Wednesday, 26 June 2024 17:23

We’ll never abandon Gaza, pledges top UN aid official

A child waits to fill water containers in Gaza.

UN aid teams and partner organizations remain deeply committed to delivering lifesaving supplies to Gazans in need, despite the increasing dangers of working there, the Organization’s top aid official said on Wednesday.

Responding to media reports on Tuesday that the UN had warned the aid effort may have to stop unless the security situation and coordination with the Israeli military improved, Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths denied that any “ultimatum” had been given.

“We continue, as we have done for these many, many months to negotiate with the Israeli authorities and others with a lot of help, by the way, from the US, as you know, to get the right conditions to allow it to be delivered safely and securely,” he told UN News in an exclusive interview, just days before he is due to step down from his post.

No retreat from aid mission

“We’re not running away from Gaza, at all, but what is true now — and I think that’s the basis for this story — is of course that we are particularly concerned about the security situation in Gaza, and it is becoming more and more difficult to operate.”

The UN relief chief’s comments follow the publication on Tuesday of the latest dire assessment of food insecurity in Gaza, which highlighted the “high risk” of famine across the whole Gaza Strip “as long as conflict continues and humanitarian access is restricted”.

“Aid can make a difference, that’s why we need to get all these crossings open,” Mr. Griffiths said.

“That’s why we need safety and security, that’s why we need the pier to restart and get that aid off the beach if that can be done too. We need all hands on deck for this…We’ll keep on at it. But we fail them daily every time we’re not able to get aid through to the people who need it.”

Political focus is key

The problem is a political one, that’s the real effort, that must be the focus of all our efforts. And indeed, one of the interesting aspects of the Middle East is that there is a lot of political diplomacy, a lot of mediation going on”, he continued.

“By the way, I wish we could see that elsewhere, like in Sudan, but we need to see it bring results.”

After almost nine months of war sparked by Hamas-led terror attacks and hostage-taking in Israel, UN aid agencies continue to report ongoing strikes across Gaza by the Israeli military, resulting in civilian casualties, massive forced displacement and the destruction of houses and other public services.

Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs on the humanitarian situation in the Middle East.
UN Photo/Loey Felipe
Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefs on the humanitarian situation in the Middle East.

Intense strikes continue

In its latest update, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, reported “especially intense” airstrikes in central Gaza in recent days, particularly in Bureij, Maghazi and Nuseirat refugee camps and eastern Deir Al Balah.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military’s ground offensive “continues to expand”, UNRWA noted, particularly in the southern regions of Gaza City and eastern Rafah, causing further suffering and further “destabilizing” humanitarian aid flows.

In addition to the war in Gaza, deadly violence has continued unabated against Palestinians in the West Bank, while a renewed escalation between Israel and Hezbollah militants across the frontier with Lebanon prompted a warning from the UN Secretary-General that one false move could trigger a catastrophe for the whole region and beyond.

Emergency provider

Beyond Gaza, Mr. Griffiths defended the Organization’s role in providing help to people in emergencies around the world.

We delivered aid to 144 million people last year, that’s two-thirds of what we hoped to reach at a time when funding was problematic,” he said. “The aid agencies are doing an extraordinary job, and in particular within a global aid agency, the frontline deliverers.”

As staggering as the number of people receiving assistance may be, many tens of millions more remain beyond the UN’s reach, for lack of funding.

‘Astonishing disparity’

“The disparity between the amount of money — you know, more than $2 trillion a year spent on war — and the amount of money spent on humanitarian aid for peace-making is an astonishing disparity. And it’s a shameful one.”

He added: “We have to get rid of the notion that investing more than $2 trillion in war is a way of getting security in this world — it is not the way to secure this world. The way to secure this world is through people in general to their neighbors being kind to their neighbors too.

Reflecting on his four decades working “on the edges of war zones” and in the diplomatic corridors of power, UK national Mr. Griffiths insisted on the need for radical reform on the global humanitarian system, given the rising needs and protracted emergencies.

Changes may yet come, he noted, pointing to the fact that the “UN and civil society, host governments across the world and regional organizations” should “start looking at the fact that power is being redistributed in this world today.

The Al-Amal hospital in southern Gaza lies in ruins.
The Al-Amal hospital in southern Gaza lies in ruins.

Trust the people

“And maybe that’s not a bad thing either…We need to do this all at the behest of the people in those communities not what we think is best, but what they know is best.”

This point was made clear to the veteran humanitarian in Sudan where he met representatives from civil society organizations manning emergency treatment rooms “on those front lines, back in Khartoum, across the country. They don’t go away, they are the standard I think, for all of us to be able to say, ‘Yes, this (work) is definitely worth it.”

Just days before he steps down as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator – a role UN insiders concede is among the most punishing in the UN system, given its constant travel and media attention – Mr. Griffiths rejected the “incredibly self-indulgent” suggestion that he might slow down in Geneva, where he and his family have lived for years.

‘One life saved’

He also remained coy about the possible identity of his future successor, who will take over the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA – although he offered one piece of advice: “I believe this fundamentally from my, life, one life saved — one life saved — makes it worthwhile. And I am amazed by the resilience of communities. And I am amazed by the courage of aid workers.”