The Assad regime should honor its commitments and cease unlawfully hindering the delivery of food and medical aid throughout Syria, Human Rights Watch said today.
In his March 23, 2016 report to the United Nations Security Council, the UN secretary-general said that the Assad regime has blocked aid to at least six out of 18 besieged areas since the cessation of hostilities began on February 26, HRW added.
HRW also said that the Assad regime denied aid access to eastern Ghouta – including Douma, Harasta, Arbin, Zamalka, and Zabadin – and Daraya, affecting over 250,000 civilians.
Local council officials and aid workers in Daraya and Douma told HRW in phone interviews that civilians are suffering from severe shortages of food and medicine as well as debilitating poverty.
Government forces have besieged the town of Daraya, eight kilometers southwest of the capital, Damascus, since 2012, affecting about 4,000 civilians, according to the UN.
Local activists say that number could be as high as 8,300. They said the last time an aid convoy was allowed into Daraya was in October 2012, before the government began its siege.
Mohammed Shehateh, a member of the local council in Daraya, said the siege had left the city without running water and electricity. “Food is very scarce here,” Shehateh said from inside Daraya. “We used to depend on reserves and we could bring food in from the neighboring town but since the government tightened the siege we cannot bring in any food or medicine.” He said that most people have been growing food like spinach and beans in their gardens to survive.
Regime forces have also besieged the town of Douma since October 2013. No aid convoys have been allowed to enter since that time. Local residents said about 140,000 people still live there. A local aid worker, Abdullah al-Shami, told Human Rights Watch from inside Douma that while there were options to buy food that entered through smuggling routes, most residents couldn’t afford the high prices.
Shehateh said the medical situation gets worse by the day. “Medicine is lacking and many times we have to use expired medicine,” he said. “There is only one field hospital to serve the whole city and they can’t perform many operations because of a lack of equipment.”
“The level of poverty in Douma is devastating,” al-Shami said. “People in Douma aren’t able to buy the basics like bread and rice because we can’t afford it. Medicine is also scarce and finding the right treatment for sick people is almost impossible because there are no hospitals here.”
Firas Abdullah, another local activist in Douma, said that the siege has made life harder for Douma’s citizens. “Local residents are begging in the street to find a way to survive,” he said. “The morale in the town is really low because we have lost hope that the world will stand with us, especially when other areas of Syria received aid and we didn’t.”
The secretary-general reported that the UN delivered assistance to 150,000 people in 10 of the 18 besieged areas and to tens of thousands in other hard-to-reach areas in February and early March 2016. Some 486,700 people were under siege as of March, the UN said. The independent project Siege Watch puts the number of people living under siege at 1 million. (Source: Al Jazeera)