Syrian children pay the price for 'world's inaction'

Attempts to reach besieged communities, such as the Syrian town of Kobane, are being hampered by government forces who are apparently not abiding by the ceasefire. (Yasin Akgul, AFP)

Attempts to reach besieged communities, such as the Syrian town of Kobane, are being hampered by government forces who are apparently not abiding by the ceasefire. (Yasin Akgul, AFP)

Sick children dying as life-saving medicine waits at checkpoints, youngsters forced to survive on animal feed and leaves, and families burning their mattresses just to find something to keep them warm.

Schools are moving underground to shelter them from barrel bombs: crude, explosive-filled and indiscriminate crates falling from the sky, so inaccurate that some observers have said their use is a de facto war crime.

The wounded are left to die for lack of medical supplies, anaesthetics, painkillers and chronic medicine; children die of malnutrition and even rabies because of the absence of vaccines, and land mines and snipers await anyone trying to escape.

The scenes are not from World War II death camps or Soviet gulags. They are the reality of life for as many as two million Syrians living in besieged areas across the war-torn nation, according to a report by Save the Children.

A truce negotiated last month by major powers was supposed to bring relief and aid into the besieged areas, but humanitarian workers and activists say the government of Bashar al-Assad, which is conducting the vast majority of siege warfare in the country, has repeatedly delayed access, potentially in violation of the truce agreement.

Tanya Steele, Save the Children’s chief executive, said: “Children are dying from lack of food and medicines in parts of Syria just a few kilometres from warehouses that are piled high with aid. They are paying the price for the world’s inaction.”

At least a quarter of a million children are living in besieged areas across Syria, Save the Children estimates, in conditions that the charity describes as living in an open-air prison, where sieges are used as a weapon of war.

The report is based on a series of extensive interviews and discussions with parents, children, doctors and aid workers on the ground in besieged zones.

It illustrates with startling clarity the brutality with which the conflict in Syria is being conducted, five years into a revolution-turned-civil war that has displaced half the country and killed more than 400 000 people.

The suffering of people in besieged areas in Syria, who number more than one million by credible estimates, is also an indictment of the failure of the international community to bring an end to the crisis. Less than 1% of those were given food assistance in 2015 and less than 3% received healthcare.

Waiting to be killed Rihab, a woman living in eastern Ghouta near Damascus, which has been besieged by the regime, was quoted as saying: “Fear has taken control. Children now wait for their turn to be killed. Even adults live only to wait for their turn to die.”

As a result of al-Assad’s actions, the halting ceasefire has brought scarce relief to what agencies including Médecins Sans Frontières estimate are 1.9-million people living in besieged and hard-to-reach areas.

Nearly all those surveyed by Save the Children reported that children had died because of a lack of medication caused by the siege. Many have cut down their meals and some do not have enough for even one meal a day, and 25% reported that children had died from a lack of food.

The report documents other tragedies of life under siege: an increase in sexual violence, child labour, petty crime, violence and school closures as a consequence of airstrikes and material shortages.

Ahmed, a boy living in the besieged Damascus suburb of Douma, told interviewers: “When I hear the sound of a shell or a plane, then I get very afraid and I hurry to escape and hide under my bed.”

Rihab said: “Here there are no children any more. Only small adults.” – © Guardian News and Media 2016

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