As It Happens

Red Cross worker: 'I've never seen so many hungry people'

A representative of the ICRC describes the situation on the ground in Madaya, Syria, where the UN reports that five people have starved to death in the past week.
Syrians wait for an aid convoy in the besieged town of Madaya (AP)
Listen6:22


The images coming out of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya are harrowing. The United Nations is reporting that five people starved to death in the last week. Pawel Kryzsiek, an aid worker with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says the situation is dire. 

Do we really have to wait for people to starve to death before we help them?- Pawel Kryzsiek

"It was quite shocking because I've never seen so many people being hungry. Pretty much every single person that came to us was asking for a piece of bread or a cookie ... and we were telling them 'we don't have that but we have a lot of humanitarian aid that we will distribute soon.' They say 'yes, but we are hungry now'".

A convoy of trucks loaded with humanitarian supplies are seen heading to the besieged town of Madaya, on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 as part of a large-scale U.N.-sponsored aid operation in the war-ravaged country. (AP)

After being under siege for months by government forces with no food, the people of Madaya are starting to see aid trickle in. Kryzsiek says the mentally exhausted people of Madaya are more positive but stresses the need for unrestricted access by his group and others like it. The ICRC must negotiate with multiple parties on the ground and in government for access to besieged places like Madaya. Even after access is granted, teams sometimes have trouble entering.  Kryzsiek says he currently has people trying  to access Madaya but they are stuck at the gates.

"In order to help people who have been cut off from basic humanitarian aid for months, you need to return. You need to keep checking in on those people. The ICRC ...  needs to have regular and unimpeded access to all besieged or hard to reach places in this country."

Madaya is 24 kilometers southwest of the Syria's capital, Damascus (CBC)

The ICRC is bringing in medicines, medical equipment, baby food and other basic supplies to Madaya. Kryzsiek says there is a complex circle of needs on the ground.

"When you are a vulnerable group ... an older person ... you need to eat, and water with spices or cooked leaves will not be enough. So your immunity will get low and then when the cold comes, you will get sick. You cannot be treated because there is no medicines in your health structure and then you will get more sick until you need a hospital, which is not available [in your area]. And you cannot leave because you are under siege. Your situation never gets better, it always gets worse under siege."

When asked how many people he thought might be starving in besieged placed like Madaya, Kryzsiek lets out a long sigh.

Aid workers supervise the delivery of humanitarian aids to the besieged town of Madaya (AP)

"Do we really have to wait for people to starve to death before we help them? When you look at Syria, a country of 18 million people, 12 million are in dire need of humanitarian assistance here. An estimated 440,000 are living in areas under siege without any access to humanitarian supplies. Four million are living in areas that are hard to reach. Do we really have to wait for them to starve? Or is it enough for them to be hungry?"

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