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Kid Reporter Visits the U.N

Michael Carboni talks with Farhan Haq

By Michael Carboni | May , 2007

farhan hak and kid reporter
Kid Reporter Michale Carboni talks with Associate Spokesperson Farhan Hak at the UN Headquarters in New York City. (Photo: Courtesy of Michael Carboni)

May 2007

Michael had the chance to speak with 40-year-old Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary General. Here's a part of their conversation.

Scholastic News Online: Do you serve a term or are you appointed?

Haq: I serve a term. The people who are directly above me are appointed, but right now I just have regular two-year contracts that are renewed whenever the previous one runs out.

SN: What do you do to prepare yourself for briefings with the press?

H: Well, what we do first is we have briefings that take place every day at noon, so in the morning hours we write up notes, we ask other offices what sort of work they’re doing and we write up notes for the briefing and then we also try to figure out what type of questions we might be asked…, so we prepare for it that way, and then at noon we read out the notes and sometimes if we’re lucky we have the answers for the questions we get asked.

SN: How do you decide what to report on?

H: In terms of what’s in the UN? It’s kind of obvious from the morning, from reading the morning newspapers, so first we look at the morning newspapers for a couple of hours of the day and see what are the major events the UN needs to follow up on so it could be a political crisis or it could be a natural disaster or something and then what are we doing to respond to that.

SN: The current Secretary-General is from South Korea and the last one was from South Africa. How do you think they will handle things differently?

H: The last one is actually from a country called Ghana. And so he was very focused on African issues. So is the current one. And in some ways, the work that they do will be the same, as long as you’re facing the same problems. But the current person, Ban Ki-moon, has a lot of experience dealing with some particular crises, such as the problems that take place in North Korea, which is the country right next to his.

SN: How has the UN’s mission changed since 1945 when it started?

H: It’s gotten a little bit more complicated. For example, right now, today, there are almost 100,000 soldiers that the UN has around the world, deployed as what we call peacekeepers. Not soldiers sent to fight wars, in other words, but soldiers sent to patrol areas to keep people from fighting each other (we used to have a few peacekeepers in the 1940s). The UN is involved in many more areas nowadays, such as in environment rights, where we do much more work compared with what we used to do 60 years ago.

SN: Which of the eight UN Millennium Development Goals will Secretary Ban Ki-moon focus on and how?

H: Ideally, he wants to see all of the UN Millennium Development Goals put into force in every country. The idea is by the year 2015, which is now eight years away, you want to have poverty cut in half, you want to have the regular lifespan of people improved, you want people to have more access to drinking water, food, and to the sort of medication that helps them survive diseases like AIDS. So all of these things need to be tackled, but the question is: Will there be enough money, in particular for poorer countries in the world so that they can actually do this, and we’re hoping that there will be.

SN: What unique problems does the UN face today that were not around 20 years ago?

H: Problems that weren’t, that didn’t exist or weren’t regarded as that big a problem 20 years ago. Just a few days ago we came out with a report talking about how humans have made the world much, much warmer. Very dramatically in the last few decades. So this is something that people didn’t really think about. But now we have to think about how are we going to keep climate change from changing the world, so that by the time that you grow up and by the time you have kids and they have kids, the world doesn’t have a big environmental problem. Similarly, there are a lot of diseases that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago, including a bird flu that’s been a problem just in the last two or three years.

SN: How have terrorism and 9/11 affected the UN’s power in the world or its focus on the world’s policy?

The UN has always had to deal with terrorism, but now after what happened on 9/11, there’s more of an awareness around the world that you have to take stronger actions. Countries have been trying to make international treatises to fight terrorism, fight the way terrorists get weapons, fight the way terrorists get money, also to help define what terrorism is so that you can deal with it better. All those efforts are happening. A lot of it is happening in discussions between the sort of nations that are here at the UN.

SN: What is the greatest problem facing the world today?

H: The biggest problem in the world is making sure that whatever the crisis is—whether it’s the environment or whether it’s disease or whether it’s political—the biggest challenge the UN faces is to make sure that countries can work together on this. The big word that we have for this is called multilateralism. Countries don’t do things by themselves; they do things together. That’s what we’re here to do. And the hope is that you can get more countries to take united approaches to everything that they face.

SN: The original mission of the UN was to maintain world peace, to develop good relations between world countries, promote cooperation, solve world problems, and encourage respect for human rights. Do you think this is still the mission?

H: Yes, I think it is. None of those problems goes away, so we have to keep dealing with them.

SN: What will the UN’s mission be 20 years from now?

H: My hope is 20 years from now that the world will improve to the point that we’ll have less to do, but I wonder whether that’s going to be the case or not. I hope so.

SN:How does the UN promote respect for human rights?

H: We have a senior official in Geneva, Switzerland, who deals with human rights around the world and talks about whenever they’re being violated. We also have different officials that we send to different countries to deal with human rights. Basically, everywhere.

SN: How does it help victims of war, famine, and other disasters?

H: We coordinate sending food, water, emergency kits like emergency shelter wherever there’s a need. And so we have offices around the world, including one here in New York City that coordinates all the work we do providing that kind of assistance.

SN: The success of the UN depends on the cooperation of the member nations. When has the system not worked so well?

The most recent example is Iraq, where you didn’t have countries agree. What we’ve been trying to do ever since the war in Iraq started, basically almost five years ago, is trying to get the countries of the world to work together again on that.

SN:What makes it a good system on a global scale?

H: It’s the one place where all the countries of the world can get together, whether they’re friends with each other, whether they’re enemies, and they can work things out with each other.

SN: What is the most exciting part of your position?

Stuff like this, really. Meeting people. So when I go home today, I’ll tell my daughter: Hey, I met a reporter who was in fifth grade, and she’ll be excited. So that’s kind of cool. And you get to meet different people all the time.

About the Author

Michael Carboni is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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