WARNING: Some of the following images are shocking.
The Syrian town of Madaya has been under siege from the army for more than three months and has not received any humanitarian aid. Its residents have called for help, explaining that they are dying of hunger. FRANCE 24 spoke to a local doctor.
The town of Madaya, which is home to 40,000 people, is located between Damascus and the border with Lebanon. Although the Syrian regime and the local opposition fighters negotiated a ceasefire more than three months ago, the army continued to besiege the town. And since early October, NGOs have been unable to reach Madaya to bring food to residents.
The majority of the civilians currently in Madaya are actually from neighbouring Zabadani, but had to flee fighting there. Zabdani is held by rebel fighters and is also under siege by the army.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London-based watchdog group, at least ten people have died in Madaya due to malnutrition. The organisation estimates that more than 300 of the town’s children are suffering from malnutrition and related health problems. The elderly are also particularly affected by the food shortage.
On Thursday, the United Nations announced that the Syrian government had promised to allow them to access Madaya. In a statement, the UN said they were preparing aid packages that they hope to be able to get to the town in the coming days. Our Observer says that help can’t come soon enough.
"A woman in three children fell very ill after eating tree leaves"
Amer Bourhane is a doctor in Zabani. He is in regular contact with doctors from next-door Madaya, who are - understandably - too busy to talk to the media.
In Madaya, it is not rare to see people fainting in the street. Last week, the doctors saw 50 cases of fainting. But the situation has gotten much worse since then. Just on Thursday, there were upwards of 200 cases of fainting! Some of these people have not eaten anything for several days, and have run out of energy. When they go to the hospital, the doctors inject them with a physiological saline solution and send them home.
For weeks now, there’s been no powdered milk in Madaya. A little bit can be found on the black market, but it costs 300 US dollars a box! Most parents feed their children with water, which they boil and then add salt and a few spices. This has caused several cases of ulcers, with children vomiting blood. Getting milk to the children is the top priority.In this video published by activists, this mother, described as a resident of Madaya, explains that she feeds her 16-month-old daughter with a mix of water and jam “in the hopes of keeping her alive”.
As for the adults, many of them are eating plants that they find here and there. That, too, is dangerous. Two days ago, a woman and her three children came to the hospital. They had been poisoned by tree leaves they had eaten. The children have recovered, but the mother is very ill and is still in the hospital.
Due to malnutrition, many people have developed diseases – their immune system is too weak to fight back. There have notably been about two dozen cases of severe skin inflammation; children are the worst affected.
The doctors are cruelly lacking in medicine. They have to make do with very little. Recently, they created a makeshift incubator to try to save a newborn that had respiratory problems caused by his mother’s severe malnourishment. But the baby died.The doctor sent us this photo of the makeshift incubator.
In total, 47 people have died due to malnutrition [Editor’s Note: this figure could not be independently verified.]