UN chief warns that the world is ‘on edge of an abyss’

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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

The United Nations chief has warned global leaders that the world has never been more threatened and divided and “we face the greatest cascade of crises in our lifetime”.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rang the alarm in his annual state of the world speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level meeting for leaders of its 193 member nations.

“We are on the edge of an abyss — and moving in the wrong direction,” he said.

Guterres pointed to “supersized glaring inequalities” sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic, climate alarm bells “ringing at fever pitch,” upheavals from Afghanistan to Ethiopia and Yemen thwarting global peace, a surge of mistrust and misinformation “polarising people and paralyzing societies” and human rights under fire.

The secretary-general said the solidarity of nations to tackle these and other crises “is missing in action – just when we need it most.”

And he lamented that “instead of humility in the face of these epic challenges, we see hubris”.

Guterres said people may lose faith not only in their governments and institutions but in basic values when they see rights curtailed, corruption, the reality of their harsh lives, no future for their children – and “when they see billionaires joyriding to space while millions go hungry on earth”.

Despite all these crises and challenges, the UN chief said he had hope.

Guterres urged world leaders to bridge divides to promote peace, restore trust between the richer north and developing south on tackling global warming, reduce the gap between rich and poor, promote gender equality, ensure that the half of humanity that has no access to the internet is connected by 2030, and tackle the generation divide by giving young people a seat at the table.

Last year, no leader showed up in person because of Covid-19, but this year despite the pandemic still raging more than 100 heads of state and government and several dozen ministers are due to speak from the General Assembly podium during the high-level meeting which ends on September 27.

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