Damascus (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of people in Madaya need to be evacuated in a hurry to receive medical treatment, says the head of the United Nations humanitarian mission Stephen O'Brien, who is coordinating relief operations in the Syrian town. After months of siege the population is starving to death for lack of food and basic necessities.
Yesterday, the first shipment of aid entered the city. Speaking to AsiaNews, the Melkite Patriarch Gregory III Laham warned of the risk that the food end up "in the hands of criminal gangs and terrorist groups." Witnesses speak of rebel leaders selling food and basic necessities to the population at "exorbitant" rates.
Reporting to the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Madaya, the head of the UN mission said that at least 400 people are likely to die if they do not receive treatment soon. Meanwhile, diplomatic sources believe the stories of people who have died because of chronic food shortages are"credible".
Stephen O'Brien speaks of "at least 400 people who need to be evacuated immediately. We must try to do it as soon as possible - he added – they must receive medical treatment”. Many of those at risk include young children. To survive, people are eating grass, soil and cat meat, while the guerrillas have "refused to share their rations or distribute food to the people".
So far some people have been allowed to leave the city and are currently at collection points, waiting to complete their evacuation.
Yesterday a convoy of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent under the UN - with 44 trucks loaded with food – arrived in Madaya, with food stocks able to feed at least 20 thousand people for a month.
The local population had been without any aid or food since last October and food prices went through the roof with a liter of milk sold on the black market at over $ 200. Among the commodities delivered yesterday there were also medicines, blankets, field materials and soaps. The distribution of aid will continue in the coming hours.
Although there are no updated figures on the number of victims, sources of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) reported that from December 1 last year at least 28 people starved to death. UN officials speak of (credible) evidence of people who starved to death and others killed as they tried to flee the area.
To date up to 4.5 million people are living in the disputed areas in Syria and difficult to access for humanitarian agencies, including at least 400 thousand in 15 different locations under siege, living in conditions of extreme necessity and without any access to aid.
These include Madaya, about 25 km north-west of Damascus and only 11 kilometers from the border with Lebanon, where there are about 40 thousand people. Since July last year the area has been besieged by government forces, supported by allied Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah.
Similar situations are reported in Foah and Kefraya - under siege by the rebel militias - in which there are at least 20 thousand people trapped since last March, and without aid.