It is fashionable in many quarters to bash the United Nations, and let’s face it, there are many good reasons to; as an organization made up of the various governments of the world, the UN operates at the level of dysfunction that one would predict. The organization has not brought universal peace, and it has not fixed all the world’s problem, and it is beset by problems both within its control and outside it.
And yet the United Nations, for all its faults, does great work. It sends talented women and men into countries in need, and helps them to grow. It provides fresh water, agricultural know-how, education and family planning throughout the developing world. No, the UN cannot by itself lift a nation out of poverty. But it can help ameliorate the worst levels of degradation, and it can help countries slowly grow from dysfunction to functional.
The United Nations was engaged in Haiti before an horrific earthquake struck, providing both security and development aid to a nation that has long been dogged by semi-functional government and a broken civil society. They have paid a heavy price for their engagement. At least 36 UN workers have died in the earthquake so far, and it is possible those numbers will grow.
Their deaths are not more tragic than the other tens of thousands of deaths suffered in this earthquake. But they are worthy of note. Because it is easy to mock the UN for its failures. And yet the men and women who died in Haiti serving the UN died in service to humanity’s best impulses, our desire to help those who are worse off than we ourselves.
Humanity’s best impulses will be what helps the nation of Haiti to rebuild from the catastrophe in Port-au-Prince, and not just in the immediate future. The United Nations will remain in Haiti long after the minicams have gone home. They will not solve all the problems that plague Haiti; no organization can. But they will continue to help, as they have been helping for years.
And while it’s fashionable in some corners to criticize the United Nations, I hope we don’t forget that.