Thousands of people, including 20,000 children in Madaya, a rebel-held town in Syria, are starving to death. Driven by acute famine induced by civil war, people have reportedly resorted to eating grass and pets to survive.
Madaya, a besieged town west of Damascus, is currently facing one of the most brutal but artificially created famines in the region. Even as reports of about two dozen people dying due to hunger emerge, the convoy of humanitarian aid to the region continues to get delayed. According to Doctors Without Borders, over 20,000 children are facing, “life-threatening deprivation of the basics for survival.”
The matter only worsens for those who venture to the outskirts of the city in search of food. As the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad continue to battle the Islamic State, the innocent citizens of Madaya risk being maimed or killed just for trying to scavenge for a tiny morsel. The blockade on Madaya, located near Syria’s border with Lebanon, began in August 2015 and has been imposed by the Syrian military and its allies in Hezbollah, a Lebanese militia, reported the Comment.
The convoy that was meant to deliver food and medicines for a month has remained stuck, owing to failed negotiations at the border. Negotiating access across battlefronts in a siege situation has always been a tricky business, reports BBC. The convoy was dispatched by the World Food Programme. The trucks ferried rations for approximately 40,000 citizens of Madaya.
Blockades are a painfully common feature of Syria’s civil war. While the talks at higher levels might allow for movement of the trucks, the situation is quite different on the ground. Still, the plight of Madaya managed to draw international attention and public sympathy, primarily due to images of severely malnourished residents making the rounds on social media sites with the hashtag, “In solidarity with Madaya.” Many tweets contained victims of the siege and showed starving children on the brink of death, reported the New Arab.
Horrifically, the supporters of Bashar al-Assad, whose regime officially controls the region, taunted the starving survivors in Madaya with the hashtag, “In Solidarity with the siege of Madaya.” Many of the supporters shared, along with the hashtag, photos of food and other delicacies as well as images of refrigerators and cold storage units packed with meats. Many tweets have been swiftly taken down after a global outrage.
Madaya’s 40,000 residents have been besieged by Hizballah forces, forcing many people to eat boiled leaves, grass, or even their pet cats and dogs, reported the Telegraph. Even as the country enters its sixth year of a brutal civil war that has displaced more than quarter of a million people and killed hundreds of innocent citizens, the future appears bleaker than ever.
While al-Assad’s supporters themselves posted images of food, they have blamed Madaya’s acute famine on the Islamist militias that control the town. Assad’s loyalist have squarely blamed the militants, claiming they have been hoarding food and stealing from the convoy of humanitarian aid. However, human rights groups insist that it is the Hizballah that has blocked the passage of aid. While reports indicate 13 citizens were gunned down while they attempted to escape the town, there are multiple areas around the town that are mined to prevent escape.
Madaya fell into the rebels’ hands in 2012. Though the town hasn’t witnessed a large number of brutal massacres and public executions, it continues to remain barricaded, while its citizens struggle with starvation and disease. Many towns like Madaya have become impossible to reach. In fact, the last delivery of food and medicines arrived in the besieged town in the month of October.
Those aware of the ground realities have stated that militants regularly hoard the supplies and then sell them at inflated rates.
[Photo by Aris Messinis / Getty Images]