Nabulsi Roundabout Turn?

Thursday’s calamity at Nabulsi continues to reverberate. There are many reports on different versions of what happened (for example, here and here and here). A March 1 report by the Wall Street Journal is most coherent with what I am hearing from other usually credible sources. (I was airborne at the time.) A Friday report in the Financial Times provides meaningful context (and independent confirmation) for details outlined by the WSJ reporters. Included in the FT’s context is an update on inbound freight (non-)flows to Gaza as shown below.

Since at least December there has been an increasingly urgent need to practically increase flows of food and other essentials irrespective of a ceasefire, even in the midst of active warfare (see here and here). Last week Israel Defense Forces began their own efforts in this regard. The food convoy at Nabulsi was the fourth such convoy organized and directly supported by the IDF. In response to this calamity the United States has now followed the lead of Jordon and France to undertake airdrops of essential supplies (here and here and here ). According to US Central Command, late Saturday afternoon (local time), “U.S. C-130s dropped over 38,000 meals along the coastline of Gaza allowing for civilian access to the critical aid” (more and more). As this suggests, airdrops are volume-deficient, but better than the current next-to-nothing. (There can be serious velocity issues too, see here.) Potential maritime deliveries could result in improved volumes and velocity — if upstream pipelines and downstream distribution are also effectively deployed. Lots of big ifs here.

The International Rescue Committee has emphasized, “Airdrops are not the solution to relieve this suffering, and distract time and effort from proven solutions to help at scale.” This is a fair and wise warning. Comments by John Kirby suggest the US government basically agrees. But since October, inbound flows to Gaza have been constrained by freight chokepoints at Rafah. The deadly dangers associated with last-mile distribution have further reduced these already insufficient flows. Several hundred-thousand hungry people have been forced to depend on a Waiting-for-Godot-ceasefire. As the IRC and others argue, a ceasefire would certainly enhance potential flows. But there is an urgent need to increase food flows ceasefire or not. Preexisting flow capacities and players are always fundamental to meaningful Supply Chain Resilience, but resilience also involves adaptation. Preexisting capacity will continue to be crucial, but modes and methods to deploy capacity need to change when capacity fails to flow.


A comment reported in the FT is worth highlighting, not so much for Gaza (now four months deep into this catastrophe) but for future catastrophes. Jamie McGoldrick, a United Nations official, told the FT, “There’s so much desperation . . . for people who can’t get food regularly… If they see regular trucks [arriving], they are not that desperate — and it’s worse in the north, where that desperation really comes to the fore.” This is fully consistent with observations and research on a wide range of disasters and catastrophes. Early and persistent flows — even if insufficient — provide an essential foundation for avoiding desperation, minimizing civil disturbances, and maximizing social collaboration in response to a crisis. As a long-time supply chain guy once told me in a much less desperate context, “movement is life, stasis is death, we’ve got to keep flow going.”