A bit more for Gaza

The volume of supply trucks entering Gaza has increased since late March (see UN chart below). Volume remains below the 500-per-day pre-October 7 benchmark, but the improved pattern — especially if sustained — is helpful.

Distribution of food and other freight once discharged inside Gaza remains very constrained and entirely insufficient for a significant portion of the population. (Here and here and here and here and here.) [April 16 Update: Bloomberg provides a detailed map-based analysis of constraints in Rafah-proper.] This week the director of US AID confirmed in testimony to Congress that famine is stalking northern Gaza.

This morning NPR conducted a five-minute interview with Jamie McGoldrick, the just-departing UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, regarding food and related supply chains for hard-pressed residents of Gaza. What I hear Mr. McGoldrick saying is coherent with the most credible reports I have otherwise received.

Big Picture: Demand is desperate, supply is readily available, distribution is tightly constrained by physical impediments and deadly risk to distributors. This risk must be persuasively mitigated before available supply can fulfill the fundamental needs of more than 2 million hungry people.


April 14 Commentary:

The deaths of seven World Central Kitchen (WCK) staff in Gaza have had myriad consequences. Here is how the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained what happened:

The event occurred on April 1, 2024, during an operation to transfer humanitarian aid from the WCK to the Gaza Strip. The investigation found that the forces identified a gunman on one of the aid trucks, following which they identified an additional gunman. After the vehicles left the warehouse where the aid had been unloaded, one of the commanders mistakenly assumed that the gunmen were located inside the accompanying vehicles and that these were Hamas terrorists. The forces did not identify the vehicles in question as being associated with WCK. Following a misidentification by the forces, the forces targeted the three WCK vehicles based on the misclassification of the event and misidentification of the vehicles as having Hamas operatives inside them, with the resulting strike leading to the deaths of seven innocent humanitarian aid workers. The strikes on the three vehicles were carried out in serious violation of the commands and IDF Standard Operating Procedures.

Here is what World Central Kitchen says happened:

The WCK team was traveling in a deconflicted zone in two armored cars branded with the WCK logo and a soft skin vehicle. Despite coordinating movements with the IDF, the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route. “This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” said World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore.

The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has regularly reported on the deaths of others involved in delivering aid. Since October 7 at least 244 aid workers have been killed.

Since mid-November I have been peripherally involved — at a safe distance — in efforts to increase food-flows into Gaza. I gave initial priority to increasing throughput rates at Rafah. I was encouraged by the reopening of the Karem Shalom checkpoint. I then worked with others to increase the number of gateways, especially to fulfill the needs of survivors in Northern Gaza. Despite what sometimes seemed to be potential progress, throughput remained constrained and each newly promised gateway evaporated as if a desert mirage. By the end of 2023 we were trying to squeeze through a minimum of 200 trucks per day, but most days saw less than 100.

By late December I was increasingly focused on improving velocity — speed and direction — inside Gaza. Impediments ranged from structural to technical to kinetic to emotional. But in any case, poor velocity — sometimes near paralysis — further reduced the effective distribution of already insufficient volumes. Constraints on both volume and velocity needed to be (still need to be) loosened to feed increasingly desperate tens-of-thousands.

My first play to improve downstream distribution involved decentralization. In addition to the purpose-built relief nodes, I advocated for proliferating push points, including many more organized and spontaneous charitable operations, commercial sales, and even the black market. With more supply than could be responsibly distributed, I was explicitly pressing for “irresponsible” distribution. Some of my argument — more sanitized in writing than on Zooms and phone calls — can be reviewed at this January 21 post.

By late December I had reached a treacherous strategic judgment. Here is how I started to ease it into operational discussions:

In catastrophic contexts supply chains are almost always caught in a narrow place between what is prudent and what is imprudently possible (and failure may be probable). From this distance, I recognize the painful pinch in Gaza. I am not ready to second-guess decisions made by those whose lives are wedged in this tightly constricted time and space. But in any case, each day the deadly consequences sharpen and accumulate.

