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UNICEF spokesman recently visited hospitals in Northern Gaza

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The United Nations Security Council has approved a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and the unconditional release of hostages. The U.S. abstained from that vote rather than blocking the resolution, and that's why it passed. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not send a delegation to Washington, defying a request from President Biden.

Meanwhile, Israeli restrictions on getting aid into Gaza has pushed much of the population to the brink of starvation. We turn now to James Elder, a spokesperson for UNICEF, the U.N.'s children's agency. He recently visited hospitals in northern Gaza, and he's here now with us. Welcome.

JAMES ELDER: Hi there. Thanks. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. I mean, I think I just want to start with where you went and what you saw.

ELDER: Yeah. Yesterday, I was in the north of Gaza. It's like nothing I've seen in my two decades with the United Nations, both in terms of just the chaos and the destruction - the utter devastation of cities - cities entirely reduced to rubble and people standing on streets, doing that universal symbol of putting their hand to their mouth, showing their hunger. We had a truck of medical supplies and so on, so it came through and - at a nutritional hospital, seeing mothers hunched over beds with severely malnourished, paper-thin children. So there is a level of desperation, obviously, among children - sorry, among children or among people. There's just despair pervading the population because of what they're deprived of and because of the bombardments. Living in that bombardment - it's hard to capture just what that's like for a family every night to simply not know if you will wake up next morning.

FADEL: You're describing horrors. I mean, what needs to happen to provide immediate relief so that some of this can stop?

ELDER: Oh, well, first and foremost, the cease-fire. The cease-fire is a very good start, but it must be substantive, not symbolic. The hostages must go home. The people of Gaza must be able to live. It's important to get a sense that Gaza's shattered humanity's records for its darkest chapters, if you will, all right? Now, to urgently write a different chapter from humanity, firstly, aid - we must have unrestricted, safe access to people in need. When I was in the north yesterday, seeing those children, seeing a child who asked me for a single tomato, seeing those people in need, remembering that there is an access point - a crossing there within 10, 15 minutes of where those people are. If we could use that - instead, we're restricted to to this one way down south. So that is one way to get aid very, very quickly.

This is man-made. This is preventable. In the same way it's man-made, we can reverse it. You could reverse, you know, this catastrophic decline into imminent famine if you suddenly made the decisions that would enable aid to to reach those people. So those two things - a cease-fire has to be substantive. We need to be allowed to get much more aid to people safely. This is a very, very difficult place to work. And of course, this discussion of a military offensive in Rafah is, well - I'm sorry, it's an offensive concept. Rafah is a city of children. I could describe what it looks like. A military offensive here would be catastrophe upon catastrophe.

FADEL: Now, where you were yesterday, in northern Gaza - that's where food security experts are warning that famine is imminent, and the rest of the enclave is facing that risk as well. Did you see evidence of that happening beyond northern Gaza?

ELDER: In the south, it's different. In the South, it's just - it's more just despair and deprivation. You know, you've got a city, Rafah, now, which has got twice the population density of New York City, but no high-rises. So the - and water systems have been destroyed. So imagine the sheer lack of access for people for the most basics.

Now, there are - I'm sorry for the numbers, but there are global humanitarian levels in a crisis that - say, there should be, you know, one toilet for 20 people. In Rafah, it's about one toilet for 850 people. For showers, it's four times that number. So one shower for 3,500 people. That's a - imagine an adolescent girl queuing for six, seven hours to use a toilet or a shower. There is a hellish disregard for for basic human needs and dignity. So with those things, we are seeing disease spread. If we keep seeing a lack of water and we keep seeing military bombardments, then, yes, these - the population here will slide into those same kind of nutritional disastrous levels.

FADEL: That's UNICEF's James Elder, who just visited Gaza. Thank you, James.

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