Eastern Ghouta: Fears grow for thousands of children
The situation in Eastern Ghouta, a long-besieged area on the outskirts of Damascus where almost 400,000 people are living, is deteriorating quickly with fighting on the rise, food and medicine running out, and winter weather putting further pressure on families who have suffered through almost seven years of war. The siege has tightened even further in the past few months – people can’t leave and aid is restricted from entering.
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On Tuesday, a watchdog reported that 10 people were killed in an airstrike, included five children who were reportedly killed by shelling as they stood near their school gate. At least five schools in the area have been hit by shelling this month, including a kindergarten where children were reportedly killed and injured earlier this week.
The killings come despite Eastern Ghouta being designated as a de-escalation zone this May, following agreements between various rebel factions and the Syrian government.
However, Save the Children partners on the ground are now sounding the alarm yet again and saying that their community is now at absolute breaking point and that all efforts must be made to get aid in before the coming winter.
What our partners are saying:
· Dozens of malnourished school children are fainting every day in class and are having to receive medical care because they are too weak to study
· Families regularly have to skip meals for an entire day as they don’t have enough money to feed everyone
· Food prices in besieged areas are regularly x10 higher than what they are in government-held Damascus, just kilometres away
· In some cases food prices are 300 percent higher in the besieged areas
· Fuel is in desperately short supply with people trying to stock up for the cold winter months and fuel costs putting a further squeeze on families with many worrying they will have to choose between eating or keeping warm
· There is a real and growing shortage of medicines and medical supplies – despite a recent shipment by the UN that delivered aid to 40,000 people
· Tunnels used for smuggling food into the besieged enclave were largely destroyed or closed down in recent months, leading to fears that even the limited amount of supplies being smuggled in will cease to arrive
Quote from Ahmed*, who works for a Save the Children partner in Eastern Ghouta, said:
“Now the bombing is back again, around a month and a half ago it started with two or three airstrikes every day.
“During the last year, schools were closed for two weeks in Ghouta due to heavy shelling in the whole area.
“We are talking here about daily cases of children fainting in school due to malnutrition. Civil defence and International Red Cross are treating six or seven cases in Douma where I live. And this is only in Douma, if we want to apply that to Ghouta and the surrounding areas, the number will go up to 30 fainting cases daily in schools.
“It is getting cold, every day we are coming closer to winter. This is also a tragedy along with the siege, the medical centre. The siege alone is enough. But as we have seen cases of death due to hunger or malnutrition, we will now also witness people dying due to the cold weather.”
Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria Director said:
“Syria might have faded from the headlines but for many people the situation is worse than ever. Children in eastern Ghouta are sick and hungry, and food and medicine are running out. If parties to the conflict don't immediately allow goods and aid into areas under siege, children dying from malnutrition could become a daily occurrence as winter hits people especially hard.
“It is imperative that the siege of Eastern Ghouta is ended immediately, and that all parties come together to ensure that Syrian children do not have to live in daily fear of being killed in their homes or as they go to school. Aid must be allowed to reach people in need so that no child has to suffer the pain of extreme hunger and is left unable to function because their parents simply cannot give them enough to eat.”