Aid Struggles to Reach Gaza; Do Your Donations Still Help?

A man stands among destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip

When crises strike, humanitarian workers from all kinds of organizations and agencies are steadfast in doing the important, life-saving work they have dedicated their lives to.

But in areas of the world that are under strict, oppressive regimes, getting life-saving aid to people who need it most becomes more of a logistical nightmare than an urgent solution.

Recently, these challenges have been documented in areas like Sudan and Gaza, where oppositional forces make it nearly impossible for aid organizations to enter with much-needed supplies.

Over two months since October 7 — Palestinian civilians across the Gaza Strip continue to be bombarded with violence. And even when the shellings come to a pause, people are still left grappling with displacement, starvation, and disease

At least 60% of housing units in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed, more than 80% of the 2.3 million population has been displaced, and food is running out

While global citizens, NGOs, and the majority of United Nations member states advocate for a ceasefire, the Israeli government continues to limit aid entering the area. 

There was a brief “humanitarian pause” in mid-November, and Israeli leaders say they are considering another

The Rafah border between southern Gaza and Egypt has been allowing aid into the area for weeks. However, workers on the ground note that the bottleneck has contributed to a significant backlog of vehicles waiting to enter Gaza

Israel has also recently opened the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza for a limited amount of aid to enter the territory. But humanitarian workers insist that the need may not be satisfied with the limited scope of work they are allowed to do — especially as airstrikes persist.

“The delivery of humanitarian aid in the [Gaza] Strip continues to face nearly insurmountable challenges,” Tor Wennesland, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process said in a recent UN Security Council meeting.

“Amid displacement at an unimaginable scale and active hostilities, the humanitarian response system is on the brink. Limited steps by Israel ... are positive, but fall far short of what is needed to address the human catastrophe on the ground.”

But humanitarian organizations persist — desperate to help innocent Palestinians get the help they need.

Similarly, everyday people are desperate to find ways to help — from posting on social media, to donating their extra funds to relief organizations.

But calls for donations seem to fall flat when the global audience sees little progress in humanitarian aid. It begs the question:

Does donating to humanitarian organizations really help when it seems impossible to get aid to the people who need it most?

How Donating Money To NGOs Helps People in Gaza — Even if Aid Delivery Is Stymied

Mary Stata, the chief development officer of humanitarian NGO Mercy Corps, is deeply aware of the concerns donors have when it comes to funding humanitarian operations.

She leads the organization’s global fundraising efforts, across the board with individual donors, foundations, and companies. All of these funds help a team of about 6,000 humanitarians respond to emerging and ongoing crises across 40 countries. 

Although the violence in Palestine is like nothing many humanitarian organizations have seen before, Stata knows the impact of donations in dire moments like these. 

She spoke with Good Good Good to help explain why donations still matter — and how other actions can make them even more impactful.

You can help humanitarian workers who are already there.

Stata said that Mercy Corps has been working in the West Bank and Gaza since 1986, providing humanitarian assistance in the form of access to water, financial assistance, and connecting people to economic opportunities.

The organization also works with children and young people in Palestine.

“We already had a team of 69 on the ground in Gaza when the crisis broke out. Our priority was to ensure our team’s safety and mobilize funds to support the Gazan community by connecting with our donors and partners,” Stata said. 

“The vast majority of humanitarian organizations that were working in Gaza before the recent outbreak of violence are unable to deliver assistance as their staff are themselves fleeing — and some dying.”

Mary Stata
Mary Stata is the chief development officer at Mercy Corps. Photo courtesy of Mary Stata

Additionally, 95% of Mercy Corps team members are from the countries in which they work, meaning many humanitarians on the ground in Gaza are intrinsically part of the communities they serve. 

While funds help work to bring humanitarians to safety, they also help people continue existing aid programs when and how they can. 

“Despite the significant operational challenges, our team was able to provide some limited humanitarian support in Gaza early in the conflict. We distributed food baskets, which we sourced locally in Gaza, but those resources have since been depleted,” Stata shared. 

“Our teams are working to establish the necessary supply lines and are committed to ramping up much-needed lifesaving assistance when there is consistent and safe access to do so.”

With an already-robust network of support on the ground, the Mercy Corps team is trying to work flexibly to make an impact where they already are.

Stata’s advice? If you’re looking to donate to a humanitarian organization, look for those that have already committed to a long-term response in the area — if not hyper-local aid groups led by Palestinians themselves.

“In this crisis, the massive scale of response needed will require NGOs who have familiarity and resources in Gaza and the surrounding region, once a ceasefire, end to the siege, and unrestricted humanitarian access have been achieved,” Stata said.

“We encourage donors to do their research and look for organizations they feel they can trust to respond not just in the initial moment of an emergency, but for the affected communities over the long term.”

Organizations can use your support to provide modified assistance.

While Mercy Corps, like other NGOs, attempt to source and distribute aid within Gaza, they are also resilient in their programming in the meantime.

“We have been able to continue our youth engagement programming in the West Bank, in a modified fashion, using online workshops to provide psychosocial and emotional support training for youth mentors, parents, and staff working at youth safe spaces so that they can help young people cope with the psychological impact of the conflict,” Stata said.

