Gazans need more than last-resort aid options

Air drops and maritime corridors are good, but they are no substitute for a ceasefire and proper humanitarian access

A man carries sacks of humanitarian aid in Rafah on Sunday. Humanitarian workers have said that getting aid into Gaza through its land borders is the most effective way to save lives. AFP
Powered by automated translation

Aid workers know that when it comes to getting life-saving food, medicine and shelter to people in need, the most important requirement is access. Reaching vulnerable people after a natural disaster or a major accident is one thing; reaching them during a war is quite another.

The recent US operation to drop food over parts of Gaza from military planes was illustrative. It not only undermined for Americans watching back home any claim that Israel’s forces are engaged in a precise counter-terrorism operation – such air drops are more characteristic of wartime and enforced siege – it also showed how restricted access to the ruined enclave is resulting in a haphazard and inadequate humanitarian intervention.

Of course, anything that staves off the starvation afflicting so many of Gaza’s targeted civilians ought to be welcomed, and the US aid drops were a sign that Washington is becoming less blind to Palestinians' plight. But the sight of payloads landing in the sea, Palestinians being drawn out into the open to reach the supplies and the absence of proper distribution networks – many Palestinian aid workers have been killed or displaced – all demand a better response from the international community and a change from the Israeli authorities.

One strategy that appears to be gaining diplomatic traction is that of establishing a maritime aid corridor to deliver aid by sea. The idea has merit. If executed properly, it could supplement the air drops and go some way to meeting the World Food Programme’s estimate that Gaza needs about 4,000 tonnes of food weekly. So far, the aid provided by air has been much less than the required amount.

Gaza was dependent on aid even before the war, but the situation has worsened. The Palestinian Red Crescent has said that from October 21 to the start of February, fewer than 100 lorries carrying aid reached Gaza through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings. This is a major reduction of the 500 or so aid lorries entering the territory before the war. The amount of food, water and medical supplies currently entering Gaza is insufficient to meet the needs of more than two million men, women and children trying to survive in a war zone.

Aid into a Gaza is a trickle of what is required and calls for a different approach. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday that the EU supports the implementation of a Cypriot plan for such maritime corridor and the US State Department this week said it wanted to help establish “a comprehensive aid strategy that includes air, land and sea routes to maximise the flow of humanitarian aid”.

But organising an operation like this is a mammoth undertaking. A large navy would be needed to deliver the continuous aid required. Given that the enclave's major port has been damaged, such a plan would also need to figure out how to get aid from the dock and into Gaza. Even then, prioritising the distribution of aid to those who need it most would be a major challenge given the anarchy currently reigning there. Finally, all of these strategies are compounded by the difficulty of delivering aid without a prolonged ceasefire, something that is currently opposed by the Israeli government.

In reality, unnecessarily complex and laborious aid efforts that require significant military resources are last-resort options, and not what Gaza needs. Humanitarian workers have made it clear that getting aid into the enclave through its land borders is the most effective way to save lives. If the US – a military superpower with vast resources – truly wants to deliver on its stated desire to get aid into Gaza, then it must put pressure on its ally to open the land crossings and call a ceasefire. Every day that passes is a day in which more Gazan civilians die – there is no more time to waste.

Published: March 07, 2024, 3:00 AM