The United Nations has many specialised agencies which work usually away from the public eye. While the United Nations has become part of the news via its political involvement in such issues as the Middle East, Korea and the Congo, the work of its agencies goes on year in and year out addressing such problems as humanitarian aid, world health and the international improvement in working conditions.

The four main agencies are the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), UNESCO and the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA). The ILO and UNESCO were established in 1944; the WHO was established in 1946 and the IAEA was established in 1957. In total there are 40 agencies/organisations that are part of the United Nations and each has a specialist role to play in advancing the standards of living for the world’s population as a whole. Twenty non-United Nations agencies also work for the organisation. All these organisations cover what are considered to be the main targets to improve society as a whole.

The ILO has the task of ensuring that all people are entitled to equal opportunities and of economic security; UNESCO has the task of ensuring that education and the sharing of knowledge will lead to a universal respect amongst all people; the WHO strives to eradicate all diseases and the ensure that all people enjoy the highest attainable standards of health; the IAEA seeks to ensure that the development of atomic power will lead to a peaceful and prosperous world.

While some of the above goals may be fine on paper and possibly unreachable in reality, some of these agencies have done a great deal to improve society. In 1967, the WHO started a world-wide campaign to eradicate smallpox by the use of mass vaccinations. It gave itself until 1977 to achieve this goal. Smallpox had been a disease that had blighted all societies. The success of the vaccination programme was astonishing. In 1967, in the year the campaign was announced, over 130,000 cases of smallpox were reported in 43 countries. By 1984, not one case was reported anywhere in the world. The smallpox virus was declared extinct.

By 1980, the ILO had produced a wide ranging programme of labour reforms and working practices. 151 nations agreed to implement this reforms that ranged from maximum hours that could be worked to trade union rights. The one major problem that ILO experienced was when America  withdrew from it in 1977 as a result of their complaint that the ILO did nothing to address human rights abuses in the old Soviet Bloc.

UNESCO faced more serious problems. Between 1945 and 1970, UNESCO was dominated by western nations. However, with greater independence in both Asia and Africa, more nations joined both the UN and UNESCO. By 1980, the western powers that had previously found themselves in a majority found themselves in a minority. These powers felt that their financial contribution should be taken into account when decisions were made by UNESCO. This was not upheld and in 1985 both America and Britain left the organisation believing that it was under the influence of too many extreme and unstable nations.

Regardless of these problems, the many agencies of the UN have done valuable work throughout the world. Their failures tend to be well documented while their many successes are taken for granted and do not receive the appropriate applause.