Food, water, but no fuel: What hurdles lie ahead for distributing aid through Gaza?

Palestinians carry belongings as they leave al-Ahli hospital, the unintended target of a missile attack. Credit: AP

Another 34 aid trucks entered Gaza this weekend, which has been devastated by air strikes and blockades on food, water and medical supplies.

They arrived via the Rafah crossing, on Gaza's border with Egypt, after humanitarian organisations pleaded with countries to help aid get to the population of two million in crisis.

"The people of Gaza need food, water, medicine and shelter," US President Joe Biden said.

The region has been at breaking point for days following its deadliest conflict yet with Israel.

Over 4,600 Palestinians and more than 1,400 Israelis have died, according to their respective officials, following an attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas on an Israeli music festival where hundreds of civilians were executed.

British nationals have been able to escape through the Rafah crossing, connecting Gaza and Egypt. Credit: ITV News

Israel's return of rocket fire has plunged Gaza into devastation, while the Israeli government blocked off food, water, and fuel to its civilians. Hospitals have been without electricity.

Aid making its way in should be welcome news. But the process from here is not straightforward.

Are the aid convoys enough for all of Gaza?

Simply put, no. But world leaders are aware of this.

Biden said that there were "150 or something" trucks available near the crossing - the first 20, sent on Friday, were a "first tranche".

Whether the rest are allowed to cross depends on "how it goes," he told reporters on Wednesday.

A humanitarian aid convoy for the Gaza Strip is parked in Arish, Egypt. Credit: AP

But United Nations (UN) officials have warned this is nowhere near enough for 2.3 million people in need of food, water, fuel, and shelter from a barrage of rockets.

To put it into perspective, the UN normally send 100 trucks of aid a day into Gaza, the organisation's aid chief, Martin Griffiths, told the UN security council on Wednesday.

This was before the Hamas attack in Israel that prompted an onslaught of missile strikes and blockades.

Melanie Ward, Chief Executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians, told ITV News: "The announcement... does not even scratch the surface of their needs.

"A quarter of all homes in Gaza have been damaged, and a million people displaced. Hospitals are collapsing, lacking even basic supplies like painkillers and bandages.

"Disease outbreaks are inevitable in overflowing and unsanitary shelters. People are drinking sea water to try to stay alive."

Supplies have gone in under supervision of the UN and be distributed through its shelters, though whether there is any plan to triage the aid to make sure those who need it most get it first remains unclear.

Masses of aid has been stockpiled at the border since the conflict started - the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday they have 60 tons of aid on stand by, while the UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said over 100 trucks are filled with 1000 tons in Egypt.

Organisations are desperately calling for far more water to be sent through the crossing.

"Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life," said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN agency for Palestinians.

Gaza normally gets its water supplies from a combination of sources, including a pipeline from Israel, desalination plants on the Mediterranean Sea and wells, but those supplies were slashed when Israel cut off water.

Griffiths told the security council: "Due to the scarcity of water, UNRWA in some locations… is being forced to ration down to providing one litre of water per person per day.

"Bear in mind that the minimum by international standards should be 15 litres, and they’re getting one – and they’re the lucky ones."

How long would it take to reach everyone?

Gaza is only a 41-kilometre stretch of land - roughly the length of a marathon.

Bombardments in the north have prompted the Israeli government to ask civilians to evacuate to the south, where many Gazans have tried to shelter from the rockets.

It is one of the most densely-populated places on earth, and evacuation guidance could make it increasingly difficult for aid to reach people and hospitals in the north, furthest away from the crossing located in the south.

As the number of civilians in the south only continues to swell, there are concerns that the aid will run out before it can get far at all.

Alongside the region's mammoth population is also the concern of travelling through Gaza. Some of its major roads are blocked due to debris from collapsed buildings and destroyed cars.

The cratered roads and rubble have already hindered rescue work for those in search of survivors or attempting to retrieve bodies.

The area is still being struck by Israeli missiles, which puts the safety of aid workers at risk and could impact distribution.

"Damaged infrastructure (is) severely impeding both food production and distribution networks (in Gaza)," the World Food Programme said.

Egypt has said the crossing itself has been damaged by Israeli air raids - the country's foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, told Al-Arabiya TV that foreigners and dual nationals will only be allowed through when it has been repaired.

What about fuel?

One of the main problems Gaza currently faces is the blockade on fuel. It's what the region uses to power emergency generators, including in hospitals.

The blockade forced the shutdown of Gaza City's main power station, causing catastrophic long-term impacts for doctors attempting to save lives.

The aid agreement has come about after talks between the US and Israel on Wednesday. Credit: AP

Fuel is "absolutely critical" for the desalination plant and water pumping stations, according to UNRWA.

But the trucks sent in so far have not included fuel - as it stands, Israel only agreed to allow food, water, and medical supplies through.

This could prove debilitating for civilians, who need fuel to distribute aid through vehicles, for generators in hospitals, as well as for sanitation pumps and sewage plants.

Ms Ward added: "It is appalling... (it makes) the distribution of aid to the people who need it across Gaza impossible.

"Without electricity, the lights will go out in hospitals, desalination and sewage plants will not function, and many more people will die."

Access to the sanitation pumps, which need power, can also lead to the spread of infections like cholera and dysentery. In fact, diarrheal diseases that can be spread by unclean water are the leading cause of death for children under five across the world.

Gaza is facing a water crisis too. Credit: AP

It might be that the Israeli military or the US are concerned that by providing fuel, it would end up in the hands of Hamas militants - and used to their advantage.

Could aid fall into the wrong hands?

There is the possibility that all of the aid will not reach civilians.

"If Hamas confiscates it or doesn't let it get through or just confiscates it, then it's going to end because we're not going to be sending any humanitarian aid to Hamas if they're going to be confiscating it, Biden said.

"That's the commitment that I've made."

If Hamas militants - who govern the region - intercept supplies, this leaves civilians vulnerable.

There is also the risk of the aid ending up in the hands of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a proscribed terrorist group, who Israel claimed were at fault for a misfired rocket that killed over 470 people at a Gazan hospital.

The Jihad group denied their involvement in the explosion, saying the accusation was "baseless".

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