The United Nations is the world’s platform to build understanding between nations, find ways to cooperate, and launch coordinated action on problems that transcend borders, from terrorism to climate change to pandemics. While many people read the headlines coming out of the UN Security Council, the organization is also active around the world, heading into crises to help the world’s most vulnerable people, promoting sustainable development, protecting human rights, and advancing peace.
As UN Foundation Founder and Chairman Ted Turner has written, “The UN does what no country can do alone. …In an interconnected world, we all have a stake in ensuring human dignity for every person.”
Here are 10 facts about the United Nations’ work that you may not know:
1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the first document to detail the fundamental human rights that must be protected. The declaration was proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1948. Security human rights is a key pillar of the UN’s work.
2. The annual UN Peacekeeping budget is less than 0.5% of global military spending. The UN currently has more than 100,000 peacekeepers helping keep peace in 13 operations on 3 continents.
3. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) provides food and assistance to some 115.5 million people in 84 countries. Additionally, WFP is planning for the future by developing programs to ensure a more stable food environment.
4. The UN and its agencies assisted in 1.9 million safe deliveries from 2018 – 2020. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) works to make motherhood safer, among other responsibilities.
5. The UN and its agencies supply vaccines all over the world. For example, as of September 2021, the UN’s partnership with Gavi had led to 5.5 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine being administered worldwide.
6. The UN supported over 50 member states with their elections in 2020. The UN also uses diplomacy to prevent conflict.
7. The UN assists people displaced by violence, conflict, and persecution. The UN and its agencies provide life-saving help to refugees and forcibly displaced people. Today, there are more than 82.4 million forcibly displaced people.
8. The Paris Agreement on climate change was signed by the largest amount of countries ever in a single day. On Earth Day 2016, 174 world leaders signed the agreement at the UN headquarters in New York. The UN is committed to fighting climate change, and the agreement builds on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
9. The UN brought countries together in 2015 to launch a plan to end poverty, reduce inequalities, and protect the planet by 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals provide a common blueprint for countries to reach a world of dignity for all by 2030.
10. A majority of Americans believe in the importance of the UN. According to a bipartisan poll released by the Better World Campaign, 69% of U.S. voters believe the UN is needed today.
Editor’s note: This post was last updated July 2023.