The U.N.'s Palace of Nations is falling apart.
The Palais des Nations is the U.N.'s European headquarters, flanked by the Swiss Alps to the west and Lake Geneva to the east. Peacocks roam freely on the grounds of the pristine, 111-acre Ariana Park that surrounds it.
But on the inside, the onetime home to the League of Nations is plagued by 70-year-old wiring, fire hazards and miles of rusty pipes that have flooded the archives repeatedly. Asbestos lines some of the walls, and the roof is in danger of caving in. The palace is in need of a major facelift.
It doesn't speak well of their management that they've let the place go so far to seed in the first place, does it? Don't most responsible property owners do routine upgrades and upkeep? You budget for upkeep when you move in, if you have an ounce of sense. So aside from all other matters, this speaks very ill of UN management in the first place.
And how much will all this failure to maintain set the UN back?
The tab: one billion dollars, says Director General Sergei Ordzhonikidze, who heads the U.N. Office at Geneva.
Some folks are advocating just building new offices elsewhere, since "keeping the Palais des Nations could cost more than double what it would take to build a new home from scratch."
"We are extremely conscious that our mandate is not to do renovations for the pleasure of renovations. This is not our purpose," said Marie Heuze, chief spokeswoman for the U.N. Office at Geneva.
Heuze said the buildings are a storehouse of history and stand as a symbol of international cooperation. Every year about 100,000 visitors come to the palace, where tours are led in 15 languages.
It's a "symbol of international cooperation" all right. A symbol of how people of many nations can cooperate in graft and inefficiency. Let it fall into ruin, like Alcatraz. Let visitors ponder how the supposed best and brightest from all nations failed to plan for upkeep and upgrades to their property. Something a guy with a hot dog cart is capable of doing.
And wait, it gets better:
Any major work on the Palais would likely come after the $1.9 billion renovation of the U.N.'s New York headquarters is complete.
WTF?!?! How in the name of God did we let them get used to just pissing away money like this?
Yet relief groups expressed bewilderment at the scope of the suggested renovations. Non-governmental organizations said $1 billion represents more than twice the amount the U.S. government spends worldwide on child survival and maternal health aid.
That $1 billion, relief groups said, is also larger than the entire humanitarian action appeal for all countries served by UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, which requested $850 million to address 39 humanitarian emergencies around the world in 2008.
$1 billion could also go a long way to feed the hungry. Oxfam America reports on its Web site that "$1,000 brings potable water to 22 families in the Rift Valley of Ethiopia...."
Where are the UN's priorities?
When I got stranded at the Pittsburgh airport a couple years back because of a cancelled flight, the guy ahead of me in line to try to arrange another flight was a UN worker on his way to a poverty conference in Kenya. They could book him on another flight in just 8 hours (the rest of us were having to wait 24 - 36 hours). But there were no first-class seats available. He'd have to fly coach.
He would wait, he said, for another first class seat. Flying coach was totally unacceptable.
Now, either this conference wasn't that important, or this guy's contributions to it weren't that important, if he could go ahead and arrive days late, just to be able to arrive in style and comfort. How many people could his first class ticket have actually lifted out of poverty?
I just went to Expedia and searched a flight from Pittsburgh to Nairobi, coach: $1,168. The same flight, first class: $4,897.
That guy could have said, "Okay, I'll take coach, but I want the difference in ticket costs refunded." And the $3,729 he saved could have provided one of the villages in Kenya with a well for potable water to stop children from dying of water-borne diseases.
But his comfort on the flight was more important than the children whose lives could have been immeasurably improved and even saved by the difference in ticket prices. And that's just one way!
Poverty pimps. They disgust me beyond words.