HomeWorld NewsDropping aid from planes is expensive and inefficient. Why do it?

Dropping aid from planes is expensive and inefficient. Why do it?


The United States on Saturday became at least the fifth country to drop aid to Gaza since the start of the war in October.

Between 3 and 5 p.m. local time, U.S. Central Command said, Air Force C-130s, working with the Royal Jordanian Air Force, dropped containers packed with more than 38,000 halal meals onto the besieged enclave. The containers, equipped with parachutes, were dropped over the enclave’s Mediterranean coastline to allow “civilian access to the critical aid,” Central Command said.

As Gaza grows desperate, donors drop aid from the sky

Aid professionals say dropping aid from planes is an expensive, inefficient way to deliver aid to a population, and that the missions now being flown are insufficient to meet the needs of the more than 2 million people trapped inside Gaza.

How dire are conditions in Gaza?

Over the past week, when people in the enclave have spotted parachutes swaying in the skies above them, they have run to meet them. Since Sunday, Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France have dropped tons of prepared meals, diapers and other essential supplies.

After nearly five months of war, Gazans have resorted to eating grain ordinarily used to feed livestock or plants they scavenge. Famine, U.N. officials warned on Monday, is “almost inevitable.” Twenty-four of the enclave’s 36 hospitals have been destroyed by Israeli bombardment, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday; those that remain are functioning only partially. The Israeli military campaign against Hamas has killed more than 30,000 people in Gaza, the health ministry there says.

On March 2, hundreds of people scrambled to retrieve bags of flour from an aid truck in Gaza. (Video: Reuters)

Hamas and allied fighters who streamed out of Gaza early on Oct. 7 killed around 1,200 people in Israel and took 253 more as hostages, Israeli officials say, triggering the current conflict. But the densely populated, impoverished territory relied on aid long before then. It’s been under strict blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas seized power in 2007.

After the Hamas attack, Israel tightened the blockade. Eventually, aid was allowed to trickle in, but it has amounted to a fraction of the number of trucks that entered before the war.

Jordan was the first to try airdrops. On Nov. 6, Jordanian forces delivered medical and emergency supplies to a Jordanian field hospital, the first of several such missions.

Over the past week, the country was joined by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and France in a new effort to drop aid directly to civilians. In the most recent indication of the Biden administration’s growing frustration with the civilian toll of the Israeli military campaign, President Biden on Friday announced authorization for U.S. airdrops to Gaza.

Jordanian troops on Thursday loaded tightly wrapped crates containing prepared meals, medicine, diapers and feminine hygiene products onto C-130 Hercules cargo planes at the King Abdullah II Air Base outside Amman. With Washington Post journalists on board, the planes took off, flew west over Tel Aviv to the Mediterranean Sea and swiveled south toward Gaza.

Jordan coordinates the airdrops with Israel. Israel gives Jordan a window during which the missions may be flown safely and vets people aboard the planes, including visitors, before granting permission.

The drops on hospitals are coordinated with contacts on the ground, who know to expect the large, GPS-guided parcels containing medical equipment, medicine and food. A C-130 can hold four such bundles.

The airdrops to civilians arrive unannounced. The boxes are packed smaller to reach more civilians; a C-130 can hold 16. On the Jordanian mission this week, they were dropped from 10,000 feet at a rate of one every 30-60 seconds. They’re dropped along the coast, where sight lines unimpeded by buildings mean civilians are more likely to spot them.

When aid has landed in the sea, Gazans have launched skiffs to recover it.

What’s wrong with airdrops?

Airdrops are exorbitantly expensive. The Jordanian military declined to give details on cost, but Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the principal U.N. agency for Palestinian affairs, described them as “a last-resort, extraordinarily expensive way of providing assistance.”

Airdrops can make logistical sense in some cases — to meet the urgent needs of hospitals, for example — but aid professionals say they should not be the main avenue to feed Gaza’s more than 2 million people.

“I don’t think that the airdropping of food in the Gaza Strip should be the answer today,” Lazzarini said. “The real answer is: open the crossings and bring convoys and medical assistance into the Gaza Strip.”

Janti Soeripto, the head of Save the Children, called the Gaza airdrops “theater,” and warned that they fueled chaos on the ground.

“You can’t really guarantee who gets it and who doesn’t,” she told The Post. “You can’t really guarantee where it ends up. You might put people at risk.” She described children wading into the sea to try to retrieve the heavy parcels.

It’s difficult to track where airdropped aid ends up. Soeripto said some morphine intended for hospitals were found elsewhere.

“The best answer is open up more crossings, allow trucks in, do it in an orderly fashion, let the U.N. and other agencies do the distribution,” she said. “That is the safest and most effective way to do it.”

Why has the United States joined the effort?

The need for the safe delivery of more aid was made excruciatingly clear on Thursday, when Gaza suffered one of the deadliest episodes of the war: More than 100 people were killed when a crowd descended on an aid truck convoy.

Palestinian officials and witnesses blamed gunfire from Israeli forces providing security for the convoy. Israeli officials said they fired above the crowd after people moved toward soldiers “in a threatening manner”; they blamed a stampede.

Desperation and death surround an aid delivery in northern Gaza

U.N. officials transporting medicine and fuel to al-Shifa hospital on Friday reported seeing “a large number of gunshot wounds” among the injured, according to Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary General António Guterres.

The disaster drew sharp condemnation, including from Israeli allies. Britain, France, Italy and Germany called for an investigation. Biden said it would hinder ongoing negotiations over a pause in fighting.

Biden authorized U.S. military airdrops onto Gaza the next day. Washington, he said, is also “going to insist that Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need.”

“No excuses, because the truth is aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” he said. “I won’t stand by, we won’t let up and we’re trying to pull out every stop we can to get more assistance in.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday the airdrops were intended to “supplement delivery on the ground,” not replace it.

“You can’t replicate the size and scale and scope of a convoy of 20 or 30 trucks,” he said. The administration, he said, was also considering sending aid on ships. That would require permission from Israel, which controls Gaza’s maritime border.





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