Wiping out the Harsh Statistics. (Moorings)

Article excerpt

"What if I don't understand something?" My nine-year-old niece, Cristina, had agreed to watch with me the PBS broadcast, Kofi Annan: Center of the Storm.

"Just ask me", I encouraged.

The ninety-minute television biography, which aired on 7 January 2003, focused on United Nations activities toward reconstruction of Afghanistan after the United States bombings, the Secretary-General's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway in December 2001, and the celebration of Timor-Leste's independence in May 2002. She surprised me and watched more than half of the programme. The segment with Mr. Annan's appearance on Sesame Street--a children's television show--helped. To solve conflicts, the muppet Elmo suggested "the Secretary-General can go around and give love".

If only the work of the United Nations was so simple. A gruesome recap of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, with bodies strewn about the fields and villages, concerned me. Amazingly, my niece asked, "What happened to them?" and accepted my answer without angst. Author William Shawcross described the Rwandan mission as "peacekeeping on the cheap" and "probably the greatest catastrophe the UN has faced".

"I accept these criticisms fully ... for what the UN tried to do", was the Secretary-General's response in an investigative report on Rwanda by the Organization. The episode instigated a sharp rebuke from an eighth-grade student.

"Isn't that what the UN does--keep peace? How could they let things get to that point?" the thirteen-year-old daughter of a colleague said. Asked if she'd like to work for the UN when she grew up, she replied, "No, I'm going to be a physician". When told she could work for the World Health Organization, she inquired about a stint at the Peace Corps. My niece also declined to work at the UN, stating, "I don't want to go to war". Clearly, UN work is not child's play.

I was intrigued by the behind-the-scenes shots of United Nations staff at work.

"The Taliban kept the bad guys off the street. You could drive the roads", Carolyn McAskie, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, explained.

That teleconference--on how to get truckloads of food to Afghanistan's population and provide security after the bombings--revealed how the United Nations was uniquely qualified to handle the situation. …