“I’m tired. For God’s sake get us out. I want treatment,” moans Mohamed, a young Syrian boy, as UNICEF health staff attend to him, revealing his scrawny body with clearly visible bones.
On Friday, UNICEF officials confirmed reports of mass malnutrition among children in the besieged city of Madaya.
Two large convoys of aid supplies were finally able to reach the town, which has a population of 42,000, after reports that 32 people had died of starvation in recent weeks. The convoys, which also included support from the Syrian Red Cross, marked the first aid to reach Madaya since October 2015.
Shortly after arrival, UNICEF revealed that it had witnessed the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy.
“UNICEF … can confirm that cases of severe malnutrition were found among children,” read a statement released by UNICEF.
UNICEF added that 35 children were screen in Madaya, with 80 percent showing signs of moderate to severe malnutrition.
Along with witnessing the death of a severely malnourished boy, a 17-year-old boy in a “life threatening condition” and a pregnant woman needed evacuation, said the spokesperson of UNICEF.
In the coming weeks, the World Health Organization plans to run a number of vaccination runs in the besieged town.
On Thursday, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the conditions in Madaya, adding that “atrocious acts” had been committed and that starvation had been used across Syria as a weapon.
“The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime,” said the UN Secretary General.
UNICEF has stressed that there are 14 other locations across Syria where more than 450,000 people are besieged.
“Across Syria, there are 14 other Madayas,” said UNICEF’s spokesperson. “These are locations where different parties to the conflict have been using siege as a tactic of war, depriving children and innocent civilians from accessing life-saving supplies and services.”
A second wave of aid is expected to reach the towns of al-Fouaa and Kefraya in the coming two days. These two towns, unlike Madaya, had been blockaded by Syrian rebels.
The UN Security Council condemned “the barbaric sieges” and passed a resolution demanding immediate access for humanitarian aid to end the suffering of civilians.
For Syrian children, what’s at stake isn’t politics. It’s their future. Having already lost their homes, schools and communities, their chances of building a future may also soon be lost.
UNICEF has been on the ground since the conflict began, helping to mobilise the largest humanitarian operation in history and working closely with partners to provide education, physical protection, psychological support and clothing to Syrian refugee children in Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and other countries; immunise children against disease; and provide millions of people with access to safe drinking water.