World leaders tackle

Every year, scores of heads of state and government temporarily put aside

the issues in their home countries and head for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in midtown Manhattan,

New York, to discuss critical issues facing the globe. The UNGA is the only platform that gathers more than 120 world leaders under one roof.

After a period of international crises in 2014, including the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, this year’s General Assembly, which took place at the UN headquarters on 22 September, was not going to be easy.

World leaders needed to find solutions to the Ebola crisis, increasing concerns over climate change

 and the insurgence of extremist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the crisis in Ukraine.

A brutal civil war in Syria has already killed nearly 200 000 people and displaced millions.

This year’s GA was also crucial as it took place ahead of the rapidly approaching target date for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

It may be easy for many people, particularly if you are in South Africa,

to see some of these as distant problems.

However, the nature of the world today and the problems of the 21st century, as seen with the recent global financial crisis, make it difficult for any single nation to insulate itself from global issues.

The General Assembly allocates presidents and prime ministers 15 minutes to participate in a debate on several issues affecting the globe.

While many leaders use the platform to promote their country’s national interests, it is what they eventually agree on that defines the success of the talks.

United States President Barack Obama, for instance, used his time at the General Assembly debate to declare America’s war against terrorism and extremist groups.

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