Deadly Network Friction

According to an update from COGAT, the Israel Defense Forces unit coordinating access to Gaza, 227 humanitarian aid trucks were inspected and transferred to the Gaza Strip on January 15. “This is the highest number of aid trucks being transferred to Gaza in one day since the start of the war. 111 trucks were inspected at Nitzan crossing and transferred to the Gaza strip via the Rafah crossing. 116 trucks were inspected and transferred via Kerem Shalom.” According to the the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “On 18 and 19 January, 288 truckloads with food, medicine and other supplies entered the Gaza Strip through Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.”

Last week there was more volume discharged into Gaza than most weeks since November’s temporary cease-fire (here). This is, however, less than half the freight volume that Gazans consumed prior to October 7. Below is a chart by a United Nations agency that reports a similar pattern but with different — reduced — numbers. The number of truckloads discharged into Gaza is often inconsistent between reporting agencies and even by the same reporting agency. What is counted, how it is counted, and when it is counted is not well-calibrated. After 100-days plus of war, private stocks and commercial flows are now much reduced. How much is impossible to carefully measure. Eighty percent or more is a reasonable guess.

Early Sunday morning, January 21, the Financial Times reports: “Gaza’s population has become almost completely reliant on external aid brought in via the only two entry points — Rafah on the border with Egypt and Kerem Shalom on the Israeli border. The enclave’s commercial farms have been damaged in the war and are largely out of commission. The aid, which includes flour, oil, rice, legumes and canned foods, is mainly delivered to UN warehouses for distribution to shelters and elsewhere, and people have to queue, sometimes for hours, to get food.” (More and more and more.) Here’s my from-a-distance angle on food-related supply chain implications:

Upstream Capacity of Food Flows (Gaza inbound potential): There is significant preexisting capacity from Port Said (Egypt), about 107 miles west of Rafah (more and more and more). Recently as many as 500 aid trucks were waiting at Port Said. Another 3000 have been reported at al-Arish, less than thirty miles west of Rafah. The trucks at al-Arish have mostly arrived from Port Said or farther west. (According to LogCluster al-Arish currently has ship off-loading capacity for only 25 to 30 truckloads per day.) Efforts are underway to open a “Jordanian Corridor” for trucks from Amman (less than 100 miles to Gaza) or Aqaba (about 130 miles to Gaza). Pilot deliveries have taken place. Scaling up has been delayed for reasons not clear to me. Despite recent transportation improvements in the Taba-Arish corridor (160 miles one way), I have not been able to find any effort to surge maritime-to-rail intermodal flows (and such surge may not be needed given current flow congestion closer to Gaza). Egyptian regulatory and related impediments are non-trivial, but workable. There is the prospect of an additional crossing into Gaza being opened near Ashdod, Israel (more) to facilitate the resupply of flour through Ashdod’s seaport (about 30 miles north of Gaza). In any case, there is already plenty of food ready to be delivered into Gaza. Upstream capacity is not a serious constraint to feeding Gazans.

Midstream Capacity of Food Flows (Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings): Daily food for more than 2.2 million people currently moves through two “gateways” at Kerem Shalom and Nitzan, where goods carried on 100 to 200-plus trucks per day are inspected before being discharged into Gaza through Rafah. The inspection protocols are rigorous and time-consuming. Here is a summary per LogCluster for truckloads arriving at Kerem Shalom: “Goods arrive from Egypt on Egyptian trucks at the Kerem Shalom checkpoint. These trucks then enter into large walled compounds/rooms where they are offloaded. Once the goods have been offloaded, they are scanned by COGAT using different means. At this point, the goods are inside Israel. Egyptian trucks then return to Egypt. After scanning is complete, the goods are moved from the scanning rooms in Israel into Palestine using sterilized trucks. Once the goods cross to the yards on the Palestine side, they are offloaded again, and the sterilized trucks go back to the scanning rooms to pick up more cargo. Goods from the yards (which are about 2.2 km from the Rafah Transshipment Point) are then brought to the Rafah Transshipment Point using another set of trucks. The goods are offloaded at the Rafah Transshipment Point then loaded onto trucks that will move cargo to various destinations in the Gaza Strip.” Just to restate — with emphasis — while there are two gateways, there is only one truck entrance into Gaza at the Rafah Transshipment Point. Expanded cross-docking facilities at Kerem Shalom are being developed. Additional warehouse space at both Rafah and Kerem Shalom are needed. The current number of cargo “touches” will never facilitate major improvement in velocity, much less result in continuous flow. There have even been situations where Gaza-side recipients request the cessation of inbound freight, mostly at Kerem Shalom, because of the need to decongest received goods at the warehouses. Midstream capacity is seriously rate-limiting for volume and, especially, velocity.

Downstream Capacity of Food Flows (“last mile” inside Gaza): A constantly displaced population and ongoing, intense military operations seriously disrupt, delay, and complicate both pull and push inside Gaza (here and here and here). The government of Israel has asserted that sufficient food is entering Gaza, but not being effectively distributed. Six hour “operational pauses” to allow for transport of food, medical goods, and other aid into specific neighborhoods are announced by the Israel Defense Forces. But deliveries to roughly 300,000 Gazans who still reside in the middle and northern Gaza Strip often fail (many because the IDF disapproves movement requests due to safety concerns). The situation for nearly 2 million in Southern Gaza is not much better. In most neighborhoods designated for an operational pause both delivery routes and receiving facilities are anemic or absent . Since January 12 telecommunications blackouts have seriously complicated tactical coordination. Since October 7 more than 150 United Nations staff involved in relief operations have been killed by military operations in Gaza. There is reluctance to deploy into danger when left logistically deaf and blind. Staged delivery vehicles have been intercepted and emptied by the hungry people in the staging area. There is profound need, but almost no meaningful way of sending pull signals, except by showing up where food might be available. Nothing like a contemporary demand and supply network has survived. Where downstream capacity to deliver relief has survived, it is fragile, fractured, and entirely insufficient.

