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Kofi Annan - Center of the Storm

Who Does What

Main General Assembly Security Council Secretariat
International Court of Justice Economic & Social Council Trusteeship Council

Where does 70 percent of the UN's budget go? To the economic and social development programs of this little discussed UN organ, otherwise known as ECOSOC.

Afghan refugees
Afghan refugees in a UNCHR camp in Pakistan.

While the Security Council gets the headline-grabbing work of peacekeepers and arms inspectors, leave it to ECOSOC to figure out how to immunize babies in Sudan against polio, fight opium smuggling in Tajikistan or finance refugee camps in Pakistan. Sheer grunt work, but, without it, according to the UN founders, the chances for war and bloodshed would only escalate. But you won't see an ECOSOC banner flying in the field. This organ issues reports and makes recommendations on everything from human rights to health policy, while coordinating the work of 14 specialized UN agencies -- such as the Food and Agricultural Organization -- and 15 other commissions such as the Commission for Human Rights and the Economic Commission for Africa. Some UN programs such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report to ECOSOC as well as to the General Assembly.

ECOSOC's 54 members meet once a year for a four-week session in either New York or Geneva. Each year, one-third of them are up for reelection by the General Assembly to a three-year term.

Despite the demand for development work, many of ECOSOC's original functions have been taken over by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund -- distant UN cousins. That leaves many UN member states wondering what the ECOSOC's role should be. Some question its value since they see it as mainly a discussion forum with no enforcement powers. In response, for the past 10 years, the U.S. and other member states have made efforts to strengthen ECOSOC's policy responsibilities, especially on development issues.


The U.S. recently rejoined the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 18 years after it withdrew when the organization was accused of corruption and mismanagement.

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) buys half the vaccines produced worldwide, while the UN Population Fund is the world's largest purchaser of contraceptives.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received the Nobel Peace Prize twice -- in 1954 and 1981. The International Labour Organization, another ECOSOC agency, also won in 1969.

Since 1950, UNHCR has helped more than 50 million refugees. By 2002, it was working with more than 20 million refugees worldwide.

Closer Look
Kofi Annan vaccinating a child.
Human Development Index

Every year, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) publishes the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI, by measuring countries' life expectancy, adult literary rate, and standard of living, provides a tool other than economic strength to measure a country's living standards. By analyzing economic and

social indicators, it attempts to highlight global disparities. The latest HDI, for the year 2000, puts Norway in the top position and the U.S. in sixth place. The 27 least developed countries in the world are all in Africa -- with Sierra Leone at the very bottom. Critics of the index doubt the reliability of its data -- especially those from impoverished nations -- and point out that there are disparities within countries between economic groups, races or regions.

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Photos: UN Photo

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Kofi Annan - Center of the Storm