DAMASCUS -After months of starving to death, a UN-sponsored aid convoy has reached the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, bringing vital food and medicines to around 40,000 people who have been trapped for six months by a government blockade and without aid since October.
“The people… were coming every five minutes asking, ‘Listen, did you bring food, did you bring medicine?” Pawel Krzysiek, who is with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Madaya, told BBC after arriving late on Monday, January 11.
“Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired.”
The agreement to allow food aid into Madaya followed the UN confirmation of receiving credible report of people dying of starvation.
“For 15 days we have been eating only soup,” one resident, Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
“I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit. Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us.”
Along with Madaya, aid lorries entered two villages besieged by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib under a deal between the warring parties.
The situation in Foah and Kefraya is also said to be extremely dire, with an estimated 20,000 people trapped there since March.
The arrival of the aid was delayed until both sets of lorries were ready to enter.
In total, some 44 lorries operated by the UN, the ICRC, the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme reached Madaya from the capital, Damascus.
Another 21 entered Foah and Kefraya.
“To relieve the suffering of these tens of thousands of people, there has to be regular access to these areas,” Marianne Gasser, head of the ICRC’s Syria delegation, said.
As the conflict in Syria enters its fifth year, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released a new report that the number of children affected by the civil war in Syria has more than doubled over the past year.
UNICEF said the child casualty rates were the highest recorded in any recent conflict in the region.
It cited UN figures that at least 10,000 children have been killed in the Syrian war but noted that the real number is probably higher.
The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said that more than 136,000 have been killed since a revolt against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
The UNICEF report said 2 million children needed some form of psychological support or treatment while a total of 5.5 million children were affected by the conflict – some of them inside Syria and others living abroad as refugees.
This is more than twice the number of children affected by the conflict in March 2013, when UNICEF estimated it had impacted 2.3 million young Syrians.
The number of children displaced inside Syria has risen to nearly 3 million from 920,000 a year ago. Meanwhile, UNICEF said the number of child refugees has grown to 1.2 million from 260,000 since last year – 425,000 of them under 5 years old.