Unicef confirms severe malnutrition in Syria's besieged Madaya; mobile clinic on the way

A toddler is held up to the camera in this image taken from a video said to be shot in Madaya on Jan 5, 2015.
A toddler is held up to the camera in this image taken from a video said to be shot in Madaya on Jan 5, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIRUT (Reuters) - UN children's fund Unicef on Friday (Jan 15) confirmed cases of severe malnutrition among children in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, where the local community has reported that 32 people died of starvation in the last 30 days.

A mobile clinic and medical team was also on its way to the town, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday.

"Unicef ... can confirm that cases of severe malnutrition were found among children," it said in a statement, after the United Nations and Red Cross entered the town on Monday and Thursday to deliver aid for the first time since October when the town came under siege by Syrian pro-government forces.

Unicef said that out of 25 children under the age of five screened by its staff and the World Health Organisation, 22 showed signs of "moderate to severe" malnutrition.

Its staff also witnessed the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy, it said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon on Thursday said Syria's warring parties, particularly the government, were committing "atrocious acts" and condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war in the nearly five-year conflict.

The United Nations says there are some 450,000 people trapped in around 15 siege locations across Syria, including in areas controlled by the government, Islamic State and other insurgent groups.

Aid deliveries to Madaya came as part of an agreement between warring sides that included the simultaneous delivery of aid to thousands of people in two villages in the north-west of the country which are encircled by rebel fighters.

The Syrian government has also given permission for the mobile clinic of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to enter the town and has also agreed for vaccination to be carried out, Tarik Jasarevic of the WHO told a news briefing on Friday.

The local community’s relief committee told officials of the United Nations’ World Food Programme that 32 people had died of hunger in the last 30 days, WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said.

The United Nations hopes to send convoys to Madaya and the rebel-besieged towns of Foua and Kefraya in Idlib next week, but no date has been set for Zabadani, OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said.