News / Middle East

    Many People in Besieged Syrian Town of Madaya Nearing Death

    Red Crescent aid convoy enters Madaya, Syria, Jan. 14, 2016.
    Red Crescent aid convoy enters Madaya, Syria, Jan. 14, 2016.
    Lisa Schlein

    United Nations aid agencies say many people in the besieged Syrian government-controlled town of Madaya have starved to death, while children suffering from severe levels of malnutrition are barely clinging to life. 

    The U.N. agencies report people in Madaya are in poor condition after having been deprived of food, medicine and other essential life-giving supplies since October. The agencies succeeded in delivering desperately needed humanitarian aid on Monday, with U.N. aid workers saying they were shocked by what they saw.

    The spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund, Christophe Boulierac, says the U.N. found severe levels of malnutrition in the children. He says some were so weakened from lack of food that they died in front of those who came too late to help them.

    “The people they met in Madaya were exhausted and extremely frail," he said. "Doctors were emotionally distressed and mentally drained, working around the clock with very limited resources to provide treatment to children and people in need.”  

    Syrians wait for the arrival of an aid convoy on Jan. 11, 2016 in the besieged town of Madaya as part of a landmark six-month deal reached in September for an end to hostilities in those areas in exchange for humanitarian assistance.
    Syrians wait for the arrival of an aid convoy on Jan. 11, 2016 in the besieged town of Madaya as part of a landmark six-month deal reached in September for an end to hostilities in those areas in exchange for humanitarian assistance.

    Boulierac says UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and Syrian Arab Red Crescent plan to make a nutritional assessment of the pressing needs on Sunday.  

    The World Food Program has brought a month's supply of wheat flour for Madaya’s 39,000 inhabitants, as well as therapeutic food for children and other vital aid.

    Spokeswoman Bettina Luescher says WFP’s nutritionist, who was part of the convoy, described the situation as very bad.

    “The adults looked very emaciated. According to a member of the relief committee, 32 people have died of starvation in the last 30-day period…The World Food Program is appealing that we can get into those places regularly," she said. "We need to be able to have continuous access to these people in order to really help. Once a month is not enough, so we are hoping that the convoy will be able to go in, in the next few days.”  

    Residents talk to reporters in the besieged town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, Syria on Jan. 11, 2016.
    Residents talk to reporters in the besieged town of Madaya, northwest of Damascus, Syria on Jan. 11, 2016.

    The United Nations and other international agencies are planning to send more convoys in to Madaya, as well as to rebel-controlled besieged areas of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province in the coming days.

    In the meantime, the World Health Organization reports a first mobile clinic left for Madaya Friday after reaching an agreement with the Syrian government for this vital medical operation to go ahead. WHO says it hopes the government also will agree to allow the start of a much needed vaccination campaign in Madaya next week.

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