Image of starving baby shows need to help children in besieged Syrian region: UN agencies

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Haunting images of a dying, malnourished baby in the Eastern Ghouta region of Syria has highlighted the need to get more food supplies to children left starving there by the country’s six year war, U.N. agencies warned on Wednesday.

Photos of a one-month-old baby girl being treated at a clinic in the rebel-controlled town of Hamouria on the outskirts of Damascus were widely shared in the press and on social media. The baby was reported to have died on Sunday of malnutrition and other health issues.

Her death came after another child in eastern Ghouta also died of malnutrition on Saturday, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said more than 1,100 children are now believed to be suffering from acute malnutrition in Eastern Ghouta, a densely populated rural area that has been under a tight blockade by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces since 2013.

UNICEF spokeswoman Juliette Touma said if aid can’t be delivered to Eastern Ghouta soon more children would be pushed to the brink of starvation.

“A direct link between the conflict, the violence, the ongoing fighting has lead to the situation becoming bleak for children ... It is a pretty horrific picture,” Touma told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Amman.

“Children have been the face of this crisis from the very beginning.”

UNICEF’s latest numbers were based on three months of sample data starting from June where they found malnutrition is “deteriorating” in the area where an estimated 400,000 people are believed to be living.

UNICEF and the U.N.’s World Food Programme were last in Eastern Ghouta last month carrying food and medical aid for some 25,000 people, but they said it was not enough.

“More people will suffer and more people will go hungry ... if they don’t have consistent access to the area to deliver food,” said WFP spokeswoman Dina El-Kassaby.

El-Kassaby said the United Nations has this year been able to take six humanitarian convoys to Eastern Ghouta but access had decreased “rapidly” as the food crisis had escalated.

“Access to basic food is very difficult since food supplies can’t get in frequently and the cost of what’s available increases significantly. This means it is that much harder for besieged families to afford food,” said El-Kassaby.