January saw no substantive improvement. February’s incoming volumes fell precipitously and distribution velocity decreased even further. Hunger accelerated toward famine. As the war entered its fifth month, the dogged determination of aid workers was, it increasingly seemed to me, diminished by despair. Again and again it was asserted that a sustained ceasefire was the minimum precondition for improved mass feeding. This was and is a prudent judgment. I continued to argue for imprudent possibilities.

On Thursday, February 29 as the IDF attempted to distribute food at Nabulsi, fear, chaos, and violence resulted in more than 100 dead and multiples wounded (more). In response to this horror, creativity and courage confronted both hunger and despair. World Central Kitchen was at the forefront of this new thinking and action. By mid-March, WCK was the first to use the Amalthea maritime channel. WCK arranged the construction of a practical jetty and delivered almost 200 tons of food into hardest-hit northern Gaza. A second even larger delivery was completed by sea on March 30. The seven who were killed on April 1 were pushing forward with plans for more. WCK has now paused operations. Development of the Amalthea maritime channel continues, but in the dark shadow of those who have died — some suddenly and too many slowly — despair has reclaimed much of its prior prominence.

Despair is a terrible adversary. Courageous creativity is needed now more than ever. Aristotelian prudence benefits from dialogue with Homer’s heroics and revelation of hubris… and Amalthea’s tender care.

Going forward in Gaza — and other catastrophes — the last four months have taught me to give much more attention to threat frequency, virulence, and intentionality.

Most of my prior experience has been in post-catastrophe contexts: the hurricane has moved on, the flood is draining, seismic aftershocks are diminishing. In responding to major disasters there are significant risks, especially in immediate response. But intentional violence is rare. Rather, in the aftermath of most disasters there is often an outbreak of intentional altruism and unusual collaboration. War time is different. Gaza has been different. I have failed to give sufficient weight to the amplified sense of risk when and where there is a pattern of intentional violence.

The frequency — recurrence — of any threat influences disaster response. Up to a point, more frequent encounters with a recognized threat can reinforce resilience — at least when a threat is perceived as random as with most natural hazards. Florida is more resilient to hurricanes than other places because of recurring experience. Gaza has been more resilient to food shortages due to many years of experience. But at a certain point too-many too-hard hits in too-short a period of time will exceed resilient capacities. Perceived — and actual — intentionality of recurrence accelerates this exceedance.

Virulence — severity and scope — of harm is also a threat amplifier. Three-quarters of Gazans have been displaced from their pre-October 7 homes. It is estimated that more than one million (of roughly 2.3 million) Gazans are experiencing “catastrophic levels of food insecurity.” More than 33,000 have been killed, many more have been wounded. Homes, workplaces, hospitals, water systems, roads, and power networks have been destroyed. That these are the outcomes of intentional violence amplifies the expectation and experience of harm.

Given this context, I ought not discount the courage required to survive each day. It is short-sighted and stupid to critique caution in risking innovative scalable answers. World Central Kitchen was taking this sort of risk. Seven of their staff paid the ultimate price for their creative commitment.

The last two weeks I have been engaged in reconnaissance of an active seismic area with catastrophic potential. When these faults explode the virulence of the event will, of course, inform the perceived risk of responding. The magnitude and frequency of aftershocks will, of course, shape the response and recovery strategy. If I am still alive for the aftermath, I will now be much more attentive to any aspects of intentionality that seem to be emerging. We need a response strategy that will lead with explicit, consistent, intentional care and as much courageous creativity as possible. Some of my peers who were in New Orleans post-Katrina have previously discussed these lessons-learned, but until now I did not fully hear them.

Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Laizawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, Damian Soból, Jacob Flinkinger, John Chapman, James “Jim” Henderson and James Kirby, I have heard you. Thank you for your courage, creativity, and profound instruction. Thank you for your lives of self-sacrificing service to the most vulnerable.


World Central Kitchen held an interfaith Celebration of Life to honor their colleagues who were killed in Gaza. The memorial service was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on Thursday, April 25.   Below is a video of the service.