When a delegation from Iowa United Nations Association visited last year with a new foreign affairs adviser in the office of U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, he told us that, as a member of the military in Iraq, he had especially admired the presence of the U.N. workers in Baghdad.
While he and his cohort would conduct a mission and return to the Green Zone, he said, the U.N. was present amidst Iraqis all the time. This presence of representatives from different U.N. agencies is why the press routinely cites the U.N. when providing the number of refugees in a crisis, such as that in Ukraine, or when providing an assessment of the severity of hunger or thirst or displacement.
At the request of the Ukrainian government, the WFP (the U.N.'s World Food Program) is aiming to provide direct cash transfers and food aid to 3.15 million Ukrainian refugees now in multiple countries, as well as displaced people within the country. Two weeks ago, UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency), in conjunction with the WHO (U.N.'s World Health Organization), PiN (People in Need, a European NGO), and the WFP delivered medical supplies and food to Sumy, a site within Ukraine hard hit by violence and cut off for weeks from food and security.
Last week in Ukraine, the UNHCR partnered with Ukrposhta to distribute significant cash assistance to 360,000 internally displaced Ukrainians for up to three months. Another U.N. agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is monitoring nuclear power plants in Ukraine to help prevent nuclear disasters.
These and many other activities are recorded on the websites of these U.N. agencies. They are not the only aid agencies, but they provide core, large-scale relief in the midst of trouble, a reality recognized by the Ukrainian government.
Ukraine is not the only country whose citizens are in dire need of U.N. support. UNHCR is providing relief and resettlement assistance for many of the world's 84 million forcibly displaced persons.
Yemen is now in a "chronic state of emergency" with more than 23 million people - 75% of the population - needing food assistance. Despite a humanitarian ceasefire declared in late March by the government of Ethiopia and forces in the Tigray province, 5 million people need aid in that country.
The interruption in grain exports from Ukraine and Russia intensifies these crises. On March 29, the head of the WFP told the U.N. Security Council that the war was creating not only a local agricultural crisis in Ukraine but also a global food catastrophe.
The New York Times reported the details he cited: for example, WFP buys 50% of its grain from Ukraine, grain it needs to feed 125 million people around the world. Because the U.N. is present in the midst of trouble providing assistance in crucial ways, the United Nations Association chapters in Johnson and Linn counties urge our Congressional delegation to support U.S. full payment of its dues to the U.N. and its agencies.
We commend President Joe Biden and Congress for providing significant aid to Ukraine. Because the U.N. system of agencies has a worldwide presence and can help suffering people everywhere, we encourage the U.S. to sustain - and increase - its financial support to the U.N. system. It's the right thing to do - and the smart thing.
Jim Olson of Coralville and Barbara Eckstein of Iowa City are the president and vice president of the Johnson County United Nations Association.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Opinion: The United Nations is proving its value in Ukraine