16 July 2012

Increasing Attention on the UN

Recent global events and a pair of documentaries are putting the UN under a bit of a microscope. Baseball in the Time of Cholera touches on the role of UN peacekeepers in bringing cholera to Haiti and UN Me is an attempt to highlight the problems in the international body. Meanwhile, the UN is at the center of attempting to address the problem with Syria, under some more attention in the US because of the arms treaty (which has ruffled the feathers of the NRA), is taking the lead on the Sahel crisis and is at an important point in regards to determining the post-MDG agenda.

I am curious what all of this may mean for the UN. When people in the US hear about the UN the level of approval is much lower as compared to its individual agencies such as WFP and UNICEF. It is not particularly striking, but speaks to a disconnect between the UN and the American public. The UN Foundation, for example, exists to help raise awareness about what the UN is doing and help people to understand that the agencies that do good around the world are in fact a part of the UN.

Part of the problem appears to be a lack of understanding as to what the UN general assembly can and cannot do. Right now I am looking to pull information about some recent instances of UN involvement to provide an avenue for sharing what the UN does and also look at how its theoretical power is put into use. Further, my idea is to see how expectations are set based on what people know, compare that against what the UN can do, and against what actually happens.

On Friday, I spoke with reporter Jonathan Katz about the cholera outbreak in Haiti. He the person who broke the story that somehow has gotten little attention. The evidence against the UN is damning, yet it has denied that the Nepalese peacekeeping troops brought cholera to Haiti. The outbreak is over a year old and the response is well under way, but the issue of accountability remains.

As I gather more information an actual story will begin to take shape. Let me know what, if anything, piques your interest.