As World Obsesses Over Chemical Weapons, Polio And Starvation Plague Syria
“Chronic diseases have been the silent killer in the current crisis in Syria, taking the lives of an estimated 200,000 patients, much more than the 120,000 people killed by bombs, ballistic missiles and guns or the estimated 1,400 people killed by nerve gas,” writes Dr. M. Zaher Sahloul at Syria Deeply.
The insanely high toll is largely due to the Assad regime’s criminal use of food and medicine as weapons in his war against his own people. Certain rebel-held areas of Syria are under siege, with Assad regime soldiers confiscating even minuscule amounts of food from anybody trying to enter. As a result, Syrian children are literally starving to death. This callous method of warfare has been used by certain rebel factions as well, which “are blockading some government-held areas and harassing food convoys,” reports the New York Times.
“About 2 million people in rebel-held areas near Damascus are trapped by regime forces and can’t get outside aid,” said Vice in a heartbreaking and infuriating report last month on malnutrition in the rebel-held besieged Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh. Similar reports provoked an international outcry, leading to a rare and temporary ceasefire during which time nearly 2,000 residents of Moadamiyeh fled their homes and surrendered to the Syrian authorities.
On top of starvation, Syrians must now contend with a polio outbreak that has so far paralyzed at least 10 children under the age of 2 in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zour province. The World Health Organization says it is the first confirmed outbreak in Syria in 14 years. Polio is highly contagious and irreversible. Around half a million Syrian children who have not been immunized due to the civil war are at risk of contracting the virus. There are also concerns that it could spread to nearby countries given the high volume of Syrians refugees fleeing the conflict.
Meanwhile, the international community is focused almost exclusively, not on alleviating the immense human suffering, but on destroying chemical weapons. Due to outside pressure, weapons inspectors have been given access to areas of Syria where malnutrition is becoming the norm. So why isn’t that same pressure being applied to force the Assad regime to allow humanitarian aid workers unimpeded access?
Humanitarian aid organizations are wondering the same thing.
“If chemical weapons inspectors can be allowed access across Syria with notebooks, surely aid workers can be allowed in with vaccines,” argues Save the Children President and CEO Carolyn Miles.
Following the arrival of weapons inspectors and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Price to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) last month, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) noted that “50 to 100 chemical weapons inspectors arrived in Syria in just a few weeks.” In stark contrast “the UN humanitarian office in Syria had to reduce its staff of 100 by half last March, and has not yet been able to increase its numbers.”
“Syrian people are now presented with the absurd situation of chemical weapons inspectors driving freely through areas in desperate need, while ambulances, and food and drug supplies organized by humanitarian organizations, are blocked,” said MSF General Director Christopher Stokes. “Influential countries gathered around a table, thrashed out an agreement on chemical weapons, and put it into practice. They have shown that such mobilization can be achieved. So where are the efforts to repeat this success with the burning issue of access for humanitarian aid?”