UNITED NATIONS - A new report by the charity Save the Children describes tremendous suffering in areas of Syria under siege mainly by the government, but also by some opposition and terrorist groups.
At least a half million people live in areas classified by the United Nations as besieged — and about a half of them are children.
Food and medicines are in desperately short supply. Baby formula has been removed from aid convoys. For many, even bread has become a luxury.
A Syrian aid worker, who could not be identified for safety reasons, told reporters during a briefing on the report that in Damascus, a dozen of the traditional round loaves of bread cost about 100 Syrian pounds — or just under half a U.S. dollar. But 15 minutes away, in a hard-to-reach area, the price would be 10 times that — if the bread is even available. The aid worker also reported that civilians are allowed only one bag of a dozen loaves each time they pass the checkpoint.
"So it is to that extent that food and supplies have been monitored," the aid worker said. "It's not about weapons or phones or electronic devices — which are OK to be blocked from certain areas — it's about how many potatoes or tomatoes."
Children under siege
This past winter, the aid worker said, many children took to scavenging through bombed-out buildings for fuel sources. "They wait till the aircraft hit the area and then the building is destroyed and there are the leftovers of the furniture, because they wanted to use the wood in heating and cooking," the aid worker said.
Save the Children is calling for a universal lifting of sieges across Syria. The charity is also calling on parties to comply with their international legal obligations not to target civilians, schools, hospitals and other noncombatant facilities.
Culture of war
The report documents testimony from dozens of parents, children, teachers, medical workers and humanitarians working in besieged areas.
Children have died from preventable diseases because they lacked medicine and vaccines. They also suffer vitamin and mineral deficiencies. One doctor working in Eastern Ghouta told Save the Children that in addition to malnutrition, children there are suffering from lung ailments and infections from the smoke from explosions.
More than 4,000 schools have been attacked during the conflict. One in five Syrian teachers has been killed or displaced. More than 2 million children are out of school. Where schools are functioning in besieged areas, parents are often too afraid to send their children in case the schools are bombed.
The nearly five-year-old conflict is also taking a psychological toll on Syria's youth. Parents reported that their children live in constant fear of bombings; many are becoming increasingly aggressive, while others are withdrawn and depressed. Some have recurrent nightmares; others have developed speech impediments.
"There is a real culture of war that these children are growing up in," said Sonia Khush, Save the Children's Regional Syria director. "It is hard to estimate what long-term impact this is going to have on them."