GENEVA – A United Nations coordinator for humanitarian relief operations in Syria on Thursday offered a bleak warning that hundreds of people in desperate need of medical attention in a besieged Damascus suburb could die if aid workers are not given permission to evacuate them to nearby hospitals.
At a Geneva press conference, advisor to the UN special envoy to Syria Jan Egeland said aid workers had drawn up a list of 500 people, including 167 children, who faced almost certain death if they remain trapped Eastern Ghouta, a once-fertile network of farms and small cities on the outskirts of Damascus that has been besieged by government forces for years.
“Men with power are sitting on lists of children that are in urgent need of being evacuated. If not, many of them will die, and we still do not have the green light,” Egeland said, following a humanitarian task force meeting.
He said that out of 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta, UN humanitarian workers had only been able to access 68,000 in the last two months, adding that heavy airstrikes and shelling delayed the latest aid delivery to the town of al-Nashabieh on Wednesday.
“It is heartbreaking, it is intolerable. It will be a stain on our conscience for a very, very long time,” Egeland added, urging the evacuations to go ahead.
The Norwegian diplomat described the war-torn district as the “eye of the hurricane” in the Syrian war.
The civilian population was now facing a full-blown humanitarian emergency and acute malnutrition has risen five- to six-fold since the beginning of the year, currently affecting 11.9 percent of all children, he added.
Eastern Ghouta’s agricultural output has all but ground to a halt.
Since the government of President Bashar al-Assad has managed to re-capture territories such as Aleppo in the north and Der al-Zour in the south, Eastern Ghouta has become the target of sustained heavy bombardments and was one of the last major areas outside of the regime’s control.
It was one of the first regions to fall to the rebels at the onset of war in 2011.