Overnight aid deliveries reached the Syrian towns of Madaya, Zabadani, Kefraya and Foah, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which today announced it is planning on delivering more assistance.
“It was slightly delayed due to several issues – one of them was the weather– it’s getting increasingly cold and difficult to move around in Syria so there are many, many obstacles to this, but the operation continues based on the so-called ‘Four Town Agreement’ which we do have,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told reporters in Geneva.
Regarding delays to the convoys destined for Foah and Kafraya, Mr. Laerke said they were due to reports from armed opposition groups who said they needed more time to finalize arrangements in areas under their control.
“That piece of information and the delay meant that also the convoy going into Madaya and Zabadani had to be delayed,” he explained. “These convoys have to proceed at the same time. If there is a delay in one convoy, the other one will have to wait. It is a very, very finely calibrated operation.”
Fuel in particular was delivered to the locations during this third joint operation with UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC) in recent weeks, but a diverse range of aid is reportedly still needed, including food, nutrition and health services.
Asked how many civilians in Madaya had starved to death, Mr. Laerke said it was believed five people had died from starvation since 11 January when the first aid convoy arrived. He noted this is not a UN figure, but rather one recorded by health staff in the town.
He described the situation in the eastern part of Syria as “extremely grave” and “catastrophic.”
“If you are talking about Deir al-Zour for example, where we have the city under-siege by the Islamic State group, ISIL, we are extremely concerned about the plight of some 200,000 people in the western part of the town,” the spokesperson warned. “We do not have unhindered access to the place.”
Meanwhile in related news, UN human rights expert Hilal Elver today warned that some 400,000 people living in 15 besieged locations throughout Syria are trapped in desperate circumstances and in urgent need of emergency assistance. “An immediate and unconditional humanitarian pause in hostilities must be put in place to allow humanitarian aid and food to reach everyone in Syria,” Ms. Elver said.
“As the brutal conflict in Syria continues, the plight of those already living in constant fear of deadly and indiscriminate bombardment is now compounded by the threat of starvation, with parties on all sides of the conflict continuing to entirely or heavily restrict access to essential supplies,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food noted.
Turning to political development, reporters were informed that the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is “intensively occupied” with preparations for the Intra Syrian Talks, in order for them to start next week.
Yesterday, Mr. de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council by video link from Geneva, and was in touch with both Security Council members and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The Special Envoy was reportedly also in contact with members of the International Syrian Support Group in an effort to find agreement on the list of participants for the meeting.