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UN Workers Describe to Asharq Al-Awsat ‘Indescribable’ Suffering in Syria’s Ghouta

UN Workers Describe to Asharq Al-Awsat ‘Indescribable’ Suffering in Syria’s Ghouta

Monday, 19 February, 2018 - 08:30
Children ride on a bicycle at a damaged site after an airstrike in the besieged town of Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus, Syria February 9, 2018. (Reuters)
New York - Ali Barda
The humanitarian crisis in Syria has reached its worst point in the seven years of war in the country, revealed international officials to Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday.

They spoke of “indescribable” suffering in the Eastern Ghouta enclave near Damascus where more than 250,000 civilians have been living under a crushing siege by the regime, its allies, Lebanese “Hezbollah” and other Iranian-backed Shi’ite parties, and Russian air cover.

This siege has left them without aid for nearly three months. It wasn’t until last week that the first humanitarian convoy was able to enter the enclave.

The suffering in Eastern Ghouta is only a sample of some 6.5 million people who need relief, which is essentially only reaching half of them, including residents in the Idlib province.

United Nations spokesman Farhan Haq told Asharq Al-Awsat that the organization had warned before the Security Council of the dangerous and worrying escalation taking place in Syria, including “de-escalation” zones. UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that the situation is the worst it had been since he was appointed to his post.

World Food Program (WFP) Communications Office in Syria Marwa Awad told Asharq Al-Awsat that after 78 days, a nine-truck relief convoy was able to enter Eastern Ghouta where some 272,000 people are living under siege.

Only 2.5 percent of these people will benefit from the aid, she said however.

“We welcome this development, but it is definitely not enough to meet the pressing needs of the besieged areas,” she added.

She spoke of problems in obtaining permission from official Syrian authorities to enter these regions, as well as the security in the area that has posed an obstacle to the WFP’s efforts.

Occasionally permission is granted, but the agency cannot always seize the opportunity to act because of the hostilities on the ground, Awad explained.

She revealed that the WFP had received permission to deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta two months ago, but all of its attempts to enter the area were thwarted by the ongoing fighting and bombardment.

This political issue should be tackled at the Security Council, she stressed, because the agency is only concerned with delivering aid and monitoring the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Cycle of displacement in Idlib

The UN and other international agencies estimate that 6.5 million people lack food safety in Syria. By the end of 2017, the WFP was able to deliver aid to only four million people in 14 provinces. This figure dropped at the beginning of 2018 due to other crises in the region, meaning that aid is being sent to less than half of those in need.

Awad said that some 7,800 people flee Syria on a daily basis due to the fighting and lack of security or aid.

“Failure to deliver aid means that people will continue to flee,” she warned. “We are trying to reach all hot zones, starting with Eastern Ghouta and then Idlib.”

In rebel-held Idlib, she revealed that more than 250,000 people escaped the southeastern part of the area last month due to infighting and aerial bombardment. She noted that as much as 30,000 people fled Afrin city to al-Dana region in the northern part of the province to escape the unrest.

Towards Deir al-Zour

For the first time in over three-and-a-half years, a WFP team managed to take a land route to Deir al-Zour, which was relieved of a siege in September 2017. Prior to that, Awad said that international organizations had delivered aid through air drops five times a week. A total of 309 air drops were carried out between April 2016 and August 2017

The purpose of the WFP team’s visit is to document the humanitarian situation in Deir al-Zour, said Awad. There, they came across a local who was gathering any scraps of metal he could get his hands on in order to sell them and support his family.

The WFP office stressed that there is a “pressing need” to deliver monthly aid to Deir al-Zour and its countryside. This aid should cover the Alboukamal and al-Mayadeen areas where unemployment has reached high levels.

Awad recalled the trip from Damascus to Hama and then from Hama to Palmyra and spoke of the destruction she witnessed there. Similar scenes welcomed her in Deir al-Zour and she lamented to Asharq Al-Awsat how the war had “destroyed the people and ruined the social fabric in Syria.”

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