According to a 2022 United Nations report, roughly 80 percent of Gaza residents depended on humanitarian food assistance before the last three months of hostilities. Despite extensive international relief operations, over sixty percent of Gaza residents were already food insecure before the blockade was further tightened and bombing began. Given these conditions, supply chains serving Gaza have long been much more push-oriented than pull-oriented. The World Food Program estimates that only about one-third of food sector capacity was market-oriented before October 7.

Losing almost all of that preexisting one-third volume has been very difficult. Losing market-oriented velocity and adaptability has been even worse.

On January 18, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Ted Chaiban said: “Once aid enters the Gaza Strip, our ability to distribute it becomes a matter of life and death. It is essential to lift access restrictions, ensure reliable ground communications, and facilitate the movement of humanitarian supplies to ensure that those who have been without assistance for several days receive much-needed assistance. We have to get commercial traffic flowing in Gaza, so that markets can reopen, and families are less dependent on relief.”

Large-scale, long-term relief operations, such as those operating in Gaza since 2007, tend to be organized around static places and rather stable population requirements. Gaza and Gazans now exemplify the opposite of static or stable. Given current — and anticipated — volume and volatility of demand there is the need for much more systemic flexibility, experimentation, and widely distributed voluntary risk-taking such as more market-oriented behaviors can contribute.


January 28 Update: The recent running average of truckloads received into Gaza is about 168 per day. Once these truckloads enter, they are usually warehoused before being redistributed. According to January 22 meeting minutes, , “The Logistics Cluster conducted a transport assessment in January 2024. Results show that 230 trucks are currently operational in the Gaza Strip. 43 trucks belong to the major transport companies, while others are owned by small companies or individuals. Access to fuel was not reported as an issue currently, as all are able to access it through UNRWA or commercially.” The so-called “Jordanian Corridor” for deliveries into Gaza is getting closer to operational. Two routes have been piloted and are currently anticipated to soon begin recurring operations: 1) Amman – Aqaba – Nuweibaa – Arish – Rafah or Kerem Shalom. WFP and the Logistics Cluster support the coordination, however, partners must provide their own trucks and must be registered in Egypt, following the standard procedures that are used to bring cargos from Arish to Gaza. 2) King Hussein Bridge/Allenby – Nitzana – Kerem Shalom. Organised by WFP and the Logistics Cluster, two convoys are scheduled per week, consisting of 24 trucks each. The Logistics Cluster is advocating to increase the frequency and number of trucks per convoy. WFP has published some detail on its operations in al-Arish to Rafah (more and more and more and more). Minutes of January 25 LogCluster meeting provides more detail on the Jordanian Corridor. A detailed summary of Standard Operating Procedures provides further insight on how potential flow is fractured and slowed.

January 31 Update: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) is the principal source of last-mile food deliveries in Gaza. UNRWA personnel and operations in Gaza constitute the principal “preexisting capacity” to feed Gazans before and since October 7. Twelve UNRWA personnel have been credibly accused of participating in the October 7 attack on Israel (here and here and here). According to this morning’s Financial Times, “So far, 15 countries, led by the US, have pulled funding, leaving a $444mn hole in UNRWA’s finances, out of an approximately $1.2bn budget.” (More and more.) Over the last week these issues have added considerable friction to an already wrecked network and threaten an imminent collapse of remaining downstream capacity. Early today the Times of Israel quoted a “senior Israeli official” as saying, “If UNRWA ceases operating on the ground, this could cause a humanitarian catastrophe that would force Israel to halt its fighting against Hamas… This would not be in Israel’s interest and it would not be in the interest of Israel’s allies either.” (More and more and more.) The LogCluster overview for January is available here.

February 5 Update: According to COGAT: “271 trucks carrying humanitarian aid were inspected and transferred to the Gaza Strip yesterday (Feb.4). This marks the highest number of humanitarian aid trucks inspected and transferred in one day since the start of the war. 112 humanitarian aid trucks were inspected at the Nitzana crossing and transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing, and 159 humanitarian aid trucks were inspected and transferred via Kerem Shalom. 180 trucks carried food.”

February 10 Update: Kerem Shalom and Nitzana crossings are closed on Saturdays. On February 9, NBC news reported on the situation in Rafah, “Any attempt to evacuate from the overcrowded city would be neither feasible nor safe, said Andrea De Domenico, who heads the U.N. humanitarian agency responsible for the Palestinian territories. “People are everywhere. This congestion not only makes it difficult for people to move but also hampers any potential evacuation efforts, and humanitarian operations,” she said in a statement from Gaza. Satellite imagery shows the sprawling growth of makeshift shelters and tents that have transformed the enclave’s southernmost city over the past two months.” (More and more and more and more.)


The map below reflects conditions prior to October 7. The Gaza Strip is about 25 miles in SW to NE length and roughly 3.5 to 7.5 miles wide.