Join the global development talk

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Join the global development talk

As the year draws to a close, our attention here in Korea is focused on dealing with our difficult northern neighbor and with unsettled relations among other regional countries. North Korea will continue to be our biggest concern, but we have a mature national security posture and a strong alliance with the United States to keep the North in check. I am also confident that our diplomacy and the strong people-to-people relationships we have with other nations in the region will guide us through some of our occasionally strained relations. We cannot be complacent, but we can be confident that we are on the right track.

Our postwar economic development and blossoming democracy have opened us up to the broader world in many ways. As we become more global, we are more affected by global problems, although perhaps the conflict in places like Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan causes us to lose sight of some very positive trends.

One of those bright spots of particular interest to me is the United Nations’ work on a series of ambitious development projects, including the Millennium Development Goals. With a target completion date of 2015, the progress so far on the MDGs has prompted UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to say that this has been the most successful anti-poverty effort in history.

Not all targets have been completely met, but the latest UN status report has encouraging news:

·The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been cut in half; the goal has been met.

·Safe drinking water is now available to nearly nine of every ten people in the world; that goal was reached five years ahead of schedule.

·The fight against malaria and tuberculosis is being won, but these and other diseases are still lurking, waiting for an opportunity to return in force. Malnutrition is also being reduced significantly, but it still exists.

·The global child mortality rate has been halved, but the UN’s target is a two-thirds reduction.

·More broadly, global economic conditions have made international trade more profitable for developing nations, especially the least developed, giving them more resources to make their progress sustainable.

These targets are not complete solutions. A reduction of extreme poverty by half, for example, still leaves the remaining half in misery. The UN is preparing an agenda for the period after 2015, with a goal of preserving those gains, extending them and making them sustainable in the long term.

One of the most important tasks we have in 2014 is to mobilize a consensus for that post-2015 agenda. The broad outline is in place, but we must translate it into specific targets and goals. The progress we have already made should give us the confidence to make the new targets bold ones.

Currently, I am serving as the president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. These UN associations are national support groups to encourage government support for the work of the United Nations and to inform citizens about that work. Our association in Korea is very active, and I encourage you to participate through it in the global dialogue to set ambitious but attainable goals for this development effort. There is already consensus that sustainability is key and that the projects must be designed in ways that are economically strong, socially just and environmentally sound.

Private aid groups are also important UN development partners, and those of you who contribute to those groups can make your voices heard through them as well. UN associations in developing countries can, I hope, share stories about successful projects, and we in donor countries should publicize the successful UN and UN-partner projects that our government and our private aid groups have helped fund. Even though statistics are powerful, they are dry - they touch our heads but not our hearts. Anecdotes that put a human face on numbers such as lives saved or meals served are powerful tools to encourage more action.

Changes in our global climate are becoming obvious; even many of the most stubborn critics of climate change are becoming convinced that it is a serious matter. We have to take those changes into account in our planning. And as we look for new development tasks, we know that the gains we have already made must be protected. Pipes to provide drinking water must be kept in repair; vaccines and medications do not automatically flow to where they are needed.

As humans we are fallible, and our institutions are too. We feel sadness and disappointment when bloody conflicts go unchecked for too long, or when tyrants abuse their people and the UN seems powerless to react, or when infants die because they lack food or medical attention. But we do not abandon our ideals, and we can see that our global society, imperfect as it may be, does have the power to effect great changes for the better. As we mark the passing of 2013, I want to offer my heartfelt wishes for good health, happiness and success in the New Year.

*The author is former UN ambassador and distinguished professor at Korea University.

By Park Soo-gil
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