United Nations questions its ability to keep the peace while social programs such as UNICEF rack up impressive records

The time: July 1982. The place: war-ravaged Beirut.

The destruction is a reminder that the UN Security Council sitting at UN headquarters in New York City had failed to halt the war in Lebanon.

But on the battle site the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) was setting up 12 temporary hospitals. It was clearing garbage. It became the damaged city's de facto water supplier by moving in water tanks plus generators to pump water out of covered wells and repairing cracked or broken water pipes.

Says James Grant, director of UNICEF who visited besieged west Beirut in a vehicle punctured in eight places by shell fragments: ''While the UN Security Council couldn't bring a political solution, other parts of the UN system kept people alive.''

The Lebanese situation neatly sums up the fact that there is not one, but two UNs.

One is the ''loud,'' political UN. It makes itself heard largely through the speeches of the General Assembly and the actions (or inaction) of the Security Council. Frequently strident in tone, often ineffective in action, this UN's credibility has never been so much on the line as it is today.

The second UN is the ''silent,'' almost invisible organization which, despite its low profile, consumes 85 percent of the energies and budget of the total UN system. Under this umbrella come all the UN's humanitarian, social, economic, educational, cultural, and scientific works.

UNICEF is a conspicuous member of this UN family. It has just launched what it believes will prove a revolution in health care through a four-point plan aimed at halving the number of children in the world who die from malnutrition and infection.

Another specialized UN agency that is leaving its mark on the developing world is the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). It is the largest development program in the world. Though its results are seldom broadcast, UNDP plays a major part in providing the developing world with the skills that will help build a dam, a school, or a small factory.

Among other well-known members of the UN family are the World Health Organization (WHO); the International Monetary Fund (IMF); the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development - better known as the World Bank; and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT).

Less conspicuous are the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) based in Geneva; the Universal Postal Union (UPU) based in Berne, Switzerland; the International Maritime Organization (IMO) based in London; and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal.

While the world increasingly questions the effectiveness and relevance of the UN, this world body, through its specialized agencies, makes a major contribution to the improvement and regulation of international conditions.

* The Universal Postal Union is responsible for seeing that the airmail letter you mail will reach its destination whether it be Rangoon, Cape Town, or Lima.

* The International Civil Aviation Organization has established a flying code that ensures that if you fly to Peking or New Delhi, the pilots and ground crews will conform to the same universal set of signals, air lanes, and landing rights.

* Your ability to receive television signals beamed by satellite into your living room or select the right wave band for your favorite radio show is the result of the work of the International Telecommunication Union.

* Whether you write a book in London or Paris the international copyright is guaranteed by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

By helping to sort out and establish today's complicated international links, the UN is helping to put some order into the world by standardizing procedures that touch millions of lives, but which most people take for granted.

Sir Robert Jackson, an Australian who was an international civil servant even before the world body was officially launched in 1945, notes that although people criticize the political limitations of the UN, they benefit from the other organizations that come under the umbrella of the UN. THE UNITED NATIONS SYSTEM SECURITY COUNCIL, 15 members UNDOF -- United Nations Disengagement Observer Force UNEF -- United Nations Emergency Force UNFICYP -- United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus UNIFIL -- United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon UNMOGIP -- United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan UNTSO -- United Nations Truce Supervision Organization in Palestine SECRETARIAT, headed by Secretary-General GENERAL ASSEMBLY, 157 members IAEA -- International Atomic Energy Agency UNRWA -- United Nations Relief and Works Agency GENERAL ASSEMBLY, 157 members UNCTAD -- United Nations Conference on Trade and Development UNDP -- United Nations Development Program UNDRO -- United Nations Disaster Relief Office UNEP -- United Nations Environment Program UNFDAC -- Untied Nations Fund for Drug Abuse Control UNFPA -- United Nations Fund for Population Activites UNHCR -- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNICEF -- United Nations Children's Fund UNIDO -- United Nations Industrial Development Organization UNITAR -- United Nations Institute for Training and Research UNU -- United Nations University WFC -- World Food Council WFP -- World Food Program (UN/FAO) INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, 15 justices TRUSTEESHIP COUNCIL, 5 Permanent Members of Security Council ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL, 54 members FAO -- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations IMCO -- Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultative Organization IBRD -- International Bank for Reconstruction and Development "World Bank" ICAO -- International Civil Aviation Organization IDA -- International Development Association IFAD -- International Fund for Agricultural Development IFC -- International Finance Corporation ILO -- International Labor Organization IMF -- International Monetary Fund ITU-- International Telecommunication Union UNESCO -- United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization UPU -- Universal Postal Union WHO -- World Health Organization WIPO -- World Intellectual Property Organization WMO -- World Meterological Organization GATT -- General Agreement on Tariffs and TradeSource: United Nations Association of the United States of America

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