According to the UN, at least 400 people must be evacuated within the next few days if their lives are to be saved.
Besieged and starving to death
Residents of the besieged town of Madaya have gone without adequate food for at least six months following the imposition of a government blockade on supplies to the area. No aid has reached the town since October. On 8 January, after the UN received credible information that people were starving to death, the ban on access to Madaya was lifted by the Syrian government and humanitarian agencies given permission to deliver aid.
SOS Children was one of those organisations. On Monday a team of four from our office in Syria travelled with the Syrian Red Crescent and the Coordinator of UN Humanitarian Aid in Syria, Yakoub Alhelo to Madaya.
A slow process
The SOS team had organised 400 baskets of food for distribution among residents of the town and intended to locate any unaccompanied children and remove them into the safe care of our specialist Interim Care Centre in Aleppo. However, distribution of the aid has been slow, and all but three of the some 50 trucks that have been queuing remain stuck outside Madaya. Our trucks are among that number.
The hope is that on 14 January, the team will finally be able to access the town and will begin their rapid assessment, including household surveys to identify the children who most urgently need to come into our care.
Hell on earth
While waiting outside Madaya, the team heard many harrowing stories of starvation and despair from residents who had managed to escape the town.
One such story came from ten-year-old Amr, who spent the whole of Monday sitting on the side of the road, staring at the convey. His big eyes filled with tears when he spoke of his much-loved big brother who remains trapped inside Madaya. “Can you please take me into the town with you, so I can see my brother,” he begged. “I haven’t seen him in seven months – I hope he has not died like so many people.”
Amr, his sister Nadja and their mother escaped from Madaya seven months ago after living for three months in a situation that their mother describes as hell on earth. As the smallest and fastest, Nadja was the only one who could get food for the family. Every day she’d make a perilous trip over the mountain and through the wood on the outskirts of the town, risking sniper fire, just to bring a kilogram each of sugar, rice and lentils. Nadja is just 11 years old.
This small family is desperate to find their big brother, but his mother is worried that he’ll be unrecognisable. “I asked him to send me photos of himself and his wife, but he refused – he says they look like skeletons now,” she weeps. “I can’t sleep at night imagining what my son might look like now.’
As the situation in Madaya changes, we’ll keep you updated.
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