Aid worker deaths: What is World Central Kitchen and what is the charity doing in Gaza?

Jose Andres, a Spanish chef, and founder of World Central Kitchen
Jose Andres, a Spanish chef, and founder of World Central Kitchen Credit: AP

UK officials have demanded an immediate investigation, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed his military's "unintended" airstrike killed seven aid workers in Gaza.

British victims John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were part of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) security team.

The charity employing the victims at the time of their death, has since paused all work in the region due to safety concerns.

Here's a look at the charity's work and what the absence of the charity means for civilians in the Gaza.

What is World Central Kitchen and what do they do?

Founded in 2010 by celebrity chef José Andrés, 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 US border, as well as to hospital staff who worked 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 working in Haiti, with Ukrainians displaced by Russia's invasion, as well as providing meals to people affected by the war in Gaza.

US first lady Jill Biden (left) and Spain's Queen Letizia speak with Spanish chef and World Central Kitchen Jose Andres in 2022. Credit: AP

What was the charity doing in Gaza?

Teams from the charity have been working across the region since the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and throughout the subsequent grown invasion by Israel.

It has fed Israelis displaced by the attack as well as former hostages, according to its website, and people in Lebanon displaced by fighting with Israel.

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

World Central Kitchen has set up two main kitchens, in the southern city of Rafah and the central town of Deir al-Balah, which was the location of Monday's attack.

The charity said 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.

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 most acute.

The charity has now paused all operations in the region, while the UN World Food Programme paused its aid deliveries in February until conditions would "allow for safe distributions".

Who were the victims?

Seven aid workers, including three Britons, who were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza will be remembered as “heroes”, the charity’s chief executive has said.

British victims John Chapman, 57, James “Jim” Henderson, 33, and James Kirby, 47, were part of the World Central Kitchen (WCK) security team.

They died alongside American-Canadian dual citizen Jacob Flickinger, 33, Australian national Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, who was the leader of the relief team, Polish national Damian Sobol, 35, and Palestinian Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, 25.

The charity’s chief executive Erin Gore said: “These are the heroes of World Central Kitchen.

“These seven beautiful souls were killed by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) in a strike as they were returning from a full day’s mission.

“Their smiles, laughter, and voices are forever embedded in our memories. And we have countless memories of them giving their best selves to the world. We are reeling from our loss. The world’s loss.”

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

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

The latest of two batches of aid confirmed as having left Cyprus on ships in the last couple of weeks will now return without having delivered the 240 tonnes of supplies as initially intended.

Roughly 100 tonnes have already been offloaded, the spokesperson said.

Other aid organizations are still on the ground providing assistance to Palestinians, including the UN.

But aid groups say supplies are not coming in quickly enough and once they have entered Gaza, delivery is hindered by logistical problems as well as the constant fighting.

The UN is warning the food shortage in Gaza is critical. Credit: AP

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, but the president of Cyprus said Tuesday that more aid could be shipped to Gaza from Cyprus “before the end of the month,” as the US completes construction of a floating pier off the Palestinian territory’s coastline.

President Nikos Christodoulides said the Cyprus-Gaza aid shipments “will continue as humanitarian needs are there”.

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