BRUSSELS—Syrian government forces have laid siege for months to the town of Madaya, in Syria’s Rural Damascus Governorate, depriving roughly 20,000 residents of food and medicine and causing death by starvation, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today, calling for an immediate delivery of lifesaving medicine and medical evacuations, in addition to food supplies.
Since a single food distribution on October 18, the siege has tightened into a complete stranglehold. Twenty-three patients have died of starvation at an MSF-supported health center in Madaya since December 1.
"Madaya is now effectively an open-air prison for an estimated 20,000 people, including infants, children, and elderly,” said Brice de le Vingne, MSF director of operations. "The medics we support report injuries and deaths by bullets and landmines among people that tried to leave Madaya. The desperation is so acute that yesterday people rioted trying to seize the last food available at an MSF-supported distribution point, which was intended to provide for the most vulnerable."
Six of those who died of starvation at the MSF-supported center were infants under one year old, and five were adults over 60 years old. Eighteen were male and five were female. MSF is extremely alarmed for the patients currently under treatment, and for the 20,000 residents who have had little to eat for months.
"This is a clear example of the consequences of using siege as a military strategy," de le Vingne said. "Now that the siege has tightened, the doctors we support have empty pharmacy shelves and increasing lines of starving and sick patients to treat. Medics are even resorting to feeding severely malnourished children with medical syrups, as they are the only source of sugar and energy, thereby accelerating the consumption of the few remaining medical supplies."
The situation in Madaya is an extreme example of sieges that are in place in many parts of Syria, enforced by both the Syrian government and by armed opposition groups.
MSF has been supporting a medical facility and a food distribution point in Madaya since August 2015, when the siege started tightening around the town. Although difficult, at first it was still possible to supply food and medicines, but it has since become totally impossible to get anything through the siege lines.
Below-freezing temperatures in this mountainous area are increasing the suffering, particularly for sick patients. Heating fuel must be included in aid to Madaya, as people trying to collect firewood are at risk of landmines and gunfire.
While there are reports that the Syrian government will now allow food supplies into the area, medical needs are also critical. Local medical staff are working under unbearable conditions, which are now exacerbated by food insecurity. MSF calls for an immediate medical evacuation of sick patients to a safe place for treatment and for immediate and sustained access to lifesaving medical supplies for the civilian population in Madaya.