January 12, 2016 8:22 pm

How bad is Syria’s human crisis? We don’t know because we can’t get in

WATCH: Aid workers in Syria have seen all kinds of misery, but they say what the people of Madaya have been forced to endure is horrifying. As Mike Armstrong reports, Madaya is not the only town that is suffering.


The human rights workers calling for hundreds of starving people to be airlifted urgently don’t know if Madaya is typical of besieged Syrian towns because they can’t access the most desperate areas.

“To take a convoy or even a small visit, if you will, from Damascus to Aleppo, you have to go through 60 checkpoints,” Anna Nelson, a Washington-based spokesperson International Committee of the Red Cross, told Global News.

“Those can be government checkpoints. They can be armed opposition checked points.”

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READ MORE: Aid reaches 3 besieged Syrian towns after reports of starvation

And negotiating their way through checkpoints isn’t always possible.

Madaya, for instance, went months without badly needed aid. About 42,000 people have resorted to desperate measures to survive.

Some had been living off water boiled with salt or herbs. Some, according to reports last week, were eating leaves; others pets or stray animals.

“Many of the people apparently [told aid workers this week] they had not eaten for five days,” Nelson said.

READ MORE: Syria to allow aid into town where starving people resort to eating leaves, pets

Government forces and allied fighters with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have blockaded the rebel-controlled town since July.

Opposition groups have besieged Foua and Kafarya, about 330 km to the north in Idlib province..

And those are just three of the 15 communities with more than 400,000 people cut off from humanitarian assistance — particularly dire as winter sets in, Nelson said.

READ MORE: By the numbers: How bad is the food crisis for Syrians?

“In the past year, only 10 per cent of all requests to access these areas were approved and delivered,” the United Nations said Monday.

The Red Cross can’t assess people’s needs without seeing their conditions first hand.

“It’s very important for us to be close to the communities we serve.”

And aid work can be fatal: 49 volunteers with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, which works with the Red Cross, have been killed in the past five years, Nelson said.

“Humanitarian aid can only do so much and there’s a limit to the access that we have,” she said.

Regardless of who’s fighting whom, access to the essentials to live “must be kept away from the politics of fighting,” she said.

“It’s against the laws of war to use aid as a weapon.”

© 2016 Shaw Media

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