The two-week-old cease-fire in Syria has allowed aid groups to reach some areas, but cities under siege by government forces remain cut off from help, officials from Save the Children said on Friday.
U.N. agency leaders echoed that concern in a joint statement today.
“All over Syria, people continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives – and because of the continued risk of violence. We – indeed, the world – must not stand silent while parties to the conflict continue to use denial of food, water, medical supplies and other forms of aid as weapons of war,” according to the statement from the heads of the World Food Program, UNICEF, WHO, the High Commissioner for Refugees and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.
The U.N. estimated that as many as 700,000 people are trapped in 15 besieged areas. Other estimates state that more than 1 million people are cut off from basic supplies by government forces. Nearly half of the total are children, which is of particular concern given their vulnerability to malnutrition and disease.
Save the Children is concerned about deteriorating conditions as winter sets in and temperatures plummet to freezing levels. People in the city of Madaya do not have heating fuel and cannot collect firewood because of sniper fire.
“The situation is really bad. We are tired and exhausted, we are always getting hit with bombs and rockets and the snipers are always shooting,” one teacher in Madaya told Save the Children. “We are so tired, it’s freezing and snowing.”
Aid deliveries to besieged areas are infrequent and sometimes months can pass between deliveries. Convoys were able to reach two areas in the past month: one to Khan Eshieh in December, and another last week to Moadamiya on the outskirts of Damascus – its first in two months. But some health supplies, including surgical tools and pneumonia kit parts, were removed by authorities before delivery.
Many are worried that the cease-fire won’t hold for long. U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said that some villages near Damascus are resisting government negotiations to allow water into the city. Those tensions could potentially escalate. But he, too, is focused on improving humanitarian access, calling it one of his priorities late last week.
A meeting among parties involved in the civil war is set for Feb. 8 in Geneva (the EU said today it is hoping for April). A meeting next week between Turkey and Russia, the countries who helped establish the cease-fire, is a “stepping stone” to the Geneva meeting, said Mistura. The U.N. will participate and humanitarian access remains a top concern.
“The horrors of the siege of the eastern districts of Aleppo have disappeared from the public consciousness – but we must not let the needs, the lives and the futures of Syria’s people fade from the world’s conscience,” said the U.N. agency leaders. “We must not let 2017 repeat the tragedies of 2016 for Syria.”