This youth programming is paramount to the resilience and development of children — many of whom have watched their families and friends die in recent weeks

a group of people gathers to receive water in Gaza
Photo courtesy of Shadow Pro for Mercy Corps

A local organization doing such work is the Free Gaza Circus, a nonprofit made of young circus acrobats and social activists living in Gaza who help young people develop social skills and move through the trauma of war.

A recent Instagram Reel shared by the organization depicts a large group of children dancing and jumping to boisterous music, surrounded by encampments and proof of war.

“The Free Gaza Circus band brought the children in the displaced areas of Gaza together and performed acrobatic activities in order to spread joy and happiness and reduce the children’s fear, anxiety and tension,” the caption read. 

While this gathering is clearly different from the Circus’s standard programming of formal lessons and workshops, it is proof that massive NGOs and grassroots organizations alike are being as flexible as possible in doing the work they believe in most.

Donations can support neighboring areas impacted by conflict.

While destruction and loss is rampant in Gaza, neighboring countries are also impacted by the conflict and can be supported by aid organizations who await a sustained ceasefire in Palestine.

“In southern Lebanon, which is experiencing heightened violence spilling over from the conflict in Gaza that has displaced tens of thousands of people, we have distributed core relief items, food baskets, and hot meals to displaced families,” Stata said. 

“The impacts of this conflict are being felt across the region, and Mercy Corps has a strong regional presence to support a response with well-established programming in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq, in addition to our longstanding footprint in Palestine.”

Your donations allow aid organizations to maintain systems of “unrestricted giving.”

When an NGO or nonprofit receives funding from a foundation or company, they may be required to use those funds a certain way. But many times, when individual donors provide general financial support to an organization, this is considered “unrestricted giving.”

What that means is that these funds do not have a specific use required for spending and allow the organization the freedom to use them with less “red tape.” Basically, the money you give an organization can be quickly accessed and used to do the most good.

“By giving a donation of unrestricted funds, donors are helping to level the playing field and disrupt traditional power structures in philanthropy,” the World Institute on Disability writes. “It also empowers these organizations to provide surge support to their constituents during a disaster, emergency or crisis situation or other times of particular need.”

A man pushes a woman in a wheelchair down the streets of Gaza
Photo courtesy of Shadow Pro for Mercy Corps

Stata discussed unrestricted funds as they relate to emergency response at Mercy Corps.

“Unrestricted donations to Mercy Corps help us to respond early, address the most urgent needs, and make the most impact,” she said. 

“This type of flexible funding allows us to pilot innovative programs, respond to changing needs, invest in adaptation and preparedness actions identified and led by local communities, and position our most promising solutions for scale.”

And for individual donors who might only be able to donate a gift of $5 a month, this is good news. It means their money can provide small and steady support that goes right to the most urgent needs in various crises.

“Over time, these gifts add up to be very meaningful and often much greater than what someone can give at any one time,” Stata explained.

Your donations build a bank of support for ongoing humanitarian needs.

The reality of the situation in Gaza, like many large-scale humanitarian crises, is that even if it ended immediately, the lasting damage would require continuous humanitarian assistance — which doesn’t receive the same kind of attention once a crisis is “over.”

“Regardless of how long this conflict lasts, there will be significant humanitarian needs that persist for a long time,” Stata said.

“Even before this, 70% of people in Gaza needed some sort of assistance to meet their basic needs. Both ongoing humanitarian assistance and any sort of economic recovery will require significant resources in the months and years to come.”

As much as aid organizations and their supporters want to provide immediate relief to Palestinians, donations are, at the very least, an investment for future humanitarian needs. 

Your support amplifies the call for a ceasefire.

In a December 11 New York Times guest essay, leaders of six humanitarian organizations came together to illustrate the unfathomable scale of the crisis in Gaza. 

These leaders included Michelle Nunn, president of CARE USA; Tjada D’Oyen McKenna, the chief executive of Mercy Corps; Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council; Abby Maxman, the president of Oxfam America; Jeremy Konyndyk, the president of Refugees International; and Janti Soeripto, the president of Save the Children U.S.

“Most of our organizations have been operating in Gaza for decades. But we can do nothing remotely adequate to address the level of suffering there without an immediate and complete ceasefire and an end to the siege,” they wrote. 

“The aerial bombardments have rendered our jobs impossible. The withholding of water, fuel, food, and other basic goods has created an enormous scale of need that aid alone cannot offset.”

Destroyed buildings in Gaza
Photo courtesy of Shadow Pro for Mercy Corps

Stata echoed these sentiments.

“Unfortunately, humanitarian organizations have been stymied in their efforts to aid the injured and those with no food, water, or shelter. Mercy Corps continues to advocate at the highest levels for a ceasefire and end to the siege, which has cut off water and electricity to 2.3 million people — and sustained humanitarian access,” she said. 

“Every person reading this can contact their government leaders to urge for the same.”

As humanitarian leaders continue to do everything they can to accomplish their life-saving missions, supporting their work — whether financially, or by calling elected officials and demanding a ceasefire, sends a message to the world that humanitarian intervention cannot wait.

“The sooner we have access with safety guarantees and can source supplies, the sooner we can get help to those in the direst need,” Stata said. “Financial donations are the most effective and efficient way of providing support.”

Header image courtesy of Shadow Pro for Mercy Corps

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