United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. / David Yellen for USA TODAY
UNITED NATIONS - The world faces the greatest humanitarian crises in United Nations history, and nations aren't coming together to solve the problems, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon warned Tuesday.
World leaders "have to sit down together with an open heart to negotiate in the interests of their people," Ban said in an interview with USA TODAY as he marked World Humanitarian Day. "The crises we're experiencing cannot be solved by one person. As secretary-general, I can bring world leaders to the river, but I cannot force them to drink water."
Civil war in Syria and South Sudan, the world's newest country, and conflict between governments and non-state militants in Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine and elsewhere have contributed to 155 aid worker deaths, 171 serious injuries and 134 kidnappings in 2013, a 66% increase from the previous year and the highest number of fatalities in a decade. Deaths this year - 79 - outpace 2013, a record that is "deeply troubling," Ban said.
World Humanitarian Day commemorates Aug. 19, 2003, when a massive truck bomb demolished U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 people, including the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
At least 33 million people were displaced last year by conflict and violence, the highest figure ever recorded, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The level of violence by the Islamic State in Iraq is so great that Pope Francis took the rare step Monday of endorsing the use of force against the militants, who have beheaded opponents and kidnapped women to take as wives and sex slaves.
Francis called on the United Nations to organize a force to stop attacks on civilians there, but Ban said it would be difficult to obtain such a commitment from U.N. members. The world's nations are less comfortable about sending troops into hot battle than to peacekeeping operations, he said. "When there is no peace to keep, it is very difficult," he said.
An exception occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, under Ban's strong urging, U.N. countries produced a mandate in 2013 for 3,000 soldiers to intervene militarily to protect civilians.
That intervention occurred in a "dire situation," Ban said, and resulted in the surrender in November of rebels. The operation "was quite effective" but a "very rare" exception, he said.
Ban complained about a lack of political will to resolve conflicts between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, and between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
In Gaza, six weeks of Hamas rocket fire into Israel prompted a massive Israeli bombardment that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, most civilians. The fighting caused massive damage and destroyed 25 U.N. schools, many of them used as shelters, according to UNICEF spokeswoman Sarah Crowe. Israel says nearly half the deaths were militants and Hamas uses civilians as shields. U.N. officials found rockets stored in two U.N. schools.
Human rights violations on both sides should be investigated and people should be held to account, Ban said.
Referring to the civilian toll after three years of war in Syria, where 6.5 million people have been displaced, and fighting in eastern Ukraine, where 2,000 have died in fighting, Ban said cross-border support for non-state militants should be prevented, but again, political will is lacking.
"This is happening everywhere," he said. "There are many fires. First, we need to extinguish these fires, then deal with root causes."
Read the original story: U.N. chief: Unity needed against record swell of crises