Starving to death in Madaya among ‘walking skeletons’
The Syrian regime has continued to periodically choke off critical aid to areas of the country as part of deliberate military strategy
There is perhaps no greater evidence of the collective failure to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people than the photographs showing rampant starvation in Madaya. Choked off from critical humanitarian aid for months, officials from Doctors without Borders have indicated that at least 23 people in their care have died from hunger since December 1. At least six of those victims were reportedly under one year old. Meanwhile, the United Nations has confirmed that upwards of 42,000 people – half of whom are children, according to UNICEF – are still trapped inside the town and remain on the brink of dying from hunger. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Rupert Colville has described the situation as “ghastly.” In an interview with Amnesty International a resident of Madaya described the horror of seeing what he referred to as “walking skeletons.” The man identified only as Mohammad further said: “The children are always crying. We have many people with chronic diseases. Some told me that they go every day to the checkpoints, asking to leave, but the government won’t allow them out.”
This is not the first time Bashar al-Assad’s criminal regime has besieged an area to systematically starve it. Nearly two years ago to date, the world was made aware of the Assad regime’s starving of the Yarmouk refugee camp. Since such reports were documented, the regime has continued to periodically choke off critical aid to areas of the country as part of deliberate military strategy.
The international community should note that repeatedly allowing the Assad regime and its backers to treat the transfer of humanitarian aid as totally optional is a grave mistake. The continued usage of starvation as a weapon, while international parties continue to attempt to negotiate an end to the conflict, underscore the need for a shift in the focus of such talks.
Futility of Syria talks
Notably, recent negotiations among key parties involved in the Syrian conflict, including the U.S. and Russia, led to the adoption of Resolution 2254. However, soon after its implementation, the Russian military abandoned it, bombing a hospital and a school. As such, there is no reason to assess Russia will help facilitate the transfer of humanitarian aid to areas under the regime’s control but it should nonetheless be pressured to do so. Resolution 2254 Number 12 stipulates that all parties should “immediately allow humanitarian agencies rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Syria by most direct routes, allow immediate, humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need, in particular in all besieged and hard-to-reach areas.”
The Syrian regime has continued to periodically choke off critical aid to areas of the country as part of deliberate military strategyBrooklyn Middleton
Further, the document indicates that all parties of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) should “use their influence immediately to these ends.” The U.S. and its U.N. allies should convene a meeting and ask Moscow to not only once again recommit to Resolution 2254 but also to pressure the Assad regime to break sieges in government-controlled areas and begin facilitating the transfer of aid without further delay.
Repeatedly focusing on long-term issues while failing to address the immediate needs of Syrian civilians will not end this bloody conflict. Discussions regarding when elections should take place should not be prioritized above breaking sieges in both regime and rebel-controlled areas. Failing to accept this point will only exacerbate suffering on the ground while talks continue elsewhere.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.