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Building the nation we want

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United Nations staff and other human-rights monitors are prevented by soldiers from entering the site of a violent forced eviction in Kratie province in May 2012. During the eviction a 14-year-old girl was killed by a stray bullet. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post

Sok Chea is a success story. Having grown from a skinny baby to a beaming, bright-eyed toddler, he’s proof that working together gets results.

The MDG-Fund Joint Program for Children, Food Security and Nutrition that helped Chea recover from malnutrition brings together the Royal Government of Cambodia and six United Nations agencies.

But this diverse team shares a common goal: giving Cambodians like Chea and his family the future they want.

Every year, October 24 marks United Nations Day.

It’s a day for all of us – the 27 specialised UN agencies, funds and programs working together for peace, poverty reduction and human rights in Cambodia – to reflect on what we’re here for: for people like Chea.

It’s a day when I like to think about the words of the UN Charter, the text that guides and inspires us.

Signed on October 24, 1945, these words define who we are, what we do and how we do it.

They are at the back of our minds at all times, as the UN strives to serve those for whom we work:

“We, the peoples of the world.”

United Nations Day is not just about the UN Charter. It’s about all the stakeholders we work with, without whom we simply cannot fulfil the charter’s ideals.

We co-operate as equal partners with the Royal Government of Cambodia, and operate alongside everyone from local NGOs and civil society to national and international aid agencies.

There are many facets to working together in the spirit of the UN Charter.

Cambodia, for example, supports the charter’s “peaceful and friendly relations among nations” via its peacekeeping forces abroad. More than 1,000 Cambodian “Blue Helmets” have served, or are serving, with UN peacekeeping missions.

Cambodia’s most valuable asset is its people. The economy seems set to continue expanding, and the country will soon reach “middle income” status.

It’s the Cambodian people who are making that happen, so investing in “human capital” is among our main shared priorities.

One of the obstacles to empowering Cambodian people remains malnutrition. The 2010 Demographic and Health Survey showed that 28 per cent of Cambodian children are underweight.

Maternal and child malnutrition can stifle physical and intellectual development, which in turn hurts this “human capital” that drives the nation’s economy.

We and our partners are paying special attention to stronger bodies and healthier minds, which will be the foundations of Cambodia’s continued growth.

Cambodia is home to an ancient civilisation, yet a very young population. According to the 2008 census, one-third of Cambodians are aged between 15 and 29.

Those youngsters aspire to, and deserve, quality livelihoods. They are the ones who will shape the nation’s future. Young people are at the centre of our efforts to solidify Cambodia’s achievements.

The participation of more women in business and the public sector is equally essential.

Equality and empowerment for women cuts through everything we and our partners do. Moreover, the disturbing incidence of violence against women has to be tackled with zeal.

A first step is talking about the problem, and a program involving four UN agencies is finding that peer-to-peer education is one way to change hearts and minds. But, ultimately, zero tolerance is the
only goal to aim for.

There is more to development than simple economic growth, however. Some people are more vulnerable than others, and often need special help.

For example, we have seen that the best place to treat drug addiction is in communities, not institutions. Another joint UN programe works with Government ministries and NGOs on an innovative project to address this challenge.

The poorest of the poor need a social safety net, a way in which all Cambodians can help one another. With UN assistance, the Royal Government of Cambodia is taking significant steps on social protection for these most vulnerable people.

Cambodia is changing fast.  Last year’s dramatic flooding indicated yet again that even the climate is changing, and the United Nations stands hand in hand with Cambodia as the challenge evolves.

Still, there has been much progress since 2000, when the international community named eight millennium development goals. (In Cambodia, we have a ninth goal: de-mining, unexploded ordnance and victim assistance).

With the deadline for those objectives approaching, the world is looking to what comes next. A lot of consultation and hard work lies ahead.

But, ultimately, it’s about kids like Chea. Building the Cambodia we want for Chea and his family is, and always will be, a team effort.

As our charter reminds us, the UN is here to play its part. We’re in it together.

Douglas Broderick is the UN’s resident co-ordinator in Cambodia.

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