By EDITH M. LEDERER
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on global leaders Wednesday to find "seeds of hope" in the turmoil and despair of a world that may seem like it's falling apart.
In his state of the world address at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, Ban pointed to crises piling up, disease spreading, Cold War ghosts returning and so much of the Arab spring going violently wrong.
"But leadership is precisely about finding the seeds of hope and nurturing them into something bigger," the U.N. chief told presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and ministers from the U.N.'s 193 member states.
"That is our duty," Ban said. "That is my call to you today."
Ban cited many crises - from beheadings and the use of barrel bombs in Syria to the volatile situation in Ukraine and Boko Haram's "murderous onslaught" in Nigeria.
The issue certain to top the agenda at the ministerial session is the threat from Islamic terrorists intent on erasing borders, with the first U.S. and Arab airstrikes in Syria delivered Monday night in response.
Many diplomats hope that crisis won't drown out the plight of millions of civilians caught in conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and Gaza; the misery of the largest number of refugees since World War II; and global support for new U.N. goals to fight poverty and address climate change.
Looking at the array of complex challenges, Norway's Foreign Minister Borge Brende told The Associated Press: "It's unprecedented in decades, that's for sure."
He pointed to the situation confronting the U.N. and international donors: four top-level humanitarian crises at the same time in Iraq, Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria and a relentlessly escalating death toll from Ebola in West Africa. He singled out the U.N. Security Council's failure to address the Syrian civil war, now in the fourth year which the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000 people.
In a preview of his speech last week, Ban said the "multiple crises" all feature attacks on civilians and having dangerous sectarian, ethnic or tribal dimensions.
In addition to the major conflicts, Ban said the world must not forget the continuing violence in Mali, the volatile situation in and around Ukraine, the chaos in Libya, the greater polarization between Israelis and Palestinians following the recent devastating war, and the advances of Boko Haram in Nigeria which "grow more alarming every day."
Later Wednesday morning, U.S. President Barack Obama will step to the podium, and he is certain to dwell on the terrorist threat. Rights groups have called for him to explain how the campaign against the Islamic State extremist group is in accordance with international law.
Obama also will chair a Security Council meeting later Wednesday at which members are expected to adopt a resolution that would require all countries to prevent the recruitment and transport of foreign fighters preparing to join terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.
The opening of the annual U.N. meeting, which ends Sept. 30, follows the highest-level meeting ever on climate change, with some 120 world leaders responding to the secretary-general's call for increased political momentum to address the warming planet.
"For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week - terrorism, instability, inequality, disease - there's one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate," Obama said.
But Obama, along with China, the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, said he would not propose targets to reduce carbon pollution beyond 2020 until early next year. The summit also exposed longstanding political divisions between rich and poor countries, raising questions about whether a new climate pact will be reached by the end of 2015.
Such divisions on a wide range of issues are certain to be addressed in the week ahead. This year's VIPs include Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, French President Francois Hollande, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Two prominent no-shows are Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf because of the Ebola crisis that has hit her country hardest and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who gave no public reason.
While the assembly's newly renovated chamber will be the scene of constant speech-making, most of the real "business" during the General Assembly takes place in private meetings and dinners. This year's side events cover a number of crisis countries including Iran, South Sudan, Myanmar, Yemen and Somalia, with a recently added high-level meeting on Ebola.
Iyad Madani, secretary general of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said there are "a multiplicity of crises" that are unpredictable, but "I think we are relatively a more peaceful world than in World War I, II, Korea, Vietnam or the Cold War."