Not bridging the gap: How America’s $320m Gaza pier promises more than it delivers

When Joe Biden announced plans to build a temporary pier off the coast of Gaza, he promised a “massive increase” of aid going into the sealed-off enclave that was witnessing a “heartbreaking” humanitarian disaster.

But just a week into the pier’s operation, the project is beset by problems, including injuries among its US personnel.

The structure has cost about $320m (€295m) and took 1,000 US service members to build before it went into operation a week ago.

The pier is not built to last and is expected to be decommissioned in three months or so.

Three US troops have suffered non-combat injuries at the pier, with one of them airlifted to an Israeli hospital in critical condition, US officials said last Thursday.

According to US vice-admiral Brad Cooper, the deputy commander of the US Central Command, two other servicemen suffered a minor back injury and a sprained ankle.

The injuries, although not critical, were the first among the US military during the operation off Gaza’s Mediterranean coast — as the US president had pledged that not a single US soldier would step ashore.

Aside from the setbacks, the pier itself struggles to deliver the little aid it receives. Aid agencies are not rushing to send supplies to Cyprus and the maritime link is not used anywhere near the capacity to make an impact.

​A source familiar with the pier project, who was not authorised to comment, told reporters: “Once that occurs, critical food, water and medicine can be delivered to Cyprus and then onwards to those in need.”

About 506 tonnes of aid has been handed to aid agencies in Gaza for distribution since the pier became operational, according to Daniel Diekhaus of the US Agency for International Development (Usaid). A third of that has yet to be distributed but it soon would be, he said.

The Biden administration marked the maritime corridor as a safe and crucial route for aid deliveries to war-torn Gaza, where catastrophic hunger was declared months earlier, and famine is looming.

Gaza needs at least 600 lorries a day to stave off the famine conditions that Usaid and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said had begun in the north of the enclave and risks spreading southwards.

Aid deliveries were further compromised earlier this month when Israel captured the Rafah border crossing with Egypt that had previously served as the main entry point for aid.

Israel said it was ready to resume deliveries through Rafah, but Egypt has refused to co-operate. It insists that the other side of the crossing must be under Palestinian control before it reopened.

In search of a possible solution, foreign security companies have been approached to run the crossing.

​Scaling up deliveries through the US-built pier, which can process just 150 lorries a day, remains a tall order.

The pier is also facing safety issues as Palestinians in Gaza grow increasingly desperate.

The UN had to suspend deliveries from the pier for two days as most of the truckloads had been intercepted and looted.

Eleven lorries were compromised — and only five loads, driven by UN contractors, made it to a WFP warehouse in the central Gazan city of Deir al-Balah on May 18.

Looting of aid is “not unique” to the deliveries via the pier and have occurred elsewhere, the source pointed out. “The best way to reduce this concern is to flood the zone with large quantities of food, water and essential medicines,” they said.

Shaza Moghraby, a WFP spokesman, said deliveries resumed on Thursday, with 27 loads safely arriving at the warehouse.

Ms Moghraby told reporters: “All commodities have been accounted for, to my knowledge, and no incidents were reported.”

Some critics argue the maritime route is helping to get the pressure off Israel to open land border crossings, something that aid organisations have been urging for months.

​Ziad Issa, the head of humanitarian policy at ActionAid UK, said: “The floating pier was never going to be a panacea for the problems with aid delivery in Gaza,” pointing to its capacity of 150 trucks a day falling far below the minimal need of 600 lorries.

“The best, quickest and most effective way to get aid into the territory is, and always has been, via the land crossings,” he said.

“We urgently need a ceasefire, for the Rafah crossing to reopen and for aid to be allowed unhindered into Gaza, where famine is looming and people are already dying from malnutrition and disease.”

Rafah remains closed and a backlog of aid trucks on the road between Egypt and Gaza stretches for about 45km near the town of Al Arish.

Goods that were supposed to be used to alleviate hunger in Gaza now sit on the lorries, rotting. Some expired goods have been sold at make-shift markets, Egyptian officials say.

Magnus Corfixen, from Oxfam, said the 20-30 lorries that have been rolling off the pier was just a “trickle coming in”, whereas goods from land crossings are ready to be delivered in much greater amounts.

“We have pre-positioned goods, more than 2,000 trucks at Al Arish — so it can be done and it can be done fast.”

Friday evening’s ruling of the International Court of Justice that ordered Israel to halt its offensive, puts the spotlight back on Israel, which was ordered by the court a few months earlier to ramp up aid deliveries.

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