The issues of housing, building, and environmental planning have concerned the United Nations since its beginnings. In 1946, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on Housing and Town Planning, which recommended that international arrangements be set up to “promote and coordinate research and the international exchange of information on the subject...and that suitable housing standards be elaborated.”
From 31 May to 11 June 1976, the UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I) took place in Vancouver, Canada. The conference adopted the Vancouver Declaration on Human Settlements and Action Plan, a blueprint for national and international action to improve the living places of people throughout the world.
Work accomplished at Habitat I would lead to the creation, in 1977, of the Commission on Human Settlements and the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (commonly known as Habitat). On 1 January 2002, through General Assembly resolution 56/206, Habitat’s mandate was strengthened and its status elevated to a fully-fledged programme in the UN system, giving birth to UN-Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme.
Representatives of 116 countries met in Mar del Plata, Argentina, for the UN Water Conference held 14-25 March 1977. The Conference was the first world intergovernmental meeting devoted to the crucial problem of ensuring adequate water supplies for the earth's expanding population. Participants adopted the Plan of Action of Mar del Plata, which set out eight detailed recommendations designed to avert future water crisis. The Plan stressed the importance of action at the national level and provided the framework for the activities of international organizations in the field of water resources development.
UN-Water was formalised in 2003 to coordinate all of the United Nations system’s freshwater and sanitation related activities.
Tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border were high in the 1970's. In March 1978, a raid occurred in Israel, for which the Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility. In response, Israeli forces invaded Southern Lebanon; an action Lebanon would protest to the Security Council. The Council adopted resolutions 425 (1978) and 426 (1978) on 19 March and established the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The first UNIFIL troops arrived in the area on 23 March. Israeli troops withdrew in June.
Volatility in the area continued throughout the years and Israel crossed into Lebanon again in 1982. In 2000, Israel notified the Secretary-General that they would withdraw from Lebanon. The United Nations, in cooperation with Lebanese and Israeli officials, identified a withdrawal line (commonly known as the “Blue Line”). Today, UNIFIL activities are critical in preventing a recurrence of hostilities across the Blue Line.
Equality of rights for women is a basic principle of the United Nations. The Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations sets as one of the Organization's central goals the reaffirmation of "faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women". On 18 March 1979, the UN took another step in the promotion of equal rights for women when the General Assembly adopted resolution 34/180, The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. The Convention defines discrimination against women as any distinction made on the basis of sex that impairs women’s equal enjoyment of fundamental rights. The 30-article convention covers measures to be taken by States to eliminate discrimination against women in various fields, including political and public life, marriage and family life. Entering into force in 1981, there are currently a total of 189 States parties to the Convention.
Under the United Nations Charter, the main responsibility of the Security Council is to maintain international peace and security. In 1980, the Council found its members could not come to an agreement on the situation in Afghanistan. Being unable to uphold their responsibility to maintain international peace and security, the Security Council adopted resolution 462(1980), calling for an emergency special session of the General Assembly.
The Assembly was able to take action by invoking resolution 377(V), commonly known as the "Uniting for Peace" resolution. Passed in 1950, it allows the General Assembly to take action only in situations where there appears to be a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression. The emergency special session on Afghanistan was the sixth emergency session held by the General Assembly. Out of the ten emergency special sessions, nine have been convened under the banner of Uniting for Peace.
In 1971, the international community recognized a category of countries described by the UN as “the poorest and weakest segment of the international community”. Countries categorized as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. The UN General Assembly convened the First United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Paris in 1981 to respond to the special needs of the LDCs. Conference attendees unanimously adopted the Substantial New Programme of Action for the 1980's, which contains guidelines for domestic action by the least developed countries, which were to be complemented by international support measures. The UN has held three more such conferences over the years.
The current list of LDCs includes forty-eight countries; thirty-three in Africa, fourteen in Asia and the Pacific, and one in Latin America. They comprise more than 880 million people, but account for less than two percent of world GDP and about one percent of global trade in goods. Four countries have so far graduated from LDC status: Botswana in 1994, Cape Verde in 2007, Maldives in 2011, and Samoa in 2014.
In 1967, Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta gave a speech to the General Assembly that was a call for "an effective international regime over the seabed and the ocean floor beyond a clearly defined national jurisdiction." Many in the international community agreed that there was a need to protect marine environments, negotiate navigational rights, institute the legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, and establish a binding procedure for settlement of disputes between States. The resulting global diplomatic effort to regulate and write rules for all ocean areas, all uses of the seas, and all of its resources, would span 14 years. The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea convened in 1973 to write a comprehensive treaty. It ended nine years later with the adoption in 1982 of a constitution for the seas - the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Currently a total of 157 states are signatories to the Convention, which entered into force in 1994.
The question of Palestine has perennially been on the agenda of the UN General Assembly. In the 1980's, events in the Middle East once again compelled the Assembly to take action. The International Conference on the Question of Palestine was convened by the United Nations in Geneva from 29 August to 7 September 1983. The Conference adopted two political documents: the Geneva Declaration on Palestine and the Programme of Action for the Achievement of Palestinian Rights. The Geneva Declaration set forth guidelines for international efforts to find a political settlement of the question of Palestine through the convening of an international peace conference on the Middle East. The Programme of Action outlined measures to be taken in the political, economic, and information fields to raise awareness of the question of Palestine. In endorsing the Geneva Declaration, the General Assembly invited all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict to participate in the proposed international peace conference on an equal footing and with equal rights.
In 1984, millions of Africans faced hunger, malnutrition and death due to an extreme shortage of food. Famine and drought, coupled with the deteriorating economic situation, alarmed ECOSOC and the General Assembly. For the first time an item on the critical economic situation in Africa was included on their agendas. On 3 December, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Critical Economic Situation in Africa. The declaration called for immediate and long term measures to help alleviate the economic problems affecting the continent. It appealed for increased bilateral and multilateral assistance for the affected countries.
In addition, the Secretary-General also established the Office of Emergency Operations for Africa. The office was headed by the Administrator for UNDP and backed by a high-level, inter-agency task force with a mandate to monitor the emergency situation and to mobilise support for relief operations.
The General Assembly had proclaimed 1976-1985 to be the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace. The decade focused on achieving the goals laid out by the 1975 World Plan of Action for the Implementation of the Objectives of the International Women’s Year. As the decade drew to a close, a conference was held to evaluate how the well the objectives had been met. From 15 to 26 June 1985, the World Conference to Review and Appraise the Achievements of the United Nations Decade for Women was held in Nairobi. 13,500 participants and representatives from 157 Member States attended the conference. They adopted the “Forward-looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women, 1986-2000,” which provided measures to overcome obstacles found to the Decade's goals for the advancement of women. It also provided a framework for renewed commitment to the advancement of women and the elimination of gender-based discrimination; issues the UN continues to promote today.