Gaza's aid convoys are ready. Let them in

Sea corridors and air drops must be backed up by a humanitarian effort that can quickly and safely reach all parts of the devastated Palestinian enclave

Trucks carrying aid to Gaza cross from the border with Egypt on March 8. The limited amounts of supplies delivered so far are not enough to meet people's needs and NGOs have called for full road access to the enclave. EPA
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When confronted with a crisis on the scale of that afflicting Gaza, the diplomatic language of governments and aid agencies can fall short of what’s needed to truly articulate the blunt horror of what is unfolding. Dominic Allen, the UN Population Fund’s representative for the State of Palestine, bucked that trend on Friday, summing up the situation for reporters in three words: “Gaza is dust.”

Almost unbelievably, human beings are still trying to survive amid this ruin inflicted by Israel. As is often the case in war, it is the vulnerable and weakest who face the most danger from bombs, starvation and disease – Mr Allen said doctors in Gaza were reporting that they no longer see normal-sized babies. On Saturday, Noura Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of State, told the UN in New York that frameworks to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment “ring hollow in the face of the war on Gaza, which is killing Palestinian women and girls”. The UN has previously warned that a quarter of the population – more than half a million people – is one step away from famine.

Given this heinous man-made situation, any aid that reaches Gaza is better than none. On Friday, an aid ship used the Amalthea maritime corridor – established by the UAE, the US, the EU, Britain and Cyprus – to deliver 200 tonnes of food to Gaza. This was an important step in getting essential supplies to the war-torn enclave’s civilians, but when confronted by the vast human need on display it is a drop in the ocean.

The sea route’s effectiveness is compromised by the continuing Israeli military operation and a refusal to open all land entry points for aid to reach Gaza by lorry. The logistical difficulty of getting supplies in by sea was exemplified by the days-long journey from Cyprus. Now a second shipment has been delayed by bad weather – a delay that starving people should not be forced to endure.

The challenge of getting aid into Gaza is almost without compare; even during the 1992-1996 siege of Sarajevo, the UNHCR was able to airlift tonnes of goods in for malnourished civilians. In addition to the limitations of a laborious and complicated maritime relief effort, the arrival of aid is just the starting point. Unloading maritime aid is difficult because Gaza has no working port and a US plan to build a temporary pier is likely to take weeks.

Gaza is also in anarchy and distributing supplies effectively, safely and fairly is difficult. This is not to mention the fact that civilians have been shot by Israeli forces while trying to reach aid. In addition, the safety of aid and distribution workers is not assured, and many have already been killed in months of fighting. The gravity of this situation demands a much better overall response.

World Central Kitchen is an aid organisation that has been working closely with the UAE and local partners in Gaza. So far it has served more than 35 million meals, has opened 60 community kitchens, plans to open at least 10 more and has hired 400 Gazans. Its chief executive, Erin Gore, recently told The National: “I cannot sleep at night, knowing we are not trying. I believe the greatest failure is to do nothing at all.”

This is the right attitude to take, but humanitarians face significant obstacles – access to Gaza’s civilians being the main one as Israel obstructs all access. Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, last week said that the maritime shipments were no substitute for deliveries by lorry. If the important and difficult work being undertaken by air and sea is to save as many lives as possible, then it must be augmented by Israel allowing aid convoys to cross into Gaza by road. Without this, the search for the appropriate language to describe the tragedy of Gaza will go on.

Published: March 18, 2024, 3:00 AM