Madaya’s case unprecedented in Syria war: U.N.

WHO representative in Damascus says ‘I am really alarmed,’ urging for immediate help for starving people in Madaya

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The suffering in the Syrian town of Madaya is the worst seen in the country’s civil war, the United Nations said Tuesday, a day after delivering aid to the area besieged for months.

“There is no comparison in what we saw in Madaya,” the U.N. refugee agency’s chief in Damascus, Sajjad Malik, told journalists in Geneva, when asked to compare the devastation in the town to other areas in Syria.

He said there were “credible reports” of people starving to death during the months-long siege by pro-regime forces.

A convoy of trucks from the U.N., Syrian Red Crescent and International Red Cross (ICRC) delivered emergency food supplies to Madaya on Monday, in the first aid to reach the area since October.

“There was no life,” said Malik, who was in the convoy, describing a town of desperate people who in many cases were too weak to voice outrage over their suffering.

Food has been so scarce that people “repeatedly mentioned that a kilo of rice would cost $300 (275 euros),” Malik said.

One family “sold a motorbike to get five kilos of rice,” he added, detailing the extent of the devastation among the town’s estimated 40,000 inhabitants.
Residents told U.N. staff that a main source of food in recent weeks has been a soup made of grass boiled with the few available spices.

With no access to electricity, people in Madaya had tried to stay warm by burning cardboard, the U.N. official further said, adding: “Whatever we had in the cars, we gave to them.”

As part of its deal with Damascus, the U.N. has permission to carry out two more aid deliveries to Madaya in the coming days, but timing and details have not yet been agreed with the regime.

Malik said the World Health Organization would seek establish the number of people who had died from starvation in Madaya when U.N. agencies were allowed back into the area.

He stressed the vital need to sustain aid deliveries through the coming months.

“If we are not able to sustain this... even the effort we have put in now will be a band-aid,” he said. “We want to make sure that these sieges are lifted.”

Amid the total collapse of health services in the town, WHO said it wants to deploy mobile health clinics to Madaya.

Elizabeth Hoff, WHO representative in Damascus who went into Madaya on Monday with a U.N. convoy, said the organization needed to do a “door-to-door assessment” in the town of 42,000, where a Syrian doctor told her 300-400 people needed “special medical care.”

“I am really alarmed,” Hoff told Reuters. “I sent an immediate request to authorities for more supplies to be brought in. We are asking for mobile clinics and medical teams to be dispatched.”

Previously, U.N. ambassadors said on Monday that some 400 people must be urgently evacuated from Madaya to receive medical care after an aid convoy delivered the first supplies in months to the besieged Syrian town.

The United Nations has asked the Syrian government to allow the 400 Syrians to be airlifted out of Madaya, where medical charity MSF says 28 people have starved to death since December 1.

“They need medical evacuation on an urgent basis tonight and they want permission from the government of Syria to lift those people out,” said New Zealand’s Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen.

The U.N. Security Council was meeting behind closed doors to discuss the situation in the besieged areas where residents told AFP they had resorted to eating grass and killing cats to feed themselves.

U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien told the 15-member council that the 400 Syrians were “in a very critical situation,” Spanish Ambassador Roman Oyarzun told reporters.

“If they are not evacuated tonight, the situation will be more than dramatic tomorrow,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said “over 400 people are on the brink of death in need of immediate medical evacuation” from Madaya.

Hours earlier, a convoy of 44 trucks loaded with food, baby formula, blankets and other supplies entered Madaya, which has been under siege by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for six months.

An additional 21 trucks delivered supplies to two other towns besieged by the rebels: Fuaa and Kafraya.

Syria’s U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari dismissed reports of starvation in Madaya as fabrications and accused “terrorists inside” the town of stealing the supplies.

Britain and France are calling for an end to the sieges.

“Starving civilians is an inhuman tactic used by the Asad regime and their allies,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft.
“All sieges must be lifted to save civilian lives and to bring Syria closer to peace,” he said in a statement.

The United Nations says it is struggling to deliver aid to about 4.5 million Syrians who live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged areas.

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