Transcript: UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell on "Face the Nation," March 17, 2024


The following is a transcript of an interview with UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell that aired on March 17, 2024.


MARGARET BRENNAN: According to UNICEF, 81% of households in Gaza don’t have enough access to clean water, and nine in 10 people do not have enough food to survive. The organization’s executive director is Catherine Russell, and she’s here with us. Welcome to Face the Nation.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Thank you very much, thanks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You focus in particular on the children. We heard this week from the leaders of the US intelligence community that there will be a generational impact from what is happening in Gaza. The implications of that they were looking through the national security lens. From your perspective, what does that mean? What does the generational impact mean?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, it means- it means that what’s happening now is more than 13,000 children already have been killed, which is an astronomical horrifying number. Thousands more have been injured, or we can’t even determine where they are, they may be stuck under rubble. Thousands more have lost one or both parents, some of these children, you’ve seen them on the news. They’re just by themselves managing their younger siblings. I mean, it’s a horrifying situation. So when you think about the impact of that on those children as they grow up, even on their- their children, right, it is an impact that is so profound, because of the stress that they’re living under and the grief and the loss and the fear that they’re living under. It’s bound to have impacts on them the rest of their lives.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Since October 7, 33 Israeli children have been killed in those horrific attacks of that day. As you just said, 13,000 in Gaza that you know of–

CATHERINE RUSSELL: –That we know of.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s just horrific–

CROSSTALK

CATHERINE RUSSELL: You know, honestly, the- the children who were killed in Israel, the- the children who were taken hostage, yeah, there are still children who have not been returned to their families in Israel, all horrific, right. Every one of those cases is so heartbreaking for that child and that family. I- I think these numbers that we’re seeing out of Gaza are just staggering. I mean, we haven’t seen that rate of death among children in- in almost any other conflict in the world. It’s really shocking.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So your organization says 31% of children, one in three under the age of two, in northern Gaza suffer from acute malnutrition. This isn’t just trauma, this is- this is stunting them for life.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, if they survive. And I have to say I’ve seen a lot of children, unfortunately, in my job around the world who suffer from malnutrition, and it is a shocking thing to see. I mean, essentially, the body starts to consume itself because it has nothing else and it’s a painful, painful death for children. I’ve been in wards of children who are suffering from severe anemia malnutrition, the whole ward is absolutely quiet. Because the children the babies have don’t even have the energy to cry. I mean, it is a devastating thing to see. And you’re right, if they survive it, if we can manage to get what we do is provide therapeutic feeding for them. If we can get that to them, they can survive, but often they’re stunted for life. And stunting means that your- your- your ability, your cognitive ability is impacted as well. So it is a lifelong challenge for these children, if they survive, but we know now that children are dying from malnutrition in- in Gaza.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The CIA director testified about children starving in Gaza. What are you able to actually get in at this point? And we know there are airdrops happening. You can’t airdrop vaccines, you can’t airdrop things that need to be refrigerated. So- so what’s getting in and what do you need to get?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, first of all, the one thing we know for sure is not enough is getting in and the airdrops are, as you say, some things are coming in that way, some things came in through this maritime corridor, but it’s a drop in the bucket in both cases. And what we need to get in for children is what I said, this therapeutic feeding which is something called Plumpy’nut, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but it’s fantastic and it can save their lives. But we need to get it to them and we have so little access right now. And it’s very challenging. We also are facing very great bureaucratic challenges, moving trucks in. Trucks and moving things by land is by far the most efficient, effective way to get aid in. But there are a lot of challenges to that where we can’t, you know, I think, excuse me, Senator Van Hollen mentioned if things are dual use, sometimes they get rejected, so we can’t get plastic pipes in, we can’t get some medical kits if they have a little scissors in them. I mean, it’s- it’s completely, almost Kafkaesque sometimes trying to figure out how we get things into this bureaucratic mess. And I think at the end of the day, those are choices that are made, right. If the choice is–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Those are political choices.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: They are choices. And I think if the choice is to say we need to get as much humanitarian aid flooded into this area as possible, everyone can do better in that regard. And I think that the population there is suffering in such a terrible way. And I think one of the big challenges is, because there’s such limited access–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Yeah.

CATHERINE RUSSELL:  For the press, in addition, it’s hard to see that, right. And I think it would be great if there were more transparency, if everyone could see what the challenges are, what the legitimate bottlenecks–

MARGARET BRENNAN: –Yes.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Are, and how we could all do better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We rely on our producer who lives in Gaza, Marwar al-Ghoul, but we cannot get in–

CATHERINE RUSSELL: –Which is not right. You should be- you should be able to get it and you should be able to see what’s happening. The world should be able to see what’s happening and make their own judgments about what’s going on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes the Israeli government has not permitted that today. The ongoing crisis in Haiti, I need to ask you about that. This is so close to U.S. shores, Americans are watching it now. What is happening there, I read that two thirds of children need aid.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yeah. Haiti is a horrific situation. I was there several months ago, there was so much violence, even then, and they were gangs who were controlling parts of the capital. Now they’ve basically taken over the capital, they’ve taken over the airport. What that means for people is that we can’t get aid in again, it’s very difficult for us to do that. Many, many people there are suffering from serious hunger and malnutrition and we’re not able to get enough aid to them. It’s- it’s a- it’s almost like, it’s like a scene out of Mad Max. Honestly, that’s what it seems like. Gangs, vigilantes responding to the gangs. I mean, somehow we need to get more control over that situation so that we can get the humanitarian response in. And so that this, you know, population that has suffered kind of one thing after another over the years. Earthquakes, cholera, COVID. I mean, it’s literally one thing after another for Haiti, and I think right now, it’s the worst that anyone has seen in decades.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s saying a lot.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: That’s saying a lot.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Catherine Russell, thank you for sharing your insights.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Thanks Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back.



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