UN system context

The development cooperation activities of DESA and other entities of the UN Secretariat fit into a context of related work throughout the UN system. These efforts, often known as "operational activities for international development cooperation", constitute one of the main streams of work of the UN family. Through these the UN, its funds and programmes, and the specialized agencies put into effect their mandates and capabilities in support of the policies and priorities of recipient countries. Each operates under the guidance of intergovernmental bodies, and they take into account the outcomes and commitments of the relevant global conferences. Further information on each organization is available through the websites for the members of the UN's Administrative Committee on Coordination (ACC). The book Basic Facts about the United Nations (1998 ed.) also includes a concise reference on the development work of the various organizations.

The General Assembly provides intergovernmental guidance on emerging issues and system-wide concerns through a triennial comprehensive policy review. As an input to the Secretary General's report to the Triennial Policy Review of Operational Activities, the Secretariat began evaluating the impact of operational activities in six countries in 1998. The General Assembly requested a second round of evaluations as an input to the next Triennial Policy Review in 2001. 

The Economic and Social Council supplements the policy review in the intervening years, and examines certain thematic issues in greater depth. ECOSOC also maintains a policy guidance oversight role in relation to UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP. The GA and ECOSOC base their deliberations on reports (1) by the Secretary-General, and they adopt resolutions (2) of system-wide significance. The DESA Division for ECOSOC Support and Coordination (DESC) is responsible for the necessary preparations and follow-up. It is also undertaking a series of evaluations on the impact of development assistance by the UN system. Detailed information on the full range of its current deliberations is available in the ECOSOC website.

The United Nations system works in a variety of ways to promote economic and social development, combining normative, analytical and operational activities. It helps formulate policies and sets international norms and standards. It prepares studies, undertakes support and provides advice to governments. It mobilizes funds and carries out programmes for development. Development cooperation activities by the UN system represent a small but important share of the total of official development assistance (ODA). These comprise grant assistance, which has averaged around $4.5 billion in recent years, plus loans from the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and others.

To increase the effectiveness of its development cooperation, the UN system has been taking steps for greater cohesiveness. ACC has adopted guiding principles on the functions of the UN Resident Coordinator and on numerous other issues of importance to the system. The ACC Consultative Committee for Programme and Operational Questions (CCPOQ) is the forum for inter-agency deliberations and agreements on policy matters in this area. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with its network of some 134 country offices, provides the management arrangements for UN Resident Coordinators. Agencies with a local presence, and those without separate representation, all form part of the resident coordinator system. The World Bank is increasingly active in the work of the UN system country teams and in interagency fora, though it does not participate in the resident coordinator system as such.

As one part of the Secretary-General's recent programme of UN reforms (A/51/950), a UN Development Group (UNDG) has been established, comprising UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF and WFP, and involving numerous other UN entities, including DESA. The UNDG supports and strengthens the Resident Coordinator function and fosters greater coherence in country-level activities, including through Common Country Assessments (CCA) of the major issues for attention, and UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF) to guide the resultant UN programmes. UNDG is preparing for the launch of a website on thematic issues.

Other aspects of the SG's UN reform programme seek to bring greater cohesion to the work of Secretariat units and UN funds and programmes in economic and social affairs, humanitarian assistance, and peace and security. The annual report of the SG on the work of the Organization (A/54/1) gives an overview of recent efforts of the UN in each of these areas. See also the UN websites on Humanitarian Affairs and Peace and Security. The many countries undergoing conflict and post-conflict conditions are a subject of increased system-wide concern and coordinated action. In these situations the UN Resident Coordinator normally also serves as the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, and may also function as deputy to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG), where such has been appointed.

Analysis and deliberations on the operational activities of the UN system are currently focused on a number of main issues of common concern. These have been brought to the attention of the GA and ECOSOC in recent reports, and represent implementation by the system of the policy guidance from these intergovernmental bodies. Such issues include: poverty eradication; capacity building; global conference follow-up; programming frameworks; financial resources; field-level coordination; cooperation with the Bretton Woods institutions; linkages among humanitarian assistance, peace-building and development; and many others. (Click here for relevant texts.)

Main issues:

  • Funding for United Nations operational activities and statistical reporting
  • Strategic frameworks and programming
  • Resident coordinator system
  • Decentralization and delegation of authority
  • Simplification and harmonization
  • Common premises and shared administrative services
  • Civil Society
  • Follow-up to major United nations global conferences
  • Gender in development
  • Capacity-building
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • regional dimension
  • South-South cooperation/TCDC-ECDC
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Impact evaluation
  • World bank and regional banks



(1) Reports:

Operational activities of the United Nation for International development cooperation:

Triennial policy review of operational activities for development of the UN system:

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(2) Resolutions:

Triennial policy review of operational activities for development of the UN system:

Resolutions and decisions adopted by the Economic and Social Council at the 10th meeting of its resumed organizational session for 1999 and its substantive session of 1999:

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