Humanitarian convoy on way to deliver aid to starved Syrian town of Madaya

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Jan. 11, 2016 at 7:08 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- A humanitarian convoy supported by the United Nations was en route on Monday to Madaya, a besieged town in Syria desperately in need of food and supplies.

The town has been blockaded for about six months by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other pro-government forces. Doctors Without Borders said more than 24 people have died of starvation since December, including at least six who were under the age of 1 and five who died Sunday.

The UN warned nearly 42,000 people were at risk of hunger or starvation in Madaya. Images of emaciated residents built up pressure on Assad's government to agree to allow humanitarian access to a number of towns, including Madaya. The convoy's provisions should last a month for about 40,000 people.

"Whatever we bring in, it's not enough," Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told NBC News -- adding that UN and others, including the Syrian Red Crescent, were hoping for unconditional access to the town and other besieged villages.

The World Food Program said the first part of the convoy to reach Madaya will carry basic food items, such as rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar and salt. Medicine, winter clothing and blankets will come the following day.

Syria has been blighted by a complex civil war in which the Islamic State, the Syrian government and multiple Syrian rebel groups fight for control of territory, causing a mass exodus of migrants seeking refuge elsewhere.

More than 3 million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq and more than 1 million have reached several countries of the European Union, creating a migrant crisis that's straining economies attempting to cope with the influx of asylum-seekers. More than 250,000 people have died in the conflict.

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