UN: 396,000 people under siege in Syria have no access to food aid

The western Syrian town of Madaya has been blockaded the Syrian military and militias allied with the regime of president Bashar al-Assad, including Hezbollah for the past six months.

Nearly 400 people are in imminent danger of starving to death in the city according to the UN, and images of dying and emaciated residents have brought problems of humanitarian access in the war-torn country to the attention of international policymakers.

The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting Friday at the request of Western countries trying to press Syria’s warring parties to lift sieges on towns where hundreds of thousands have been cut off from aid and many are starving, the Associated Press reports.

But despite the increasing attention on Madaya, the situation remains desperate. And Madaya, which had a pre-war population of a little over 9,000, is hardly the only place in Syria that’s cut off from all humanitarian aid.

On Thursday, United Nations Secretary General said the United Nations and its humanitarian partners are able to deliver food to only 1 per cent of the 400,000 people under siege in Syria, meaning that some 396,000 people are stranded in areas without any humanitarian access. And the problem is getting worse: the one per cent down from an already dismal 5 per cent just over a year ago, according to the Associated Press.

At a Thursday press conference, Ban called the situation “utterly unconscionable.”

Ban said both the Syrian government and rebels are committing war crimes by deliberately starving civilians and must face justice.

“UN teams have witnessed scenes that haunt the soul. The elderly and children, men and women, who were little more than skin and bones: gaunt, severely malnourished, so weak they could barely walk, and utterly desperate for the slightest morsel,” Ban said. “I would say that they are being held hostage — but it is even worse. Hostages get fed.”

Trucks from the UN and other humanitarian organisations entered three besieged communities in Syria this week for the first time in months.

Earlier this week, Syria’s UN ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, dismissed the reports of starvation in Madaya as lies.

The Madaya siege is yet another factor complicating Syria peace talks scheduled for the end of this month. Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran have already thrown the January 25th conference into doubt, in light of the two countries’ support for opposite sides in Syria’s conflict.

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