One of the most important UN General Assemblies in history nears

Rarely have the ideals of the international organisation been so important

The symbol of the UN outside the secretariat's building in New York. AP
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It is hard to remember a time when the world was as divided as it is today. Tensions will take time to heal, and diplomatic opportunities will have to be seized with determination to turn the tide.

A particularly important moment to do so is on the horizon. On September 12, the 77th session of the UN General Assembly will begin. As the organisation's website puts it, New York is set to host "heads of state and government from around the world, after two years of disruption wrought by Covid-19".

A special achievement of the annual meeting – the first one took place in 1946 – is that no matter how distantrelations between countries are, their leaders are compelled, for a few days, to discuss issues in the same forum and hopefully meet behind closed doors.

The urgent crises that need addressing this time round are obvious. Tensions from the war in Ukraine are spilling out globally. Most important is a cessation of violence, but easing the resulting energy and food crises is also an urgent global priority.

Progress at the UN can seem slow, but it is far from impossible. The organisation, for example, has already made an important contribution to getting grain out of Ukraine safely, a lifeline for countries around the world, especially in the Middle East.

Diplomacy can end wars. It cannot end natural disasters, of which there have been many in 2022, but it can do a great deal to mitigate against them and to support people in the aftermath. After Pakistan's recent devastating floods, the UN quickly swung into action, appealing alongside Islamabad on Tuesday for $160 million in emergency funding.

It is also effective at making the wider point about the importance of dealing with the climate emergency, which is possibly contributing to these severe events. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a video message: “Let’s stop sleepwalking toward the destruction of our planet by climate change ... Today, it’s Pakistan. Tomorrow, it could be your country.”

As if today's many crises were not enough of a challenge, there is the added difficulty of making sure each gets the attention it deserves. Achieving that requires a great deal of advocacy on the part of those that are at risk of being forgotten. The General Assembly is one of the best times to do that. And the powers and organisations with the resources to do something about problems must remember their global, diplomatic responsibilities.

Key voices within the UN, including that of the UAE, which currently has a seat at the Security Council, have already been raising the alarm about issues to which more need to be listening. In April, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organisation, made such an important stand. He knows a crisis when sees one. He was a key face of the medical community's sacrifice and achievement during the pandemic. Mr Ghebreyesus is now raising the alarm about the Ukraine crisis distracting from other disasters, including in his native Ethiopia, calling out what he views as possible racism.

These are tough conversations. But the UN is the right place to have them, and the General Assembly is the best entry in the organisation's calendar to do so.

Published: September 02, 2022, 3:00 AM