Called "the world's conscience" and one of the 100 most influential people of our time by Time magazine, Jan Egeland has been the public face of the United Nations. As Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, he was in charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for three and a half years.
One of the bravest and most adventuresome figures on the international scene, Egeland takes us to the frontlines of war and chaos in Iraq, to scenes of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, to the ground zeroes of famine, earthquakes, and tsunamis. He challenges the first world to act. A Billion Lives is his on-the-ground account of his work in the most dangerous places in the world, where he has led relief efforts, negotiated truces with warlords, and intervened in what many had thought to be hopeless situations.
As one of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's closest advisers, Jan Egeland was at the heart of crises during a difficult period in UN history, when the organization was plagued by the divisive aftermath of the Iraq war, the Oil-for-Food scandal, and terror attacks against UN workers. On the day Egeland came to New York to take up his job, the UN building in Baghdad was destroyed by a huge bomb, killing one of his predecessors, Sergio de Mello. Two months later Annan sent Egeland to Iraq to judge whether the UN could keep a presence there.
Since that first mission to Baghdad, Egeland has been envoy to such places as Darfur, Eastern Congo, Lebanon, Gaza, Northern Israel, Northern Uganda, and Colombia. He coordinated the massive international relief efforts after the Indian Ocean tsunami and South Asian earthquake. As a negotiator and activist, Egeland is famous for direct language, whether he's addressing warlords, guerrilla leaders, generals, or heads of state.
A Billion Lives is his passionate, adventure-filled eyewitness account of the catastrophes the world faces. And so Egeland writes that he has met the best and worst among us, has "confronted warlords, mass murderers, and tyrants, but [has] met many more peacemakers, relief workers, and human rights activists who risk their lives at humanity's first line of defense."
In spite of the desperate need of so many, Egeland is convinced that, "For the vast majority of people, the world is getting better, that there is more peace, more people fed and educated, and fewer forced to become refugees than a generation ago. So there is reason for optimism," he concludes in this groundbreaking book that does not flinch but holds out reasons for hope.
Traveling the globe as the U.N.'s under secretary general for humanitarian affairs and its emergency relief coordinator from 2003 to 2006, Norwegian diplomat Egeland has seen the best and worst of what humanity has to offer; in this emotionally and politically charged tome, he bluntly summarizes his findings. From crises as varied as genocide in Darfur, the 2004 East Asian tsunami and the religious fanaticism keeping Israel and Palestine in conflict, Egeland is concerned about innocent lives forever altered in these situations, and actively and unabashedly bemoans the lack of financial aid from larger nations. Tracing his passion for social justice to age 17, when he spent a summer volunteering for Colombia's El Minuto de Dios, the special envoy, now a married father of two daughters, has been around enough presidents, dictators and NGOs to insightfully share his outlook on the conditions of the world, share fascinating details of conversations usually held behind closed doors, yet also concede mistakes made by both himself and the U.N. Though Egeland's clipped and often clich d prose can distract from the point he is trying to emphasize, he is a strong storyteller and an essential and candid eyewitness to the last three decades' tragedies.