Just when many Americans are wincing over gyrating stock markets, the United Nations secretary-general has set out a plan of action for the world well into the 21st century.
Kofi Annan's plan, a 57-page "Millennium Report," looks mainly at that half of humanity which worries about its next meal and not the Nasdaq, the Internet, or HMOs.
It is aimed at stirring the thinking of an estimated 130 world leaders who will gather in New York this September to plot out the UN's and the world's future.
But the report is a handy search engine for anyone looking to tackle the world's biggest problems. (It can be found on the Web at www.un.org/millennium.)
Mr. Annan tries to avoid past UN mistakes of being too utopian and absurdly ambitious. And he wisely picks up many American terms, such as "We the Peoples" and "smart sanctions," which helps translate UNese for a skeptical Congress.
He also embraces the benefits of increased private business and open trade, a stance that may rile many of the UN's 188 member states.
One of his innovative plans is to help the poor leapfrog out of poverty by bringing them the knowledge available on the Web. He proposes a Peace Corps-like group of volunteers to bring the Internet to the poorest nations. That's a call for Americans, who have more computers than the rest of the world combined.
He would also use high tech to help relief workers in disaster areas keep connected and health professionals in poor nations keep up on medical information.
Among his targets for the next couple of decades are: primary education for all children; a 25 percent reduction of HIV infection rates among 15- to 24-year-olds; and reducing by half the proportion of people earning less than $1 a day and those without safe water.
As for the UN itself, Annan criticizes the Security Council's use of economic sanctions that fail to punish dictators but hurt innocent civilians. And he asks the council to update its post-WWII membership structure.
Even though markets influence daily life more than official bodies today, the UN still has a role for moral activism and realistic visions.
The Annan report is a useful TripTik for a 21st-century journey.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society