© UNICEF/UN07227/Al Saleh, WFP

The siege of Syrian children must end

Madaya is by no means unique. Around 400,000 people across Syria are trapped.

By UNICEF Regional Director Dr. Peter Salama and WHO Regional Director Dr. Ala Alwan.

This week’s delivery of urgently-needed humanitarian supplies to the besieged communities of Madaya, Foua’a and Kafraya is a welcome step for a population in desperate need.

During the mission to Madaya, our teams met many distressed and hungry children - some of them severely malnourished, along with adults in a similar condition. The town’s population of 40,000 is being served by only two doctors, with a limited capacity to save the lives of civilians. Health and medical services including immunisation are collapsing. Young children in Madaya have not been vaccinated against polio, measles and other diseases for close to ten months.
A woman waits to leave the besieged town of Madaya. © UNICEF/UN07228/Al Saleh, WFP

Madaya is by no means unique. Across Syria, civilian areas are being held under siege in 15 different locations by various parties to the conflict. Around 400,000 people have been trapped inside these areas, sometimes for years on end, with highly constrained access to food, clean water, health and other basic services. Lives have been lost as a result, among children and the elderly in particular.

Elsewhere in the country, more than four million people live in hard-to-reach areas with only sporadic access to humanitarian supplies.
“Siege and the denial of humanitarian access to civilians continue to be used as a tactic of war in violation of International Humanitarian Law. ”
Malnutrition is a particular threat to children and people with chronic diseases trapped in these areas, making them more vulnerable to disease and longer-term under-development. Meanwhile, mothers who are malnourished are more likely to have malnourished children.
Community members offload humanitarian supplies in Madaya. © UNICEF/UN07222/Al Saleh, WFP

Unless humanitarian assistance is delivered promptly and on a regular basis to all besieged and hard-to-reach areas of Syria, malnutrition levels will continue to increase and more lives will be lost.

The access granted for limited deliveries of humanitarian supplies is not enough. The immediate lifting of sieges in Syria is required, followed by assessments of health and other needs of the population, the provision of on-site medical and nutritional therapeutic care and the evacuation of the wounded and sick to be treated.

WHO and UNICEF appeal to all parties to the conflict to respect their obligations under International Humanitarian Law to allow and facilitate immediate and uninterrupted humanitarian access to all areas throughout the country.
A young girl eats bread while waiting to leave Madaya. © UNICEF/UN07224/Al Saleh, WFP

Acting now to protect children

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.