Chef Jose Andres calls for daily Gaza aid flights to tackle humanitarian crisis

Risk of famine in besieged enclave 'could be stopped tomorrow', Spanish-American philanthropist says

Philanthropist chef Jose Andres at the National Press Club. He took part in a Jordan-led aid flight to Gaza last month. Vanessa Jaklitsch for The National
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A maritime aid route must be established to deliver food to Gaza, aid flights should be increased and Israel should open new road crossings into the besieged territory, philanthropist chef Jose Andres said.

More than four months of Israeli bombardment has reduced much of the Palestinian territory to rubble and left more the more than two million people on the brink of famine, the UN's World Food Programme said.

Mr Andres founded the World Central Kitchen charity in 2010 to deliver food to disaster zones. It often sends meals long before governments are able to organise their own relief operations.

The Spanish-American chef, whose restaurant minibar by Jose Andres in Washington, DC, holds two Michelin stars, was among those who called for US President Joe Biden's administration to join a Jordan-led effort to drop food into Gaza. The US last week dropped 38,000 pre-made meals along the Gaza coastline.

Several other nations including the UAE, France, Bahrain and Egypt are to join the operations.

“I am very proud and I am very happy that the US is finally joining the initiative of King Abdullah [II of Jordan] and the other countries, and hopefully doing not only one massive air drop in the north but continuing ones,” Mr Andres said at an event at the National Press Club in Washington on Friday.

“It needs to happen every day, massive waves. People are hungry. This is already a humanitarian disaster. The least we can do is make sure everybody is fed and provided with food and water. That is the least we can do for the people of Palestine.”

The Gaza war started on October 7, when Hamas launched attacks on Israel. Israel's relentless military campaign has caused the deaths of more than 30,400 people.

Mr Andres said World Central Kitchen had provided about 34 million meals, with his charity delivering more than 60 per cent of all non-government food aid into the enclave.

He took part in an aid drop last month alongside King Abdullah. More food from the chef's organisation is being stored in Jordan in preparation for further aid flights.

Mr Andres, co-chairman of Mr Biden’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, said the humanitarian disaster in Gaza “could be stopped tomorrow” if Israel allowed the necessary steps to be taken.

“If Israel would open just two more spots immediately … we can get enough trucks from the south and from the north, and we could be covering all of Gaza quick and fast. Could that be happening tomorrow? Totally. Why is that not happening? Because of politics,” Mr Andres said, adding that the only person who can stop the war is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Biden’s strong support of Israel in its brutal response to the Hamas attacks has drawn broad condemnation from many of his own supporters, particularly the Arab-American community and progressives. The loss of their backing puts the President's hopes of re-election in November at risk.

The Biden administration is working behind the scenes to try to resolve the crisis, Mr Andres said.

“I do believe the Biden administration, behind the public message, is doing a lot of pushing to make sure a ceasefire is achieved,” he said.

Mr Andres also called for the establishment of a maritime aid corridor that would allow flotillas of food-laden ships packed and inspected in Cyprus to ferry supplies to Gaza.

The idea was first put forward by Cyprus in November but remains under discussion. Israel maintains a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Right now, it seems like almost impossible. But the air drops also seemed impossible not too long ago,” Mr Andres said.

On Saturday, a senior Biden administration official said the US was considering pushing for a route to deliver aid from the Mediterranean.

“We have been in touch with officials in Israel, in Cyprus, working with the UN, working with potential commercial entities, to see if we can set up a maritime route as well that would deliver assistance directly into Gaza by sea,” the official said.

Before sending food to Gaza, World Central Kitchen helped deliver aid in the immediate aftermath of disasters around the world, including the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Zambia, Cuba, Cambodia and Poland.

Mr Andres said speed was key to responding to disasters. Food is needed “not a month from today. Not a week from today. At this moment. The urgency of now is yesterday", he said.

World Central Kitchen has also supported those affected by the war in Ukraine, delivering more than 1.5 million meals a day. In total, a team of 5,000 people and more than 550 restaurants have prepared more than 260 million meals for Ukrainians.

Mr Andres said he took one of his daughters to the country with him as his charity responded to the war. “I do believe that by showing them the world we live in and helping make a better world is the way I will keep my daughters protected,” he said.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 5:39 AM