“Severely malnourished” children in besieged Madaya eating grass to survive, U.N. says

Severely malnourished children in Madaya are eating grass and leaves to survive, the U.N. says after aid convoy reaches the besieged Syrian town for first time in months.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (JANUARY 12, 2016) (UNTV) – The United Nations reported on Tuesday (January 12) that severely malnourished children in Madaya were eating grass and leaves to survive, after a convoy successfully delivered aid to the besieged Syrian town.

An aid convoy on Monday (January 11) entered the town of Madaya, besieged by government forces, where thousands had been trapped for months without supplies and people had been reported to have died of starvation.

The operation agreed on by the warring sides, was undertaken jointly by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian Red Crescent, and was the first aid to enter the town since October 2015.

“This is the first aid that people in these locations has seen since October last year. The colleagues on the convoy to Madaya said that they found people in a miserable condition, and that children were severely malnourished,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian affairs office (OCHA).

U.N. refugee agency spokesman Adrian Edwards said the situation was desperate and that a doctor who was with the convoy said children had resorted to eating grass to survive.

“A doctor reported to us deaths from lack of food and people who had chronic illnesses being particularly vulnerable — even people who are healthy are in many senses equally at risk of becoming less so. Children are going out to collect grass to eat. It is one of the last nutritional resources available. But there are land mines around, we were told of an incident in which a child lost both legs and his father had to go out to save the child trying to risk getting him to Damascus for treatment afterwards. Of course, there is no treatment available in Madaya,” Edwards told a news conference in Geneva.

Dozens are said to have died from starvation or lack of medical care in rebel-held Madaya, home to around 40,000 people. Images said to be of emaciated residents have appeared widely on social media.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad has denied blockading the town. It accuses insurgents of hoarding food and blames them for the plight of civilians.

A U.N. commission of inquiry has said siege warfare has been used “in a ruthlessly coordinated and planned manner” in Syria, with the aim of forcing a population, collectively, to surrender or suffer starvation.

Laerke said that unfortunately, Madaya was not an isolated case.

“The situation in Madaya is practically far from unique: almost 400,000 people in Syria are trapped in areas besieged by various parties to the conflict. The use of siege and starvation as a method of war has become routine and systematic with complete disregard for civilian life,” he said.