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What is World Central Kitchen and how is it helping people in Gaza?

The food charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, announced it is immediately pausing its work in the Gaza Strip after an apparent Israeli strike killed seven of its workers, mostly foreigners

Tia Goldenberg,Katie Hawkinson
Tuesday 02 April 2024 19:21
World Central Kitchen aid worker in Gaza speaks to The Independent’s Bel Trew weeks before airstrike

World Central Kitchen, the food charity founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, called a halt to its work in the Gaza Strip after an apparent Israeli strike killed seven of its workers, mostly foreigners.

The group, which said it will make decisions about longer-term plans in the region soon, has been bringing desperately-needed food to Gazans facing widespread hunger and pioneered the recently launched effort to deliver aid by sea to Gaza. Its absence, even if temporary, is likely to deepen the war-torn territory's misery as the United Nations warns that famine is imminent.

Here's a look at the charity's work in Gaza and what its absence could mean:

Why is charity halting work in Gaza?

The organisation announced that seven aid workers were killed in an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) airstrike on Tuesday.

The IDF launched the airstrike despite the organisation coordinating their movements with the military, World Central Kitchen said in a statement.

“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,” World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore said. “This is unforgivable.”

An Israeli air strike killed seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza (EPA)

Meanwhile, the IDF told World Central Kitchen that it is “carrying out an in-depth examination at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

The seven killed are from Australia, Poland, the United Kingdom, and Palestine. One aid worker was also a dual citizen of the US and Canada. Two names have been released so far: Australian Zomi Frankcom, 43, and Polish citizen Damian Sobol, 35.

What is World Central Kitchen?

Founded in 2010, World Central Kitchen delivers freshly prepared meals to people in need following natural disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes, or to those enduring conflict. The group has also provided meals to migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border, as well as to hospital staff who worked relentlessly during the coronavirus pandemic.

The aid group sends in teams who can cook meals that appeal to the local palate on a large scale and fast.

“When you talk about food and water, people don’t want a solution one week from now, one month from now. The solution has to be now,” Andrés is quoted as saying on the group's website.

World Central Kitchen has worked in dozens of affected areas and currently has teams in Haiti, addressing the needs of Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion, as well as providing meals to people affected by the war in Gaza.

What has it done during the war in Gaza?

Teams from the charity have fanned out across the region since Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7 and throughout the war that it sparked. It has fed Israelis displaced by the attack as well as former hostages, according to its website, and to people in Lebanon displaced by fighting with Israel. But its work in Gaza has been the most demanding.

In Gaza, the group says it has provided more than 43 million meals to Palestinians.

The group has set up two main kitchens in the southern city of Rafah and the central town of Deir al-Balah. It lends support to 68 community kitchens throughout the territory, serving more than 170,000 hot meals a day. The group ramped up its work during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims traditionally fast from sunrise to sundown and then eat a lavish meal, distributing 92,000 food boxes or about 4.7 million meals.

An aid worker pictured on 13 March 2024 loads aid for transport to Gaza. World Central Kitchen provided thousands of meals per day to Palestinians. (AP)

The group has also provided meals through airdrops and has led two shipments by sea carrying hundreds of tons of food for northern Gaza, where the food emergency is at its most acute.

In an interview with The Associated Press last month, Andrés credited the charity's sea deliveries with prompting the U.S. to declare that it would build a floating pier for aid delivered to Gaza by sea.

"I think this has been our achievement,” he said.

What will the charity’s absence mean for people in Gaza?

With World Central Kitchen immediately suspending its work, tens of thousands of meals a day won’t be handed out.

Other aid organisations are still on the ground providing assistance to Palestinians, including the U.N. But aid groups say supplies are not coming in quickly enough and once they have entered Gaza, delivery is hobbled by logistical problems as well as the constant fighting. Israel denies there is a food shortage in Gaza and blames the UN and other aid groups for failing to scale up deliveries inside the territory.

World Central Kitchen was at the vanguard of the two sea shipments that have arrived in Gaza so far. It was not clear in what capacity the sea corridor would continue without the group and the US’ planned floating pier will take time to get off the ground.

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