Let us imagine, for a moment, that the world really is a “global village” — taking seriously the metaphor that is often invoked to depict global interdependence. Say this village has 1,000 individuals, with all the characteristics of today’s human race distributed in exactly the same proportions. What would it look like? What would we see as its main challenges?
Some 150 of the inhabitants live in an affluent area of the village, about 780 in poorer districts. Another 70 or so live in a neighbourhood that is in transition. The average income per person is $6,000 a year, and there are more middle income families than in the past. But just 200 people dispose of 86 per cent of all the wealth, while nearly half of the villagers are eking out an existence on less than $2 per day.
Men outnumber women by a small margin, but women make up a majority of those who live in poverty. Adult literacy has been increasing.
Still, some 220 villagers — two thirds of them women — are illiterate. Of the 390 inhabitants under 20 years of age, three fourths live in the poorer districts, and many are looking desperately for jobs that do not exist. Fewer than 60 people own a computer and only 24 have access to the Internet. More than half have never made or received a telephone call.
Life expectancy in the affluent district is nearly 78 years, in the poorer areas 64 years — and in the very poorest neighbourhoods a mere 52 years.
Each marks an improvement over previous generations, but why do the poorest lag so far behind? Because in their neighbourhoods there is a far higher incidence of infectious diseases and malnutrition, combined with an acute lack of access to safe water, sanitation, health care, adequate housing, education and work.
There is no predictable way to keep the peace in this village. Some districts are relatively safe while others are wracked by organized violence. The village has suffered a growing number of weather-related natural disasters in recent years, including unexpected and severe storms, as well as sudden swings from floods to droughts, while the average temperature is perceptibly warmer.
More and more evidence suggests that there is a connection between these two trends, and that warming is related to the kind of fuel, and the quantities of it, that the people and businesses are using. Carbon emissions, the major cause of warming, have quadrupled in the last 50 years. The village’s water table is falling precipitously, and the livelihood of one sixth of the inhabitants is threatened by soil degradation in the surrounding countryside.
Who among us would not wonder how long a village in this state can survive without taking steps to ensure that all its inhabitants can live free from hunger and safe from violence, drinking clean water, breathing clean air, and knowing that their children will have real chances in life?
That is the question we have to face in our real world of 6 billion inhabitants. Indeed, questions like it were raised by the civil society participants at hearings held by the United Nations regional commissions in preparation for the Millennium Assembly — in Addis Ababa, Beirut, Geneva, Tokyo and Santiago.
Similar sentiments were expressed last autumn in the largest survey of public opinion ever conducted — of 57,000 adults in 60 countries, spread across all six continents
Strikingly, the centrality of human rights to peoples’ expectations about the future role of the United Nations was stressed both at the hearings and in the survey. The current level of performance, especially of governments, was judged to be unsatisfactory.
The respondents in the Millennium Survey expressed equally strong views about the environment. Fully two thirds of them, worldwide, said their governments had not done enough to protect the environment.
In only 5 countries out of 60 was the majority satisfied with the government’s efforts in this respect; people in developing countries were among the most critical.
The hearings and the survey alike gave the United Nations a mixed overall assessment. In the sampling of public opinion, governments received even lower ratings than the United Nations. In most countries a majority said their elections were free and fair, but as many as two thirds of all respondents felt that their country, nevertheless, was not governed by the will of the people. Even in the world’s oldest democracies many citizens expressed deep dissatisfaction.
Let there be no mistake. We have many success stories to tell and positive trends to report — and I shall do both throughout this report. The United Nations global conferences in the 1990s, for example, laid a solid foundation of goals and action plans — in the areas of environment and development, human rights, women, children, social development, population, human settlements and food security. At the national level, economic restructuring and political reforms are more widespread today than ever.
The world’s people are nevertheless telling us that our past achievements are not enough, given the scale of the challenges we face. We must do more, and we must do it better."
We the peoples: the role of the United Nations in the twenty-first century
Report of the UN Secretary-General