Humanitarian Groups: Foreign Aid to Starving Syrian Town Won’t Be Enough

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January 11, 2016; CNN and New York Times

NPQ has reported on the plight of the Syrian refugees and what leads them to leave their country in droves. We indicated that to properly understand the situation unfolding in the Middle East, one has to understand exactly what the refugees were running from. The documented starvation of Madaya, a town just an hour from Damascus, is one of the atrocities humanitarian organizations are attempting to bring attention to and aid to.

Ensnared by rebel forces, including pro-government groups and Hezbollah, the town, like many others in Syria, is situated in the middle of a war zone and surrounded by landmines and barbed wire. The effort to provide aid to Syria has been stymied by political negotiations, leading to leading to worsening conditions. According to the New York Times, the people of Madaya have little more than grass to eat, and so far 28 people, including six babies, have died from malnutrition. Since the faces of sunken children went viral and provoked a public outcry, several dozen trucks in a convoy carrying food, medicine, and other supplies finally reached Madaya and its neighboring city, Al-Zabadani, on Monday. The aid was delivered by UNICEF, the World Food Program, and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (a local Red Cross branch) and is expected to last 40,000 people about a month. It is the first aid to reach Syria since October.

“We managed to reach Madaya with the humanitarian aid,” said Pawel Krzysiek, a Red Cross spokesman from the Syria branch. “The first impression is really heartbreaking. You see a lot of people on the street, some of them smiling and waving to us, but many just simply too weak with a very, very bleak expression, very tired.”

While humanitarian groups and the UN welcomed the news, they also noted that the efforts must be sustained. In a month when this aid runs out, there must be further attempts to deliver food.

“One convoy will not solve the problem,” said Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. A spokesperson for the International Red Cross agreed. “One short delivery will not be the solution,” said Dibeh Fakhr. “What is needed is regular access.” As many as 400,000 other Syrians are also believed to be trapped without food or water. With reports from the UN that people were dying from starvation, the Syrian government has also agreed to allow convoys for Foua and Kefraya, two other cities similarly besieged by rebel forces. According to medical charity Doctors Without Borders, five people alone died in Madaya on Sunday from starvation.

Other humanitarian groups like Oxfam and CARE International echoed similar sentiments in a statement. “Only a complete end to the six-month-old siege and guarantees for sustained aid deliveries alongside humanitarian services will alleviate the crisis in these areas,” they said. “This one-off permission to deliver will be insufficient given the current shocking reported levels of malnutrition.” With widespread consensus in the humanitarian community both of the devastation and the need for continued aid, further public outcry may again spur action and help deliver aid through the affected region.—Shafaq Hasan