13 Reasons Why The United Nations Is Important

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Founded in October 1945, in the aftermath of World War Two, the United Nations is now one of the most recognized and influential organizations in the world. With that said, the UN is also regularly criticized for its perceived lack of action and high-profile failings. There are those who argue the United Nations is no longer fit for purpose. However, the UN is actually hugely important, and in many ways people do not expect. Let us show you…

It’s A Global Forum of Nations

The first reason why the United Nations is important is because it is a global forum of nations. One of the aims of the UN is to be a place where states can resolve their issues through dialogue without resorting to conflict. The UN plays a key role in bringing nations together to work through their differences.

With 193 member states, almost every country in the world is part of the United Nations. This gives the UN enormous legitimacy. It also allows the UN to bring nations together to work on global issues. This is hugely important.

International diplomacy is vital in coordinating global actions, helping countries to resolve their disputes through dialogue and allowing nations to work together. The United Nations plays a vital role in international diplomacy and it is major reason why it is a crucial global institution.

It Does Important Human Rights Work

The second reason why the United Nations is important is because of its extensive human rights work. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been signed by 192 countries. The UN was vital in having human rights enshrined in international law.

Although there are many places where human rights are not respected, the United Nations works tirelessly to promote human rights and shine a light of places where human rights abuses occur.

It is important to remember that the concept of universal human rights is actually relativity new. The idea that every human being, regardless of nationality, race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, has unamiable rights that cannot be removed, only came to the forefront since World War Two.

The United Nations has played a hugely important role in making human rights a foundation of international law since its foundation.

The UN Does Huge Amount of Development Work

Helping poorer countries develop is one of the most important things the UN does.

Currently, 152 countries in the world are classed as developing. One in every ten people around the world living in extreme poverty – defined as living on less than 1.90 USD a day. Working with developing countries to lift their populations out of destitution is a vital part of the UN’s work.

The main United Nations agency doing development work is UNDP. Focusing on the areas laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, UNDP provides advice and funding to help poorer countries move towards prosperity.

Focusing on areas such as poverty reduction, community development, infrastructure, better governance, business development and agriculture, UNDP does vital work to help low- and middle-income countries develop.  UNDP also plays an important role as a major donor to other international development organisations.

Its Humanitarian Work Saves Thousands of Lives

Another reason why the United Nations is important is that its humanitarian work provides assistance to millions of people around the world.

When communities are hit by disasters, conflicts or crises, people become in dire need of aid. One of the largest humanitarian actors is the UN, which provides shelter, food, protection, health, and livelihoods support to millions of people each year. This is hugely important work.

The United Nations also plays a vital role as a major donor to international and local humanitarian NGOs.

UNOCHA – the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, works to coordinate and ensure alignment between all the humanitarian actors responding to a crisis. This is crucial in avoiding duplication and ensuring crises affected communities receive the assistance they need.

The UN also operates UNHAS – the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, which plays a crucial part in moving humanitarian personnel and supplies into disaster zones.

United Nations Peacekeeping Is Vital

UN Peacekeeping is one of the most important things the United Nations does. The UN deploys peacekeepers to conflict and post-conflict zones to monitor peace agreements, protect civilians, assist with disarmament, and create the conditions for lasting peace.

The role of the UN in peacekeeping has been vital to ending many conflicts. The UN won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988 for its peacekeeping work.

The United Nations currently has twelve ongoing peacekeeping operations. These include in countries such as Cyprus, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the UN works to build and sustain peace. The UN also had a number of successfully concluded peacekeeping missions, including in Cote D’Ivoire and Guatemala. These peacekeeping missions are heralded for playing a vital part in brining peace to these countries.

Although United Nations peacekeeping as had some high-profile failures, it’s role in building and sustaining peace in many parts of the world shows how important the United Nations is globally.

It Upholds International Law

The United Nations is the custodian of a large body of international law that governs how nations interact with each other. This is a vital global role, even more so in our modern globalized economy.

International law is enshrined in conventions, treaties, and standards. The UN works to promote international law, as well as having a role in judication and settlements. Although the United Nations does in enforce international law, its plays a hugely important role in the global legal system.

The UN General Assembly is a key body for discussing, agreeing, and ratifying international laws and treaties.

Much of the international law overseen by the UN is in relation to economic and social development, as well as international trade. It also is involved in laws related to global peace and security.

The International Court of Justice is an arm of the United Nations that aims to resolve legal disputes between states. It plays a crucial role in international judication.

The UN Helps Millions of Refugees

There are currently 82.4 million refugees in the world today. The United Nations does vital work to help people forced to flee their homes due to conflicts and persecution.

The United Nations has two specialist agencies that work with refugees.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1950 to provide services such as shelter, protection, and legal advice to displaced people. It also does important work as a global advocate for refugee’s rights as well as being a major donor to local and international NGOs working with refugees.

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. It was established in 1949 following the creation of the state of Israel and the movement 700,000 Palestinians into neighboring states. UNRWA assists over 1.5 million Palestinian people a year with projects covering education, health, and livelihoods.

The UN plays a vital role in directly helping, as well as being a voice for, the millions of people displaced by violence and human rights abuses.

