugee crisis Bangladesh has been facing for almost a year.

An estimated 74,000 Rohingya refugees are living in mud huts and unsubstantial housing along the coast. They have fled Myanmar following a harsh change in military regulation in October of last year.

The storm’s damage to the refugee camps highlights the immense need for a permanent solution to the crisis. However, with the increase in publicity and continual aid, Bangladesh will hopefully continue to rebuild.

Emily Trosclair

Photo: Flickr


In May, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Bank announced that they are strengthening their cooperative efforts to end global poverty and hunger. The two organizations are working together in supporting the governments of underdeveloped nations as they work to meet their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The U.N. was founded in 1945 and is comprised of 193 countries around the world, all working to secure peace, end global poverty and hunger, and eliminate terrorism, among other objectives. The World Bank, meanwhile, is an organization with 10,000 employees that provides low-interest loans, credit and grants to developing countries for ventures such as agriculture.

Together, these two groups are working more closely to make sure that the SDGs set by the U.N. are accomplished by 2030. There are 17 goals listed on the U.N.’s website, including the end of global poverty and hunger, quality education and decent work and economic growth, to name a few.

In order meet these goals by 2030, a framework agreement was signed in Rome on May 10 by Daniel Gustafson, FAO Deputy Director-General, and Hartwig Schafer, Vice President of Operations Policy and Country Services for the World Bank.

Both Gustafson and Schafer agreed that signing this agreement would speed up their goals and help both the U.N. and the World Bank work more efficiently together to end global poverty and hunger. Schafer stated that signing the agreement is an important step in strengthening the organizations’ joint commitment to making project-level assistance faster and more efficient.

The very same day the agreement was signed in Rome, The Ghana News Agency reported a workshop was taking place, organized by the FAO and attended by members of the Coalition for African Rice Development. The workshop afforded members the opportunity to share information on improved rice production practices.

Abebe Haile-Gabriel, the FAO Deputy Regional Representative for Africa, stated that the FAO’s newest operation is an important mechanism for the achievement of their strategic framework.

With the signing of the new agreement and the already-evident action being taken, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development should be on track to reach its goal, and ending global poverty will soon be less of an idea and more of a reality.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr


For the past 10 years, the Egyptian government has struggled with figuring out ways to improve their water system in order for water to be accessible and also in order for the water supply to thrive. The U.N. warns that Egypt could run out of the water by 2025. Here are 10 facts about the water crisis in Egypt.

  1. Egypt is suffering from severe water scarcity. Only 20 cubic meters of water per person of internal renewable freshwater resources remain.
  2. Population growth is a massive contributor to the water crisis in Egypt. Since the 1990s, the population has grown by 41 percent. The population is also predicted to grow from 92 million to 110 million by 2025.
  3. Ninety-five percent of the Egyptian population lives within a ten-mile radius of the Nile River. Egypt also controls 90 percent of the Nile River, more than any other country surrounding the Nile. Even with this proximity to the river, two out of five households do not have water.
  4. Human life on the Nile is partially responsible for the water crisis in Egypt. Most pollution comes from municipal and industrial waste. The industrial waste affects the drinkability of the water along with the ecosystems within the water.
  5. Polluted water is being distributed to citizens. Because of the water scarcity, most water is not treated properly, leading to 95.5 percent of the nation drinking poorly sanitized water.
  6. Egypt consists of mostly desert land, with only six percent of land being arable and useful for agriculture. This type of environment leads to the nation only receiving 80 mm of rainfall annually.
  7. Egypt’s poor irrigation system is wasting a majority of the nation’s water sources. Thirty-five percent of underground water leaks through, as caused by the deteriorating infrastructures that haven’t been replaced in the decades since they were first put in place.
  8. In June 2015, the water crisis in Egypt led to the city of Bilquas and its 50,000 inhabitants being without water for an entire week. This type of scarcity leads to an annual state of emergency, where many towns do not have any access to water. The town of Ezbit Al-Taweed also suffered from the water crisis. Every day government trucks of water travel to the city who have no access to water.
  9. Water prices have skyrocketed because of the water crisis in Egypt. Dozens of people wait in lines outside shops and kiosks and the price of a 1.5-litre bottle can jump from three pounds to 10 pounds within a matter of days.
  10. In desperation for water, people have succumbed to illegally digging for water sources in their backyards. Due to the illegality of such digging, the water is not treated, leaving people to drink water infused with high amounts of magnesium, iron, and sodium. This water has been the cause of 13 percent of all child deaths in the country.

For now, water sources in Egypt are still hard to come by. Government officials have announced a plan to replace underground infrastructure within the next decade. Through the hopelessness, this leaves hope for the people of Egypt.

Maria Rodriguez

Photo: Flickr

Why Mali MattersWith no end in sight, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali is the deadliest ongoing mission, and yet the country is rarely mentioned in the news. Since 2013, when the mission named MINUSMA was launched, more than 100 peacekeepers have been murdered. Despite the paucity of media coverage, there are a number of reasons why Mali matters and cannot be ignored.

Mali is located in a strategic area. It is a large country surrounded by poorly guarded borders. Its neighboring countries have been suffering from extremism and instability and could be devastated by turmoil in Mali. If Mali fell to extremists, it could become a launchpad for attacks on the surrounding countries. In addition, Mali has critical smuggling routes that help terrorists traffic in goods and people.

Mali is extremely poor. More than half the population live below the international poverty line, living on less than $2 a day. Though people from all socioeconomic backgrounds have the potential to become terrorists, extreme poverty seems to be a strong contributing factor to radicalization. One U.N. ambassador stated that “radicalization of otherwise law-abiding, responsible individuals [is] caused by a deep sense of collective frustration, deprivation and disillusionment.” Therefore, one of the ways to combat extremism is by improving socioeconomic conditions. MINUSMA aims to do just that by supporting political reform and assisting with humanitarian relief work.

The crisis that necessitated MINUSMA was largely caused by ineffective government. In 2012, Tuareg rebels joined Islamic militants in a coup d’etat. In 2013, with the help of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar Dine advanced south and defeated the Malian army. Former CIA director Leon Panetta stated, “We have a responsibility to make sure that al-Qaeda does not establish a base for operations in North Africa and Mali.” If peacekeeping efforts fail, Mali could become a new hotbed of extremism.

One of the reasons why Mali matters is that hundreds of thousands of people have already become refugees or been internally displaced. In a nation that was already rife with hunger and malnutrition, the crisis has further exacerbated the situation. Young children, in desperate need of food, have become targets for jihadist recruitment. If the country continues on such a trajectory, the future for the country and even the region will be grim.

The costs of keeping the peace in Mali have been high, but the costs of allowing Mali to fall apart would be even higher. Knowing this, it is clear why Mali matters.

Rebecca Yu

Photo: Flickr