United Nations & the Global Social Development
16 May, 2012
By Dr. Ghulam Nabi Fai
The fiftieth session of "the United Nations Commission on Social Development" (CSocD) held in New York in 2012 unanimously approved its priority theme of 'Poverty Eradication'. I agree with the theme and I think that the issue of global social development is the issue of the century. Never before have so many suffered amidst liberty and luxury for the few. The wealth of single individuals exceeds the wealth of many nations.
In highly developed countries, the number of persons living past 80 years is soaring. In deprived and convulsed countries, the average longevity is but half that age. While citizens of some African countries are starving, the rich countries are beset with obesity. Discrepancies of these types are morally disturbing. The United Nations is ideally suited to ending these shocking inequalities because it hosts all the nations of the world and endows each with identical voting power in the General Assembly. The poorest and the weakest are equal to the richest and the strongest.
Therefore, the most urgent approach to promoting the global social development agenda should be the elimination of poverty and the securing for every man, woman, and child a right to flourishing health, a clean environment, comfortable housing, and nutritious food. The goal is not a choice but a moral obligation.
There is no moral excuse for regimes in poor nations to forfeit the rich self-help opportunities for economic growth. As Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan teach, economic prosperity turns more on human capital and the rule of law than on the flukes of natural resources. Think of some oil rich nations mired in misery and destitution.
The second urgent approach to promoting global social development is the ending of warfare. War, whether intramural or international, wreaks havoc on the elements necessary for health, housing, education, employment, the environment, and happiness generally.
War is enormously expensive, for example, India & Pakistan in the disputed territory of Kashmir. It diverts resources from schools, hospitals, roads, and telecommunications to AK-47s, Kalashnikovs, missiles, bombs, and artillery shells.
War also arrests economic development. Foreign investment withers. Infrastructure is destroyed. Lawlessness hikes the risks of any business enterprise. The consequence is widespread poverty.
I admit that denunciation of warfare is easier than prevention. But if mankind can assemble knowledge to send men to the moon and Land Rovers to Mars, the knowledge necessary to end wars cannot be far behind.
Accordingly, the United Nations should summon all Nobel Peace Prize winners or 'Elders' to devise principles of international law and conduct that will abolish the scourge of war from the face of the planet.
The third urgent global social development objective should be universal literacy and education. As Socrates explained, the unexamined life is not worth living. This observation is made not to deride or degrade the uneducated, but to underscore the criticality of education to making life morally meaningful and purposeful.
Education is also human capital that fuels economic growth. A worker's productivity and compensation generally rise commensurate with educational achievement. In addition, education correlates with a worker's ability to shift jobs and master new skills in an ever-changing global economy.
The United Nations should thus develop educational yardsticks that a nation must satisfy to receive economic or military aid from third parties, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The yardsticks should be incorporated in a treaty to be ratified by all United Nations members.
A fourth global social development should be the eradication of AIDS. AIDS is a question of virtual survival for some nations. In Africa, for instance, the incidence of AIDs or HIV infection are staggering. The ramifications of the AIDS crisis are enormous. It kills productive workers. It spikes medical costs.
The United Nations through the World Health Organization has a key role to play in curing or mitigating AIDS. It should sponsor research seeking a cure or vaccine for AIDS. And all new discoveries should be provided free to all persons suffering from AIDS. A goal should be set by the year 2020 to make AIDS as rare as smallpox.
Next on the list of global social development priorities should be the ending of all racial, ethnic, or class hatreds or enmities. Think of the horrifying quantity of violence in the world whose fundamental cause can be traced back to such social divisions. It infects every country on the planet. And if even one person suffers from invidious discrimination, then all are threatened and civilization has been tarnished. The United Nations Human Rights Council is ideally suited to fashion a program to achieve the desired result.
The attainment of equality for women is another pressing yardstick of global social development. Experience and intuition both demonstrate that women are as intelligent as men. They are as entrepreneurial and disciplined. They contribute every bit as much to economic growth and social cohesion as men. It is thus imperative that women receive the same legal rights and social dignity as men if global social development is to advance.
Trafficking in women or children to provide sexually decadent pleasures for the rich and squalid also should rank high on the agenda of global social development. Degradation as commercial sex objects is morally repulsive. The United Nations must do something to end the vile practice. It scars women and children both physically and emotionally. Children are the future of mankind. They cannot be permitted to groan, suffer, and wither to satisfy the greed and lust for pleasure of the wicked.
Global social development also requires universal access to the Internet, a technological marvel that brings the excitement of knowledge and the joys of instant communication to every user. Internet communications can dissolve ancient enmities and overcome mutual distrust. Ignorance between races, ethnic groups, or religions breeds fear and prejudice. When two human beings communicate and share ideas, apprehensions recede and stereotypes die. They see each other as equals, with equal rights, equal aspirations, and equal dignity. The United Nations should play a key role in the universal access quest.
A clean environment is also essential to global social development. Pollution is more than twice cursed. It damages crops. It kills lakes and rivers. It occasions disease and illness through water and air, for example, lead poisoning or cholera.
Let me with great humility offer a few closing observations about the entire global social development enterprise. It is characteristic that national or international organizations employ quantitative benchmarks to measure success in meeting enumerated objectives. For instance, a longstanding objective has been for each nation to contribute a specified percentage of its gross domestic product for humanitarian or foreign aid. Companion quantitative benchmarks have been set for literacy, vaccinations, annual income, longevity, smoking, etc.
There is nothing inherently mischievous about these development yardsticks. But they should never distract from our recognition that the highest in social development consists of non-quantifiable characteristics. These would include acts of charity, humility, courage, benevolence, magnanimity, self-restraint, and non-vindictiveness. It would seem to me to turn logic and morality on their heads to award higher social development acclaim to a nation whose citizens were universally economically prosperous, literate, healthy, long-lived, non-polluting, but also mean-spirited, selfish, and egotistical than to a nation whose citizens were impoverished, plagued by disease, but were generous in time, effusive in hospitality, austere in habits, and selfless for the community.
Dr. Fai can be reached at: email@example.com