Editorial: Achieving the new U.N. goals

Can the international community come together to end hunger and poverty? A United Nations summit was held to set “Sustainable Development Goals” in conjunction with the U.N. General Assembly.

The goals expand on the “Millennium Development Goals” set in 2000. Pressing challenges for the 21st century, including the deteriorating global environment and a rising number of refugees, have grown. The sense of urgency and capability for action on the part of world leaders is now being called into question. Whether or not the new goals can be achieved will test the significance of the very existence of the United Nations.

The United Nations, which was borne from the lessons learned in World War II, will mark its 70th year in 2015. Since its founding, another world war has not been waged, but regional conflicts and civil wars have persisted. The U.N. is expected to serve as mediator and help resolve such disputes, but it seems that the international body has become dysfunctional as a result of self-interest involving the major powers.

It cannot be denied that the response of the U.N. to poverty and disparity, among other problems, has been inadequate. And if nothing more is done, the world could unravel. It is high time to rise above political differences to again address various challenges under the U.N. banner.

“Please give us peace, prosperity and the opportunity of education,” said Malala Yousafzai, who received the Nobel Peace Prize last year, urging about 130 leaders who gathered at the summit meeting to take stronger action. The new goals, which appear aligned with her message and were adopted unanimously, come to 169 items in 17 fields. These fields cover a wide range, including measures to combat hunger and poverty, ensure education, and promote sustainable consumption and production.

While the existing Millennium Goals focus mainly on developing nations, the new goals include many challenges for developed nations as well. It is natural that such nations pursue measures to halve the waste of food and prevent global warming. In addition, the new goals press for reforms to reduce the income gap and eliminate discrimination against women.

There is no legally binding force behind the goals, however, though they urge nations to review their national laws and systems and report on their developments to the United Nations. Progress, therefore, depends on the will of each individual nation.

Above all, the utmost efforts must be made to aid those who suffer from hunger. According to the U.N., the international community has been able to cut the number of people suffering extreme poverty in half, compared to conditions in 1990. But goals such as reducing by half the number of hungry in Africa and West Asia and lowering the mortality rate for infants and pregnant women have not yet been achieved.

In particular, conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Sudan, and countries in Central Africa, are lagging behind those of other nations. While people in more advanced nations enjoy lives of relative wealth, the lives of other human beings are squandered unnecessarily and this fact must be recognized by more in the international community.

Today, the major powers are engaged in fierce competition to gain resources and monopolize markets in Africa. The fact of the matter is that these nations are “exploiting Africa economically” under the name of developmental assistance. New rounds of hunger and poverty, as well as disparity, may have been produced in this quest for globalization.

Yesterday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe commented on the new U.N. goals, saying that Japan will help pump up sustainable growth to lessen poverty. Mr. Abe also indicated that he would pursue proactive measures to promote investment in infrastructure, which serves as the foundation for nation building, in countries in Asia and Africa.

The Japanese government must give careful thought to where this investment will go. It must be used to secure people’s lives and livelihoods.

Developed nations should be called upon to act by providing funds and human resources, distinct from political and economic interests. It is vital to move more swiftly with this assistance, including the provision of food and agricultural technology, to aid the most impoverished nations and ease their hunger.

(Originally published on September 29, 2015)