Un Reports 21 Tons Of Aid Relief For Besieged Syrian Town Lost, Damaged, Or Destroyed By Land Mines

An agency of the United Nations has admitted on Thursday that 21 tons of humanitarian aid scheduled to be air dropped to assist the legions of people starving in Syrian has been damaged, lost, or destroyed, when it fell into an area that had been covered by land mines.

Over 200,000 civilians, besieged by militants from the Islamic State, have been trapped in a government-held area of the city in Syria. After many reports surfaced of the starving people inside, aid was mounted. The delivery of 21 pallets to be dropped from 23,000 feet over the eastern city of Deir el-Zour on Wednesday was said to have been enough to feed about 2,500 people for a month. However, according to the U.N. World Food Programme spokesman Abeer Etefa, 10 of the 21 pallets of vegetable oil, lentils, rice, and salt “drifted away and are so far unaccounted for,” seven pallets landed in no man’s land, and four of them were damaged.

The four that were damaged did actually land in or around the drop zone, but their parachutes had failed to open and caused the damage, while the other seven pallets that landed in an uncontrolled area were lost due to land mines. Etefa went on to explain the reasons that there was such a huge margin of error in the drop.

“This plane had to fly at a high altitude to avoid rockets, missiles and gunfire. We are disappointed that people who were anxiously waiting to receive this food did not receive it.”

Initially, the aid was believed to have landed safely, but BBC America reports the Food Programme issued a statement that they had faced technical difficulties and would be communicating with the crew and partners in Syria’s Deir el-Zour to make necessary adjustments as “high-altitude drops are extremely challenging to carry out and take more than one trial to develop full accuracy.”

It was only last month that UN humanitarian agencies warned that the civilians living in Deir el-Zour, mainly women and children, were all suffering severe cases of malnutrition and deaths due to starvation. The deteriorating conditions required immediate humanitarian aid, especially as it relates to food, nutrition, and health supplies. The Syrian government’s stocks have reportedly been providing bread to the city, but the World Food Programme has not been able to provide assistance to the civilians in Deir el-Zour since March 2014.

The U.S., Russia and Syria’s main opposition umbrella group have all agreed to a nationwide cessation of hostilities scheduled to begin at 22:00 GMT on Friday in a move that will also allow aid groups the opportunity to deliver aid to the country’s civilian population, though the Islamic State is excluded from the proposed cessation of violence. The civil war in Syria has been going on for five years and has claimed the lives of at least 250,000 persons.

According to NBC News the 21 tons of food that were lost would have filled a medium-sized aid truck. In the past week, the World Food Programme has successfully delivered approximately 100 truckloads by road to six other towns in Syria, but the high-altitude air delivery attempted Wednesday was to be the first of its kind. Stephen O’Brien, the UN aid chief, advised the Security Council on Wednesday that the UN and its partners had managed to reach 110,000 persons that reside in Syria’s besieged areas. Approval was also received to get aid to an additional 230,000 people through aid drops such as that attempted for Deir el-Zour while approval to reach additional 170,000 is still being sought.

Etefa said, “Airdrops are always a last option.. [but] this is a desperate measure in desperate times.”

The World Food Programme has maintained that they will try again “when possible” to deliver aid to Deir el-Zour. Original plans were to continue the airdrops for a three-month period.

[Photo by U.S. Air Force/Getty Images]