UN aid chief succession in focus amid exploding humanitarian crises

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has yet to name a permanent replacement for the global body's aid chief who departs for health reasons on Friday, drawing criticism at a time of record global needs.

Martin Griffiths, a British former diplomat who helped broker the Black Sea Grains deal between Ukraine and Russia and led a chorus of concern over the Gaza war, has said the plan is to appoint his deputy Joyce Msuya from Tanzania as acting chief.

However, some observers say not having named a permanent successor sends the wrong signal at a time when some donors are retrenching, with this year's $48.7 billion budget less than 20% funded.

"Someone acting temporarily is not a good thing," Jan Egeland, who held the post from 2003-2006 and is now secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Reuters.

"They don't have the same authority, perspective, the same weight at a time of deep crisis in humanitarian work – we haven't had so many people hungry, attacked, abused with so little hope before in living memory."

Other diplomats also voiced disappointment that there would be a delay in appointing a permanent replacement for Griffiths as Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

A U.N. spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under the unwritten rules of a U.N. system, the five countries holding permanent seats on the Security Council divide up key the roles. Britain gets aid; France gets peacekeeping; the United States gets political affairs; China gets economic affairs; and Russia gets a key U.N. post in Europe.

The past five aid chiefs after Egeland have all been British and traditionally, countries' nominations are not challenged by the other four permanent members, nor by other U.N. members.

Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the International Crisis Group, said the delay in appointing a successor indicated that Guterres, who has been interviewing candidates, was waiting for the result of the July 4 British election.

"It would obviously be preferable to have a more structured handover," he said, adding that if the post is open too long "it will give an impression of drift".

Britain's candidate is Minister of State Tariq Ahmad, diplomats said. Reuters could not confirm the others. The British mission in Geneva declined to comment citing pre-election restrictions.

With Griffiths' departure, concerns about the current system of appointments have re-emerged.

A letter to Guterres by the Geneva staff union urged him to make the process "transparent, inclusive and merit-based ... rather than solely basing it on a candidate's nationality".

The Emergency Relief Coordinator post helps 300 million people from Sudan to Ukraine.

It was created in 1991, decades after other U.N. positions, but has since grown into one of the most important as the body's work has shifted from ending and preventing conflicts to dealing with their impacts, such as record forced displacement.

In an interview with Reuters last month, Griffiths said he was worried about the future. "It has never been as bad as this," he said. "God knows we need a good person and I hope we will."

(This story has been refiled to add dropped word 'billion' in budget detail in paragraph 3)

(Additional reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Oslo and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Geneva and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Alison Williams)