Hunger grows in Syria as peace talks near

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:05 pm IST

Published - January 29, 2016 12:56 am IST

Syrian children in Beirut calling for the lifting of the siege off Madaya and Zabadani towns in December. Photo: Reuters

Syrian children in Beirut calling for the lifting of the siege off Madaya and Zabadani towns in December. Photo: Reuters

Two top U.N. relief officials expressed growing frustration on Wednesday over the organisation’s inability to deliver aid to destitute Syrians trapped by war, saying that the number of besieged areas has risen to 18 from 15 in the past few weeks and that nearly half a million people may be at risk of starving to death.

The officials, Stephen O’Brien and Ertharin Cousin, delivered their warnings to the U.N. Security Council two days before the scheduled convening of talks in Geneva aimed at halting the war in Syria, which has raged for nearly five years. Whether those talks will proceed as hoped remains unclear.

Mr. O’Brien, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, told council members that roughly 4.6 million people lived in besieged or hard-to-reach areas, and that combatants had ignored the council’s resolutions requiring aid convoys be given safe passage. Mr. Cousin, the executive director of the World Food Program, echoed Mr. O’Brien’s admonitions and said that “close to half a million” Syrians were completely cut off from all assistance.

Both forecast more harrowing images like those seen recently from the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where children have starved. While some aid has been delivered in the past few weeks to Madaya and three other areas of acute need — Zabadani, Fouaa and Kfarya — it is expected to run out quickly. Mr. O’Brien described the deprivation seen so far as the “tip of the iceberg.”

In Geneva, confusion prevailed over which groups would attend the scheduled peace talks. Some are threatening to stay away if progress is not made on improving aid access to besieged areas. Expectations of any diplomatic progress are low. As of late Wednesday, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. special envoy who is in charge of the talks, had not disclosed the list of invitees. — New York Times News Service

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