PHOTO: Claimed image of men digging through trash to find food in Madaya, near Damascus
UPDATE 1500 GMT: The UN has announced that it will be able to deliver humanitarian aid to Madaya, following the consent of the Assad regime.
The organization will also be sending in assistance to the regime enclaves of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya, north of Idlib city in northwest Syria.
“The UN welcomes today’s approval from the Government of Syria to access Madaya, Fu’ah, and Kafraya and is preparing to deliver humanitarian assistance in the coming days,” a statement said.
Activists and analysts had criticized the UN, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, for silence over the growing crisis in Madaya.
Amir Burhan, who runs a field hospital in nearby Zabadani just north of Madaya, said a UN official had responded to appeals for help by saying that all staff were on holiday from December 24 to January 5.
The UN Coordinator in Syria, Yacoub El Hillo, and Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Kevin Kennedy had finally issued a statement on Thursday:
The UN calls for unimpeded humanitarian access to reach those in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria. We are particularly concerned about the plight of nearly 400,000 people besieged by parties to the conflict in locations such as Deir Ez-Zor city, Daraya, Foah and Kafraya, as well as besieged areas of East Ghouta.
The Syrian Arab Red Crescent said on Thursday that it is “ready to deliver aid”, with a “convoy supported by international partners and UN agencies…being prepared” to enter Madaya and the two enclaves at the same time.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: More testimony has been posted about starvation in Madaya, southwest of Syria’s capital Damascus, where at least 31 people have reportedly died, others have been shot and killed, and many more are at risk in the town of 40,000 people.
A fixer for foreign journalists and native of Zabadani, Raed Bourhan, says:
Everything is gone. They have noting left at all. There is no food, no medicine, no fuel to keep them alive anymore.
The trees have largely been cut down for firewood and there is no fuel. People at least used to pick grass and herbs and eat or boil them but when the snow fell they could no longer even do this.
Madaya has been cut off by the Syrian military since last July, when Hezbollah and regime forces tried to overrun nearby Zabadani. Despite a ceasefire in late September, the regime has maintained the blockade.
Many in Madaya have been displaced from their homes, including an estimated 20,000 who have left Zabadani since last summer’s fighting. In addition to the lack of food, medical services are limited, with shortages of staff, medicine, and equipment.
There was a single aid delivery in late December, when the Red Cross supervised the evacuation of the wounded, rebels, and their families from Zabadani, that provided a few days of food. No further assistance has been allowed.
Medicins Sans Frontieres indicates the death toll of 31 may be much too low:
MSF says 23 people in a clinic it supports in Madaya have died due to starvation since December 1. That's 23 in just five weeks.
— Kareem Shaheen (@kshaheen) January 7, 2016
Bourhan confirms reports that Hezbollah fighters are also preventing the entry of food and essentials: “Hezbollah were ordered to enact the siege and that is exactly what they are doing. While one might be able to bride regime soldiers to let in some supplies, Hezbollah are extremely strict.”
Residents said that snipers have targeted people trying to retrieve firewood, killed more than a dozen, and that children have lost limbs gathering grass to eat. A teacher said, “They blocked all the roads to both towns, and there are a lot of mines.”
Dr. Mohamad Youssef, the manager of the medical council in Madaya, said two or three residents are dying of starvation every day, in addition to about 50 who are severely ill or fainting: “People are surviving by consuming water with sugar, salt or spices if they can find any….The death toll is striking mostly the elderly, the women and children.”
Youssef said medical staff are working all hours, seven days a week, but one of their only options is to administer saline solution.
A 32-year-old in Madaya, Momina, confirmed, “There’s nothing to eat anymore. Nothing but water has entered my mouth for two days.”
Sources inside the town say that a bag of milk can now cost $100, a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of rice $150, and flour $100. The price of fuel can be several hundred dollars for a few liters, in a country where the average adult earns $200 per month.
— Raed Bourhan (@raedbrh) January 6, 2016
A student named Louay, who also spoke with Vice News, told The Guardian:
I swear by God, and you might not believe me because it sounds fantastical, I tried to buy some food today, but a kilo of rice is 100,000 [Syrian] pounds [about $530]. A kilo of rice, bulgur, lentil, sugar – 100,000, 100,000, 100,000. That is if you can find it.
I’ve personally seen people slaughtering cats to eat them, and even the trees have been stripped of leaves now.
Syrian-American doctor Ammar Ghanem, who grew up near Madaya area and has relatives in the town, summarizes: “The siege is like a fist of iron. Nothing is allowed to come in or come out.”
On the Ground News broadcasts further witness testimony from those who recently left Zabadani under the evacuation agreement: