Aid group: Syrian children at risk of malnutrition

AP , Tuesday 24 Sep 2013

Save the Children estimates that over two million Syrian children are suffering food shortage

Syrian refugee boy
A Syrian refugee boy sits outside his tent, as he looks at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Thursday March 14, 2013. (Photo: AP)

As Syria's civil war rages into its third year, millions of children in the country are at risk of malnutrition and face severe food shortages, an international aid organisation has warned.

Save the Children said four million Syrians — more than half of them children — are unable to produce or buy enough food.

Thousands are trapped in battle zones in and around Syria's major cities, such as Aleppo in the north and in the central city of Homs, cut off from access to all but the bare minimum foodstuffs needed to survive, the US-based group said in a dramatic report released Monday.

Food shortages are being compounded by an explosion in prices for basic staples, the group said, adding that one in 20 children in areas around the capital of Damascus, is severely malnourished.

Ever since the conflict erupted in March 2011, leading aid groups have demanded that the warring sides in Syria enable access to civilians trapped in the fighting. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict and millions have been uprooted from their homes.

But their calls have consistently met obstacles.

"The world has stood and watched as the children of Syria have been shot, shelled and traumatized by the horror of war," said Roger Hearn, Save the Children's regional director for the Middle East. "The conflict has already left thousands of children dead, and is now threatening their means of staying alive."

At the United Nations, the head of the organization's World Food Program demanded Monday that a potential cease-fire agreement includes access for aid workers.

Ertharin Cousin told The Associated Press that an agreement that will be discussed at the start of the annual UN General Assembly on Tuesday envisions a cessation of hostilities so chemical experts trying to bring Syria's stockpile under international control can travel across the country, including to many conflict areas where WFP and other humanitarian workers have been unable to bring in desperately needed aid.

The United States and Russia brokered an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but UN diplomats say they are at odds on details of a Security Council resolution spelling out how it should be done and the possible consequences if Syria doesn't comply.

Cousin said the goal is to step up supplies so that 4 million internally displaced people and 1.5 million refugees are getting food by the end of October.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition accused government forces on Monday of tightening their months-long siege in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where UN inspectors reported that chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack.

"Assad's forces are starving people to death in those areas," the coalition claimed. "Famine looms in the horizon as more than two million people remain under siege."

Cousin said WFP hasn't had access to an opposition-controlled area in Ghouta called Muhammadiyah, which is besieged by government forces. She also pointed to an area in the Kurdish-dominated Hassakeh region in the northeast controlled by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and an opposition-controlled area on the outskirts of the northern city of Aleppo where the agency has had trouble operating.

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