A United Nations inter-agency mission that recently visited the Syrian village of Houla – the site of a massacre of over 100 people in May 2012 – found a critical shortage of food, water, medical supplies and fuel, the world body said today.
The massacre in Houla, which resulted in the deaths of 108 people, including 49 children, was strongly condemned by UN officials and the Security Council when it occurred last year.
The village had been almost completely cut off for many months now, according to Marixie Mercado of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which participated in last Sunday’s inter-agency mission.
“The UNICEF team found a critical shortage of medical supplies in the four partially functioning health facilities,” she told reporters in Geneva. “Major illnesses reported included upper respiratory infections, scabies, lice, diarrhoea, and some mental illnesses. Water supplies were limited and there was no fuel to power water systems.”
She added that nurses reported seeing increasing numbers of children with pale, very dry skin and sunken eyes, which were all common signs of malnutrition. The children said their biggest fear was of shelling and mortar attacks, which took place every day.
“Without immediate and significant humanitarian assistance in the near term, the team was looking at a high risk of increased malnutrition, the possibility of disease outbreaks and further displacement so that persons could access services,” she stated.
As part of this mission, UNICEF provided hundreds of hygiene kits and nutrition supplies.
Ms. Mercado said that 31 out of 41 schools in Houla were damaged and none of the approximately 25,000 school-aged children there had been in classrooms for two years now. The estimated population was about 70,000, half of whom were displaced.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokesperson for the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said that the mission monitored the distribution of an inter-agency food convoy that left on 8 May, consisting of nine trucks of food, hygiene items and water supplies sufficient for 25,000 people. Because of the insecurity it was the first distribution in 10 months.
WFP found a shortage of flour and other food items, she reported. When they were available, families had no money to buy them and often sold their land to buy food. It was a region that normally lived on agriculture and cattle-farming but its economic cycle had been interrupted. There was no harvesting, many cattle had been lost, and because of the high prices of petrol and gas, people were using animal faeces for heating.
Given the increasing needs in Syria, WFP now needed $19.5 million a week to cover the needs of operations in Syria and neighbouring countries.
The UN estimates that some 6.8 million people are in need, 4.25 million people are internally displaced and an additional 1.3 million have sought refuge in neighbouring countries from a conflict that has killed over 70,000 people since opposition forces sought to oust President Bashar Al-Assad in 2011.