UN: 400 Madaya residents need urgent evacuation or face death

By Andrew V. Pestano  |  Jan. 12, 2016 at 8:07 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- The United Nations said about 400 people in Madaya, Syria, must be evacuated immediately to receive medical treatment or face death after a humanitarian convoy reached the starved city.

Stephen O'Brien, the UN's under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, said he reached out to the U.N. Security Council after aid groups witnessed the decimated condition of Madaya residents.

About 49 trucks arrived in Madaya on Monday from the Syrian capital of Damascus operated by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Program. UNICEF has also joined the operation.

The convoy's provisions should last a month for about 40,000 people. Basic food items, such as rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar and salt, reached Madaya on Monday while medicine, winter clothing and blankets were expected to arrive Tuesday.

O'Brien said the aid groups "found some 400 people who must be evacuated immediately for medical treatment or face dying."

"We must seek to do this and put the arrangements in place as soon as possible for medical treatment," O'Brien said. "Or they are in grave peril of losing their lives and dying with either the causes being from malnutrition or for complications for other medical reasons."

The UN said in a statement that it has received multiple, credible reports of people dying from starvation. Sajjad Malik, a representative to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, was part of the convoy that reached Madaya.

"Crowds of hungry kids around," Malik wrote in a text message from Madaya. "It's heartbreaking to see so many hungry people. It's cold and raining but there is excitement because we are here with some food and blankets."

Some town residents have received permission to leave Madaya, with reports indicating some were already waiting for evacuation.

There are about 400,000 people living in besieged locations in Syria, where blockades by the Syrian government or by rebel groups have prevented the access of life-saving aid. About 20,000 people are also threatened in the Syrian cities of Foah and Kefraya, where the humanitarian situation is also described as bleak.

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. Nearly 300,000 people have died in the conflict.

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