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“The Trauma Is Unimaginable”: Save the Children CEO Calls for Ceasefire in Gaza, More Focus on Congo

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More than 15,000 Palestinian children have been killed over the past eight months of Israel’s assault on Gaza, and Palestinian officials are warning over 3,500 children are at risk of death due to starvation. “The trauma is unimaginable,” says Janti Soeripto, the president and CEO of Save the Children US, who is calling for a ceasefire, the protection of humanitarian workers and the allowance of aid into the besieged territory. “Over these past couple of weeks, it has even gotten worse.” Soeripto also calls for more international attention on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where over 7 million have been swept up in one of the world’s largest displacement crises as armed groups fight across the country. “The DRC should play a much more important, critical role for the international community, and it should get attention and the support its population deserves,” says Soeripto, who asks the U.S. to support a peace process and fund humanitarian relief.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

We end today’s show looking at Israel’s war on Gaza and its impact on Palestinian children. More than 15,000 Palestinian children have been killed over the past eight months, and Palestinian officials are warning over 3,500 children are at risk of death due to starvation.

We’re joined now by Janti Soeripto, the president and CEO of Save the Children US.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. You and other CEO and presidents of major human rights and humanitarian organizations and NGOs have written an op-ed. Talk about what you are calling for, Janti.

JANTI SOERIPTO: Thanks, Amy, for having me.

And, yes, we wrote that op-ed in December for The New York Times, essentially calling out the risk of what we see happening now: casualties, deaths at a massive, massive scale, particularly of children, which, in our view, are avoidable if there was a ceasefire. And we have called on that for months and months now, ceasefire for all parties to adhere, to release hostages and to allow aid come in at a massive scale.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Janti, when you spoke at the United Nations in April, you said that more children have been killed in this conflict than have been killed in all armed conflicts globally over the past four years. Is it your sense that the world community is acting at a speed necessary for what’s going on here?

JANTI SOERIPTO: No. Looking at the results on the ground, clearly, clearly, that is not the case. We see — and sometimes these numbers, I think, numb people, right? Because behind every number is a child, are its parents, the community, the family that loses that child. And we’ve always said, for months now, put yourselves in the shoes of those parents, of those innocent civilians who are caught up in this conflict, and imagine that it was your child, your cousin, your grandchild that was exposed to this level of trauma, let alone death. And sometimes that makes people remember their humanity.

But if you look at the actions on the ground, even over these past couple of weeks, it has even gotten worse. I was in Gaza myself eight weeks ago, and I saw, sadly, exactly what I expected to see: scores of children, huge undernutrition, malnutrition, children without shoes, children without a home, people sleeping in tents, often with 20 or 30 people at a time, no access to clean water. Real health issues abound, children with rashes, coughing, fevers, pneumonia, etc. And it’s gotten worse since. When I was there eight weeks ago, not nearly enough trucks made it in. I think there were about 150 or so a day. Over the last couple of weeks, it has really slowed down to a trickle, because of the closure even of the few crossings that were open. And then there are areas within the Gaza Strip that have had no aid supplies whatsoever for the last — for these last past months.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you — we’ve seen all of the protests at American universities and schools, and the repression, as these students have sought to raise the issue of what’s happening in Palestine. But could you remind our viewers and listeners what the education situation is like in Gaza, what the school situation for many of these young people — for all of the young people of Gaza is right now?

JANTI SOERIPTO: Right. So, children have been out of school since the start of this conflict. We estimate — I mean, we don’t know the exact numbers, of course, because it’s so hard to get people on the ground, but we estimate that over 80% of schools are either damaged or completely destroyed. What’s left of some of these schools are actually populated by people who are displaced. So there is no way schools can function at this point in Gaza. Save the Children has been running, where we can do so safely, learning spaces, child-friendly spaces, as we call them, where children can be children. They play. They learn. But clearly, this is not even close to resembling, you know, a formal education system. We’re many, many months behind that.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what specifically are you calling for, Janti Soeripto? As you sit there in the nation’s capital, in Washington, D.C., what are you demanding of the Biden administration at this point? As you say, this is unprecedented, not to mention the 15,000 children dead, 3,500 facing death by starvation — even if they don’t die, how they’re affected for the rest of their lives.

JANTI SOERIPTO: Oh, absolutely. And, you know, there are numbers that are estimated that 17,000 children have lost their parents or at least one parent. So, no, the trauma is unimaginable. We’ve been calling four months now for a ceasefire, for all parties to adhere to it, for the violence to stop, and then for allowing massive aid to come in, to flood Gaza, to make sure people get access to clean water, to food, to shelter, and every other basic supplies in order to start rebuilding their lives, and for humanitarian workers to be able to do their work safely and securely.

AMY GOODMAN: Janti Soeripto, I also want to ask you about your recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo — 

JANTI SOERIPTO: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — where over 7 million people have been forced from their homes in one of the world’s largest displacement crises. Can you talk about what Save the Children is calling for there now and what you found?

JANTI SOERIPTO: Well, first and foremost — and that’s partly why I traveled — attention for the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a vast country, a country that contains multitudes. So, as you say, one of the largest — the largest displacement crisis in the world today, over 7 million people displaced. Huge conflict, particularly in the east of the country, with scores of armed groups and international armies fighting, which displaces people and puts people at risk. And at the same time, unbelievable wealth of resources, critical for our energy transition for the world — the lungs of Africa, as it’s called, and it’s also one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world. So, the DRC should play a much more important, critical role for the international community, and it should get attention and the support its population deserves.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And briefly, what do you think Washington could do right now in terms of what’s going on in the Congo?

JANTI SOERIPTO: Support the peace process. There has to be peace in the DRC to really have sustainable development and support for its population, in particular the many, many millions of children. Support the peace process that’s running. Make sure men with guns come to the table and agree that this is no way to support this great country. And then, really put funding behind the work in Congo. Currently, the humanitarian resource plan for the DRC is funded, I think, by 17%, so 17% of the required funding — that’s an estimation of the United Nations — is currently funded. So, that gives you a sense of how big the gap is between what is needed and what we actually have.

I was visiting an IDP camp there in the east last week, and Save the Children was literally the only humanitarian organization in that particular camp, of 20,000 people who were displaced, who was actively providing some services there. And that is really a rare sight to see.

AMY GOODMAN: IDP camp is an internally displaced persons camp. I want to end with your Twitter thread. You said, “Firstly, we’re all more connected to the DRC than we realize. The country holds over 70% of the world’s cobalt supply, a mineral used in virtually all batteries, including cellphones, laptops and electric vehicles.” Just an interesting note to end on. Janti Soeripto, we thank you so much for being with us, president and CEO of Save the Children US.

That does it for our program. Democracy Now!_ is produced with Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Deena Guzder, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, Messiah Rhodes, Nermeen Shaikh, María Taracena, Tami Woronoff, Charina Nadura, Sam Alcoff, Tey-Marie Astudillo, Robby Karran, Hany Massoud, Hana Elias. Our executive director is Julie Crosby. Special thanks to Becca Staley, Jon Randolph, Paul Powell, Mike Di Filippo, Miguel Nogueira, Hugh Gran, Denis Moynihan, David Prude, Dennis McCormick, Matt Ealy, Anna Özbek, Emily Andersen and Buffy Saint Marie Hernandez.

Our podcasts are available where you get your podcasts, both video and audio podcasts. And you can go to our website, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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“The Night Won’t End”: New Film Investigates Civilian Killings in Gaza and U.S. Backing of Israeli Assault

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