Hundreds of children and adults in a Syrian town under siege from government forces are on the verge of dying from malnutrition, according to aid agencies. Dozens of people have already died. The situation in the town of Madaya, in Idlib province, is so desperate that residents have reportedly been forced to eat their pets, while others are surviving on grass and leaves.
Desperate to make their plight known to the world, the people of Madaya have been posting videos and images of their suffering online. The sunken, pale faces of infants stare out – too weak to cry – on the verge of starving to death.
A mother records a visit to a local field hospital with her 7-month-old son. The doctor asks when he was last given milk. A month ago, she answers. We give him water and salt. What about diapers, he asks. We have none – we use plastic bags, she says.
Some doctors are giving out cough syrups to keep children alive. Vickie Hawkins is Executive Director of the aid group Doctors Without Borders, which is supporting a hospital in Madaya.
“People are really starving to death. In the health facility that we’re supporting, we’ve recorded 23 deaths, adults and children," said Hawkins.
Government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad surround the town. They claim opposition fighters are in Madaya and using the population as human shields. Again, Vickie Hawkins of Doctors Without Borders.
“The siege has been tightened over the last three months with the result that really nothing is reaching the population inside Madaya – no fuel, they’ve got no firewood, no food, no medicines, and the situation has become catastrophic," she said.
The United Nations Security Council has demanded that aid be let through – and is due to debate the situation in Madaya Monday next week. Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the U.N.’s refugee agency said Friday it is planning to send a convoy of aid.
“At the moment we don't have a confirmed date to announce, we will be announcing at the moment that the aid is in and is successfully delivered to these areas," said Edwards.
The situation in Madaya is exceptionally critical. But aid agencies say there are around 2 million people in Syria effectively cut off by the fighting.