Starving Syrians have recently hit the news as photos of adults and children living in Madaya have spread through social media. In an opinion piece on CNN.com, Frida Ghirtis referred to it as “the killing of Syria.”
Frightening photos of malnourished children and skeletal elderly men were also released by CNN this week. Although CNN states that the have not been able to independently confirm the photos, the U.N. reported last week that they have received “credible reports of people dying from starvation and being killed while trying to leave” Madaya. In that report, they also voice a concern for the roughly 400,000 living in Deir Ez-Zor, Daraya, Foah, and Kafraya, as well as the besieged areas of East Ghouta. Last year, only 10 percent of requests for aid to these areas were approved.
Madaya has been under siege since July and is cut off from the rest of Syria by forces from both its own government and the Lebanese Hezbollah. Adding to the difficulty of reaching the citizens of this city in order to bring relief to starving Syrians are the numerous landmines and the treacherous travel across snow covered mountains that is required in order to reach these people. Reports of children eating soup made of leaves and grass and videos of men and women pleading for help are quickly spreading across the internet through Twitter and Facebook.
Dr. Ammar Ghanem spoke to BuzzFeed about the starving Syrians, saying, “You can’t imagine the situation there. There are things above description, above words. People are drinking water and salt and citric acid to kill the pain that comes with hunger.”
Spokeswoman Abeer Etefa told CNN, “Starvation and using this strategy of siege and cutting off aid and supplies is becoming an institutionalized weapon in this vicious war in Syria. It’s used by all the parties to this conflict… We need not to forget that there are others, hundreds of thousands of people, who are still in besiegement.”
Starving Syrians are shown in the same BuzzFeed report through videos provided by another physician in a field hospital. These videos show children suffering from malnutrition. In one, a mother reports that she has been able to feed her 7-month-old child only water and salt.
One resident, Amjad Almaleh, told CNN that there is some food available, but its price makes it inaccessible for starving Syrians. He noted sugar costs of about $200 and flour costs of about $120. Other citizens in the area have tweeted about a price tag of $300 for a liter of milk. These high costs can be attributed to the previously mentioned obstacles that must be dealt with when delivering provisions to the area. Almaleh added that parents who are desperate to feed their children sometimes resort to feeding them stray cats or dogs in order to avoid the salt and water diet.
The large number of starving Syrians was created largely by the failure of Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebel troops to follow through on commitments they made in an agreement six months ago. In that agreement, Assad agreed to lift the siege at Madaya in exchange for the Jabhat al-Nusra Front, who is linked to al-Qaeda, lifting its siege of two Idlib suburbs. The starvation problem reached a peak in December as protein impairment diseases, Hepatitis A, malnourishment, and skin diseases spread across Madaya.
In welcomed news yesterday, the Syrian government agreed to let the United Nations into Madaya, Foah, and Kefraya.
They estimate that as many as 4.5 million people live in hard-to-reach areas of Syria. They plan to begin delivering this much-needed aid to Madaya, Foah, and Kefraya in the coming days in hopes of bringing relief to some of the starving Syrians there. The U.N. continues to ask for the ability to bring food and water to 12 other hard-to-reach besieged areas in Syria.
[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]