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Aid Groups Confronted With Syria's Starvation Tactics


The United Nations says siege and starvation are tactics that have become routine in the conflict of Syria. This past week, aid groups finally reached one town where 40,000 people were at risk of starvation. And when they got there, they saw one boy die and found many others severely malnourished, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As diplomats gathered for an emergency meeting in New York, the U.N. Children's Fund offered a glimpse into the town of Madaya under siege by Syrian government forces and their allies. Aid workers say that a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy died in front of their eyes there. And UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says his team found others in desperate need.


CHRISTOPHE BOULIERAC: The people they met in Madaya were exhausted and extremely frail. Doctors were emotionally distressed and mentally drained, working round the clock with very limited resources to provide treatment to children and people in need.

KELEMEN: The clinic had only two doctors, he says. Young children there are severely malnourished while one teenager and a pregnant women need to be evacuated immediately. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says it is as if the people of Madaya are being held hostage.


BAN KI-MOON: But it is even worse. Hostages get fed.

KELEMEN: He says it's never been easy for aid agencies to reach people in need in Syria. Almost 400,000 people live in areas that are out of reach to aid groups, half of them in regions controlled by ISIS. One hundred eighty-thousand Syrians are trapped by the Syrian government, Ban says. Another 12,000 are besieged by rebel groups.


KI-MOON: Let me be clear. The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime.

KELEMEN: At a U.N. Security Council meeting Friday, most ambassadors blasted the Syrian government. Russia's ambassador accused antigovernment rebels of using civilians as human shields. Here in Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said Russia should focus more on humanitarian aid and less on bombing opposition groups. He said the shipments to Madaya are welcome but just not enough. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.