Biafra, Lebanese Civil War, and now Syria. Starvation as a weapon of war is nothing new. Over half a million Syrians are currently residing in areas with limited access to food due to government enforced blockades.
Earlier this year, pictures of the besieged town Madaya surfaced, depicting starving residents being forced into eating dogs, cats, grass, and whatever they could eat to survive. After a partial ceasefire engineered by the U.S. and Russia was enacted in February, many were hopeful that finally, residents of Madaya would be able to receive much needed food and medicine. Along with the goal to disperse necessities to those in need, as the civil war enters its fifth year, many NGOs and Syrians are hopeful that the ceasefire will also lead to a political path that will bring an end to the conflict. CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer witnessed Syrians in Homs “daring to begin rebuilding their lives, and even sounding optimistic that the temporary cease-fire could lead to a broader, longer-lasting peace deal.” While the ceasefire has reduced fighting in areas controlled by forces loyal to president Bashar Hafez al-Assad, many towns held by ISIS and other terror groups are still under siege.
Although Syrian officials pledged to allow more access to humanitarian aid during the ceasefire, this has not been the case. According to various NGOs, six weeks into the ceasefire and aid convoys are still unable to reach those in need. The Syrian government has denied access to trucks transporting food and medicine to fifteen besieged areas. When convoys are finally given permission to proceed through blockades, doctors report that many of the items are seized by authorities. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), reports that “vital items such as surgical and anaesthetic supplies, blood bags have been removed. The quantities of IV fluid received are also consistently way less than what is needed.” The Guardian further reports that “the past two weeks have been particularly severe in opposition-held areas near Damascus where two hospitals have been bombed, the last remaining doctor in the nearby town of Zabadani shot dead by a sniper, vital medical items being removed from aid convoys and access to critically deprived areas remain blocked.”
According to the United Nations, approximately 446,000 Syrians live in ‘hard to reach areas’ and the humanitarian crisis is worsening. These hard to reach areas are zones in which the Syrian government has imposed starvation as a weapon of war. The Syrian government has resulted to starving its citizens mainly because fighting in urban areas is extremely costly to the regime and can significantly reduce manpower in comparison to strategically starving enemy areas. “The situation on the ground is extremely serious… people were exhausted, skinny and pale, hungry and begging for food, even a cookie or anything we could give them,” said Dibeh Fakhr, Public Relations Officer & Spokesperson for the Near & Middle East at the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Peace talks are scheduled to resume in Geneva later this month.