GEVEVA - The UN’s top aid official said on Tuesday he was leaving office at the end of the month with “some important pieces of wisdom” but also a feeling of frustration because many crises no longer make the headlines, while humanitarian operations face a dire lack of funding.

“I leave this job with a sense of work unfulfilled because the world is a worse place now than when I joined up in 2021,” Martin Griffiths said in his final briefing to journalists as UN Humanitarian and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

He said the international community is not resolving conflicts through dialogue, as envisioned nearly 80 years ago in the UN Charter. “Classic political diplomacy” has all but disappeared and impunity is rife.

Meanwhile, humanitarians in the field are “scraping together support where they can, but they’re not the saviours,” he said. “The saviours of this world are people who end wars and build peace.”

Funding shortfall

Mr. Griffiths said that some 300 million people worldwide need humanitarian assistance today at a time when donor funding has been reduced.

Humanitarians are seeking roughly $49 billion to reach around 188 million people this year but have only received $8 billion to date.

“Halfway through the year, it's never been quite as difficult and as bad as it is now,” he said.

Crises and suffering

Mr. Griffiths also lamented that “the limits of our attention are to these big crises - Gaza, Sudan, Ukraine - whereas Syria, Yemen, Haiti, are places still of great suffering.”

He took office when Tigray in Ethiopia “was the crisis of the day”. Even now, the death toll from the war is unclear, he noted, but estimated at more than 200,000.

“Tigray was a terrible, terrible time, and we haven't talked about it recently. And yet, there is speculation about famine there,” he said.

Dashed hopes in Afghanistan

The Tigray crisis was overtaken by the situation in Afghanistan, where “the Taliban walked into power in August 2021”. Around the same time, Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake “which barely made the news”.

Mr. Griffiths went to the Afghan capital, Kabul, on behalf of the UN Secretary-General to meet with the new de facto leaders shortly after they assumed power.

“We had some hopes then,” he revealed. “We had, indeed, some written commitments then as to how we would be able to go forward with the Taliban. And those hopes have been dashed.”

He said Taliban edicts against women and girls “have come one after the other”, but international engagement on behalf of the Afghan people continues.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine followed in February 2022, “and all that that told us about disaster, and needs, and displacement, and trafficking, and sexual abuse, and crisis, and the destruction of systems which protected people for generations,” he said.

“And that was then superseded by Gaza and Sudan.”

‘Humanitarian diplomacy’ rising

Reflecting on his career, Mr. Griffiths said he has noticed “how humanitarian diplomacy has been obliged to take a front seat in the absence of much political diplomacy because of the divisions of geopolitics that we face today.”

He expressed pride in the UN’s use of humanitarian diplomacy and mediation to achieve the Black Sea Grain Initiative and Memorandum of Understanding, signed in July 2022 amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The deal to export Ukrainian grain and Russian food and fertilizer to international markets, thus boosting global food security, ended the following year after Russia’s withdrawal.

“Humanitarian diplomacy is both an opportunity for us to do good for the world, but also in its ubiquity is a reminder of the absence of classic political diplomacy,” he said.

Concern for Sudan

Noting the absence of efforts to end the war in Sudan, where the humanitarian situation has worsened, he voiced concern over the 800,000 people at risk in El Fasher in North Darfur, and the likelihood that five million people across the country could face famine.

“I don't think we've ever had that kind of number at risk of famine, and this was an avoidable conflict,” Mr. Griffiths said. “And that's my double point here: we're not winning on ending conflict.”

Though expressing hope for Yemen, he said “that’s going backwards right now, but it’s essentially because the attention and commitment to the use of negotiation and dialogue to end conflict is a trait, a norm, a commitment, which is now no longer an essential component in international diplomacy.”

Furthermore, “the impunity that goes with the willingness of men to reach for the gun to resolve their differences, has also never been so great.”

‘A bad world’

While hailing the recent UN Security Council resolution on the protection of civilians, he added ‘but God knows it's a bad world”.

He urged journalists to listen to the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, regarding the deliberate targeting of health institutions in numerous places, and to Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of UN Palestine refugee agency, UNRWA, “on the massive numbers of his colleagues killed and who now faces the possibility of having his organization classified as terrorist.”

“We are not resolving conflicts,” said Mr. Griffiths. “We are not using dialogue where we had committed ourselves to using dialogue. And the founders of the UN back in 1945, in those words of the Charter - saving subsequent generations from the scourge of war - we're failing them right, left and centre.”