UPDATE: The Syrian government has allowed humanitarian workers access to an opposition-held town near the border with Lebanon where people are reported to be starving to death in the freezing cold weather.
The United Nations said in a statement on Thursday it was preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days to the besieged town of Madaya. Two Shia towns that have been cut off by rebels in the province of Idlib will also receive UN aid – Aljazeera reports.
Syria – From the Syrian regime’s siege that began in July, the situation has grown dire in the town of Madaya located in the western countryside of Damascus.
The Syrian American Medical Society, a group providing medical aid & humanitarian support has published a series of heartbreaking images and video of the children of Madaya who are starving. It’s not just the children though they are extremely vulnerable, the elderly and the previously able bodied women and men are now in a dire straits.
“To die quickly and suddenly by the shelling of the Syrian army is more merciful than the slow death that we terribly face every day,” Manal al-Abdullah, a civil rights activist from Madaya, told Al-Monitor via Skype.
“We are dying in this big prison called Madaya. We reached a dead end following the failure of the truce agreement. They did not allow us to leave or bring in food. There is no solution in sight to the hunger crisis we are living. We ask the regime and the opposition to settle their political disputes away from civilians. We can no longer endure this situation.”
Abdullah said most Madaya households live on one “meal” a day. They were anxiously awaiting flour and aid that were supposed to be delivered Dec. 29 by Red Crescent teams that entered the town Dec. 28 to evacuate the wounded. Under UN auspices, about 135 wounded militants and their families were evacuated from Zabadani, and 336 wounded militants and their families were taken to Lebanon. Still, the aid didn’t come.
As of this writing, Abdullah was still feeding her children edible grasses and salted water.
About 21,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. This is one person every four seconds, as you can see on this display. Sadly, it is children who die most often.
Families are eating leaves, grasses and water flavored with spices in the town of Madaya, where rice is sold by the gram because a kilogram costs as much as $250 (£170). Some have killed and eaten their pets.
“People are dying in slow motion,” said Louay, a social worker from the town told the Guardian in a phone interview, his voice weakened by months of abject hunger. “We had some flowers growing in pots at home. Yesterday, we picked the petals and ate them, but they were bitter, awful.”
Mohammed al-Debes, who heads relief campaigns for Madaya’s local council, told Al-Monitor the situation is catastrophic. “We are facing a famine in Madaya. This is a shame on all international, organizational and governmental entities claiming that they advocate human rights,” he said.
There are no hospitals in the town and virtually no health care services.
“We have recorded so far 15 death cases caused by malnutrition, including children and elderly. While trying to leave the town, 30 civilians from among the residents died by the explosion of regime-implanted land mines or were killed by sniper operations,” Faeq Burhan, a medical volunteer in Madaya, told Al-Monitor.
— SAMS (@sams_usa) January 6, 2016
The situation is compounded by fraudulent traders who are gouging residents for the food that is left or smuggled in.
“Madaya is currently registering the highest prices in the world due to the siege and the traders’ monopolization of what is left of foodstuff, which they sell at ridiculously high prices … while hundreds of families are now living on one meal every other day or every day at best. They spend the rest of their day eating spices cooked in salted water,” Debes added.
Some traders in Madaya had been hiding foodstuffs for a long time. When the siege intensified, they started selling them in markets at high prices. Whoever managed to leave the city despite the land mines came back with some supplies.
According to a price list posted Dec. 17 on a Facebook page dedicated to the town of Madaya and run by some of the town’s activists, the cost of 1 pound of sugar or rice reached roughly $34, 1 pound of flour cost almost $47 and 1 pound of powdered milk was going for as much as $52.
The hunger crisis pushed some residents to make desperate and dangerous attempts to escape from the western side of the town toward Zabadani. That area is laced with land mines planted by the Syrian army and Lebanese Hezbollah. The mines have killed and seriously wounded victims.
What’s your name? Ahmed Issa. How long has it been since you ate? 7 days. Swear? I swear. Are you hungry?
Up to 30,000 people have been trapped in Madaya since July, under a tight siege by pro-government forces. They say they are being treated as pawns in a complicated power play, punished for the suffering of two villages hundreds of miles away at the hand of anti-government troops.
In the spring of last year, a rebel coalition known as Jaysh al-Fateh captured large swaths of north-western Syria from the Assad regime, surrounding two Shia enclaves in Idlib province called Fua and Kefraya, whose citizens are also enduring a debilitating siege.
Assad’s forces are now starving Madaya and neighbouring Zabadani, once a stronghold of the opposition, after a punishing six-month campaign. Under a ceasefire deal, foreign backers of the government and the opposition are attempting to orchestrate a population swap, essentially a peaceful “sectarian cleansing”, the Guardian reports.