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More Children in Syria Dying of Malnutrition

Human Rights Groups Warn Syrian Government Siege is Tightening

In one town in Syria an hour’s drive from Damascus, 86 people have died from causes related to the Syrian government siege of the town – 65 from malnutrition and starvation, 14 from landmines, six from snipers and one from a chronic health condition. Almost all of them could have been saved if they had access to food, medication, medical equipment and medical treatment, according to a new report by two human rights groups.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) says that the town of Madaya today houses 40,000 Syrians, four times the town’s original population. It is surrounded by landmines, checkpoints, and snipers. There is not enough food, and medical care is given by two dentistry students and a veterinarian.

“What do we expect two dentistry students, a veterinarian and a field hospital to do for these cases, each one in need of specialized care? We are in an impossible situation,” Dr. Muhammad Darwish, one of the dentistry students asks in the report.

In another example, Dr. Mohammad Yousef, a veterinarian, performed a caesarean section.

“We had to make the family sign an agreement saying we are not liable if there were complications and the mother or infant died during the surgery,” Dr. Yousef told The Media Line. “We were so afraid during the operation, but it was a success. We cried tears of joy and thanked God for allowing us to save the mother and her child.”

The report details the cases of 65 people in Madaya, many of them children, who died from malnutrition and starvation between November 2015 and the end of May 2016. Countless others have suffered the effects of malnutrition including osteoporosis. Doctors say many in the town could suffer effects in the future including “stunted growth, poor mental development, behavior abnormalities, insulin resistance and hypertension.”

Only occasional shipments of food and medicine have been allowed into the city, and residents have not been able to leave.

PHR calls on the Syrian government to “lift all sieges and allow freedom of movement for all civilians, including medical personnel, in, out, and across all towns.” In addition the UN and non-governmental humanitarian organizations must be allowed to reach all besieged areas to provide supplies and services to people in need. The human rights groups also call on the Syrian government to remove all procedural and other bureaucratic delays that continue to hamper the delivery of lifesaving aid.

Madaya is only one example of the difficulties that Syrian citizens are facing. Forces loyal to the Syrian government have seized control of the Castello Road, the last road into Aleppo cutting off supplies of food and aid to the 300,000 Syrians there – about half of them rebel fighters and half civilians.

Human rights groups say there are some stocks of food and medical supplies but they will run out quickly if they are not replenished.

The siege comes after heavy fighting in Aleppo.

“Every day there are 70 or 80 airstrikes attacking everything on the ground –hospitals, schools or shops,” Dr. Abdelaziz Aladel, a surgeon in Aleppo told The Media Line. “The attacks hit the same area over and over, meaning anyone who tries to help can also be wounded.”

He said there are only about 25 doctors left in the city.

However, it is not only children inside Syria who are suffering. Another group, Human Rights Watch, also issued a report today saying that more than half of the almost half a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not go to school or receive any formal education.

There are more than 1.1 million Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon and almost half of them are between the ages of 3 and 18. Lebanon has allowed Syrian children to attend public schools, fewer than half have done so, mostly because the schools are far from where they live or they have limited resources. The finding means that hundreds of thousands of Syrian children have not received any formal education for up to five years.

“Despite Lebanon’s progress in enrolling Syrian children, the huge number of children still out of school is an immediate crisis, requiring bold reforms,” said Bassam Khawaja, a Sandler fellow in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch. “Children should not have to sacrifice their education to seek safety from the horrors of war in Syria.”