International Aid Finally Reaches Besieged Communities in Syria


On January 8th, the Human Rights Watch reported about the serious consequences facing Syrian civilians living in communities under siege. According to the United Nations humanitarian affairs agency, an estimated 4.5 million people are currently living in areas that are hard to reach, 400,000 of those in besieged areas in 15 different locations. While the Eastern Ghouta, Daraya and Zabadani in Damascus and the city of Madaya are besieged under government and pro-government forces, other communities such as Kefraya and Foua are surrounded by the rebel force al-Nusra Front, and Deir ez-Zour by Daesh (ISIL) in the east.

The siege across Syria has led many residents to suffer due to severe shortages of food and medical treatment. The Syrian government has prevented civilians from either entering or exiting Madaya. International aid has also become inaccessible. When the International Committee of the Red Cross delivered its last aid package on October 18th last year, they witnessed shortages in electricity, infant formula, water and medical supplies.

Despite overwhelming evidence, Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied the allegations of starvation in their occupied areas. But since December last year, the situation in many of these communities have escalated. According to the Doctors Without Borders in Madaya, 23 civilians have died of starvation during the last month. Inhabitants of communities like Madaya are forced to live on scraps from garbage piles and tree leaves, or forced to kill cats and dogs for nutrition. The consequences of such living has had its toll on the health clinics. The shortage of medical supplies has resulted in medicine only being given to patients that are on the brink of death. Khaled Mohamed, a doctor at a hospital stated in an interview with the Human Rights Watch, that children are the ones suffering the most from this inhumane situation. According to Mohamed, sixty percent of his patients are minors suffering with severe malnutrition.

While starvation as a tactic of war is prohibited under international humanitarian law, it wasn’t until January 7th that the UN made a deal with the Syrian government, after immense international pressure from France, Britain and US, who called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council. The six-month truce deal allows aid to enter Madaya as well as the areas occupied by the opposing government forces, Foua and Kefraya. Yesterday, Daily Mail Australia reported that 17 trucks reached Foua and Kefraya; the next aid is to be delivered on Sunday.

Although this awaited development is a step in the right direction, it has been argued that nations supporting the peace process in Syria, the International Syrian Support Group, should use their influence more sternly towards the contenting parties to allow the flow of aid for suffering civilians. While many besieged communities are still out of reach, the humanitarian operations are expected to develop and bring life to the upcoming peace talks in Syria at the end of this month.

Sally Wennergren