UN relief chief calls for continued support for Syria and other crisis regions
In a wide-ranging briefing on Friday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Griffiths highlighted the need to keep aid flowing into northwest Syria and to allow Ukrainian and Russian grain exports to reach global markets amid the ongoing war.
The “relief chief” was speaking to journalists at UN Headquarters in New York just as these two separate lifesaving initiatives are set to expire in the coming days.
He also voiced concern over gender-based violence in countries such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and noted lack of hope over the crisis in Sudan.
Syria cross-border renewal
The northwest region is the last opposition stronghold in Syria, and aid has been delivered there from Türkiye through a cross-border mechanism first authorized by the UN Security Council in 2014. He said negotiations on its extension are at a critical juncture.
"We're three days away, I think, from the decision point for renewal of that resolution, which we are all very clear about,” he said.
Mr. Griffiths also underscored the need to ensure increased humanitarian support for Syria, where a staggering 90 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line after more than a decade of war.
Severe funding shortfall
A $5.4 billion plan for aid operations this year is only 12 per cent funded, he added, and the fallout could include the World Food Programme (WFP) being forced to cut rations by 40 per cent.
“The big story for me on Syria, among many, many other aspects of the tragedy of that conflict, is this absence of sufficient aid,” he said.
Mr. Griffiths also touched on the Black Sea Grain Initiative, part of landmark UN-brokered accords signed last July with Russia, Ukraine, and Türkiye.
Grain deal running out
The deal has facilitated the export of millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain and foodstuffs and aims to ensure the same for Russian food and fertilizer. It is due to expire mid-month and Moscow has repeatedly said it sees no reason to continue participating.
In a statement on Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated the importance of “full and continued implementation of the agreements”.
“The world has seen the value of the Black Sea initiative,” said Mr. Griffiths, responding to a journalist’s question. “So, this isn't something you chuck away.”
‘No hope’ in Sudan
Mr. Griffiths will travel to Ethiopia this weekend to participate in a meeting on Sudan, where fighting between rival military forces has displaced nearly three million people since mid-April.
“Sudan is a story that has not got any better in the last weeks at all,” he said, noting that access to the Darfur region “remains virtually nil”.
Although authorities in neighbouring Chad have been helpful in getting humanitarians into West Darfur, the security situation there remains extraordinarily dangerous, he said. Moving aid from Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast has also been challenging.
“Sudan is, from my perspective, a place of no hope at the moment and a place where there is only everything to do,” he said, referring to the need to mobilize funding and to ensure cross-border access from Egypt, Chad, and Ethiopia, as well as within the country.
Mr. Griffiths highlighted the critical role of civil society partners in delivering aid in Sudan, who “risk life and limb daily to help their local communities and their neighbourhoods”.
The humanitarian chief also addressed gender-based violence in the DRC, describing it as among the “terrible, terrible tragedies” in the country. He warned that there could be “an extraordinary” 125,000 cases this year if the current rate of incidence continues.
“We need to shine a light on this issue because it's not just the DRC,” he said. “The Secretary-General spoke about it in the context of Haiti. It's also in Sudan. But, the DRC for me epitomizes the appalling nature of man's inhumanity, mostly to women and girls.”
Climate change challenge
Turning to climate change, Mr. Griffiths pointed to the unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa following six consecutive failed rainy seasons. Humanitarian response also continues in the wake of the earthquakes in Syria and Türkiye in February, and historic flooding in Pakistan last year.
He said humanitarians have stepped up their engagement in relation to UN climate change conferences, known as COPs, the latest of which will be held in the United Arab Emirates this November.
“Our emphasis…going into COP will be to try to maximize the use of climate funds for frontline communities around the world which are directly impacted by climate. So, it's about adaptation and resilience,” he said.