United Nations Online Courses

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and why it’s important, we highly recommend the online course Global Diplomacy: The United Nations in the World offered by SOAS in London. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the UN and its role in the current global order. SOAS is also one of the top universities in the world for international relations and courses related to the UN.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) underpin all of the UN’s work. In order to fully understand the United Nations, and why it’s important, you need a basic understanding of the SDG. We think the online short course The Sustainable Development Goals – A Global, Transdisciplinary Vision For The Future offered by the University of Copenhagen is one of the best introductions to the SDG.

The University of Leiden in the Netherlands offers an online short course on The Changing Global Order. It includes a specific look at how shifting international power dynamics are affecting the current global system and the United Nations. For those wanting to understand the challenges the UN faces, this online course is a must.

It Protects Cultural Heritage

UNESCO is the UN’s specialised agency for education, science, and culture. It has an important role to play in protecting cultural heritage around the world, as well as promoting education and technological research.

UNESCO is probably most famous for its list of World Heritage Sites. These are 1,154 places around the world with special cultural or natural significance. There are UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 164 countries. UNESCO provides guidance on protecting and restoring heritage sites around the world. It plays a vital role in guarding cultural heritage and natural beauty for future generations.

As well as protecting areas of natural beauty and cultural significance, UNESCO also promotes educational exchange, academic research, and scientific investigations. It has a key initiative called Education For All – that aims to give access to schooling for all young people globally.

UNESCO highlights the importance of the United Nations in building international cooperation through culture, science, and education.

It Oversees Global Tourism

In 2019, tourism made up 10.4% of global GDP. The United Nations has an important role in promoting sustainable, accessible, and responsible tourism though the UN World Tourism Organization.

Tourism is the key driver to many countries’ economies. However, over-tourism, along with irresponsible and badly arranged tourism, can have a significant negative impact on cities, nature, culture, and economies. The United Nations is vital in helping to address these issues globally.

The UN WTO plays a key role in helping developing countries use tourism to boost their economies. It sees how successful tourist initiatives can help both governments and communities raise revenue. It’s advice and guidance has been crucial to many successful tourism projects.

As tourism is set to grow over the coming decades as more people travel for leisure, the UN WTO is vital in insuring that this brings a positive impact to countries around the world and that communities are able to avoid the negative impacts tourism can have.

The UN Plays A Key Role in Civil Aviation Worldwide

Each year, millions of people fly around the world. Apart from the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the trends show more and more people will be flying each year going forward. The United Nations runs the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which plays an important role in regulating global air travel.

The UN ICAO works to foster planning and integration in regards to worldwide civil aviation. It also aims to encourage safe and controlled growth of the global aviation sector. The UN ICAO works to harmonize procedures between aviation industries and create worldwide standards for air travel.

With a vital role in global air travel, the UN ICAO develops recommended practices in relation to air navigation, infrastructure and aircraft standardisation, flight inspection and the facilitation of cross-border processes and procedures. The UN ICAO plays an important role in the safety and efficiency of civil aviation around world.

It Does Important Work for Global Health

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is the UN’s global health agency. It plays a vital role in promoting universal access to healthcare, improving health outcomes for people in developing countries and coordinating the global response to pandemics and diseases.

The United Nation’s work on healthcare around the world is crucial. It funds ground-breaking research into diseases such as malaria, Ebola and Covid-19 that have killed millions of people. It is a strong advocate for improving access to, and quality of, healthcare for millions of people in poorer countries. It also develops guidelines and standards on global health.

The importance of the UN’s work on global health is highlighted by the eradication of smallpox in 1980. Responsible for the scarring and death of millions of people a year, the United Nations led an effective vaccination campaign that ended smallpox entirely.

The UN and the WHO also provide valuable technical advice to governments around the world on public health initiatives.

It Coordinates Global Communication

The world is becoming ever more interconnected, and the UN plays a crucial role in coordinating global communication.

Through two key agencies – the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Universal Postal Union (UNU), the United Nations plays a vital role in ensuring people’s ability to connect around the world.

Becoming part of the United Nations in 1947, UN ITU promotes effective and coordinated global communications. Its work includes everything from assigning satellite orbits and developing communication technical standards, to working to improve broadband internet and expanding access to wireless technologies around the world.

The UN UPU is the primary coordination body for the postal services worldwide. It works to improve coordination between postal systems, improve standardisation and monitors disruption to postal services.

The United Nations work in global communications is a major reason why the organisation is hugely important.

It Fights for Women’s Rights

A final reason why the United Nations is important is because it is one of the global leaders fighting for women’s rights.

In many parts of the world, women’s rights are not respected. The UN does vital work in helping women access their rights and campaigning for the improved conditions for women and girls around the world.

Through its specialized agencies including UN Women and UNFPA, the United Nations fights for improved access to women’s education and healthcare, as well as better reproductive rights and an end to gender-based violence.

By setting-up programs that directly assist women, to lobbying governments or running advocacy campaigns highlighting women’s issues, the United Nations plays a vital role in improving the lives of women and girls globally.

If you want to learn more about the United Nations, and why it’s important, explore our list of the top UN online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.