What is World Central Kitchen - the non-profit group struck in Gaza?

WCK volunteers in Rafah
World Central Kitchen has delivered hundreds of thousands of meals in Gaza since the conflict began last year. [Getty Images]

The killing of seven members of World Central Kitchen (WCK) in Gaza has starkly highlighted the food charity's often dangerous work around the globe.

For 14 years, the non-profit founded by chef Jose Andres has provided millions of meals in places ravaged by natural disasters and violent conflicts.

It had been bringing food to civilians in the Israel-Hamas war since October.

After the airstrike on its aid convoy, it suspended that work, sparking fears that a vital lifeline will be cut.

Those killed were traveling from a warehouse in central Gaza, when the convoy was struck by Israeli aircraft. They represented the organization's international reach, coming from as far away as Australia.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has acknowledged the airstrike and vowed to investigate.

The group is no stranger to conflict. It has also operated in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, where it has also lost seven people.

What role has WCK taken in Gaza?

WCK has been operating in Gaza - as well as in Israel and Lebanon - since the outbreak of hostilities in early October last year.

By 29 March, the organisation had dispatched more than 1,700 trucks with food and cooking equipment through the Rafah crossing from Egypt, and was working through 68 "community kitchens".

Additionally, it has delivered 230,000 meals from Jordan, both overland and via airdrops, and sent 435,000 meals by sea.

It recently said that two more ships are loaded with 1.2 million meals ready to be sent to northern Gaza.

Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East, said that the risks for WCK in Gaza are "as high or higher" than in other conflict areas, largely due to the "condensed" nature of the warzone.

"There should be an investigation to determine why a clearly marked vehicle whose movement was coordinated was struck in the daytime by what appears to be a precision weapon," he said. "That should not happen."

What impact will the WCK strike have on aid to Gaza?

The announcement that WCK and another charity, the American Near East Refugee Aid, have suspended operations raised immediate concerns about a disruption of aid to Gaza. The UAE - WCK'S primary funder in Gaza - has also paused its Gaza aid route.

"Children are dying of hunger," Juliette Touma, the communications director for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) told the BBC. "Any organisation which delivers assistance to people in Gaza is key."

"Any disruption will have severe consequences on a population which is already going through quite a lot."

Dr Mona Jebril, a Palestinian researcher at Cambridge who lived in Gaza for more than 22 years, said that the impact of the airstrike is "much more than just catastrophic".

"We're talking about a population that has basically 100% been declared as being on the brink of famine," she said. "The population is being left to die...This is very dangerous."

How has WCK gained such prominence?

There are two major reasons WCK has become so instrumental in Gaza: its ability to distribute food and problems with UNRWA.

While large swaths of Gaza's population have relied on humanitarian assistance for decades, WCK quickly gained prominence largely as a result of opening its maritime corridor and its distribution network.

Meanwhile, UNRWA, the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza, has been pulled into a diplomatic storm, hampering its operations.

Israel has accused some of its employees of taking part in the 7 October attack and has said there was a Hamas tunnel under its local headquarters. The US and 15 other countries announced they would temporarily pause funding for UNRWA during an investigation, although Sweden and Canada have recently resumed payments.

WCK has been "helping to fill the void" left by UNRWA, said Khaled Elgindy, the director of the programme on Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli affairs at the Washington DC-based Middle East Institute.

"There's no real substitute for UNRWA at the moment," Mr Elgindy told the BBC. "But World Central Kitchen has become much more prominent in its absence."

"Now, there's literally almost nobody to distribute the little amount of aid that actually gets in," he added.

Who is José Andrés, WCK's founder?

A native of Spain, Mr Andrés moved to New York at the age of 21, later recounting that he arrived with $50 (£40) in his pocket. Less than two years later, he moved to Washington DC and quickly rose through the ranks of the city's burgeoning culinary scene.

Since then, he has opened nearly 40 restaurants, and has become a best-selling author, TV host, and, in 2019, a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Internationally, Mr Andrés is best-known for his work with WCK, which he founded in 2010 after a devastating earthquake in Haiti that killed more than 200,000 people.

In a January interview with the BBC, Mr Andrés recounted that in Haiti "we saw the devastation in an already very poor country".

"And I said, 'let me go not so much to help, let me go to start learning'," he said. "And slowly I began learning that it doesn't require more than just the willingness to make it happen."

To date, WCK has served more than 350 million meals, partnering with on-the-ground groups and networks of local restaurants, food trucks and emergency kitchens.

Where else has WCK operated?

WCK has provided disaster relief in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.

In Puerto Rico, for example, it quickly began distributing food in the wake of 2017's Hurricane Maria. In 2023, its teams were operating within hours of a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Morocco, ultimately delivering 2.1 million meals.

Perhaps its most prominent deployment, however, was to Ukraine, where the group has served more than 260 million meals since Russia invaded in February 2022.

WCK says that two Russian missile strikes on community centres in 2022 and 2023 killed six of its members, and another volunteer was killed when his apartment building was attacked.