Editor's note: This story contains a video that some readers may find disturbing.
The Syrian government will finally allow the delivery of crucial supplies to several besieged towns in the war-torn country — but the move may come too late for tens of thousands of starving families.
More than 40,000 people in Madaya remain "at risk for further hunger and starvation," the United Nations said Thursday. The U.N. has received "credible reports" of people starving to death — including a 53-year-old man whose family is facing a similar fate.
Madaya is one of several towns that aid groups will be permitted to access in the coming days, the U.N. said. For months, humanitarian groups have been unable to deliver assistance to the community, which has been beseiged by forces allied with the Syrian government since July.
That lack of access has caused food prices to skyrocket. For example, one kilogram of sugar or rice — the equivalent of about 5 cups — now costs 3,600 SP, or about $90 here in the U.S., according to a release from one group working in the region. Powdered baby formula costs the equivalent of $300, the BBC reports.
"People here have started eating earth because there's nothing left to eat," Madaya resident Abdel Wahab Ahmed told the BBC. "Grass and leaves have died because of the mounting snow."
At least 31 people, including three children under the age of 1, have died, according to figures cited by Save the Children. Women have lost pregnancies due to starvation.
“Food is being used as a weapon of war in Madaya and other besieged areas, and children are paying the price. If aid does not reach Madaya soon, we know that more children will die needlessly," Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children, said in a statement.
The horrifying conditions have sparked a social media campaign to bring attention to the crisis. A group on Facebook that calls itself the Medical Authority of Madaya has been posting videos it says show the starving residents. The haunting images and messages calling for action have been widely shared with the hashtags #Madaya, #MadayaIsStarving, and #SaveMadaya, as noted by The Washington Post.
Madaya is far from the only place where Syrians are suffering the consequences of a civil war that has raged for five years. Nearly 400,000 people live in besieged areas without "access to the life-saving aid they urgently need," the U.N. said, noting that just 10% of its requests to allow aid were approved and delivered last year. In a statement issued Thursday, the U.N. called for "unimpeded humanitarian access to reach those in need in hard-to-reach and besieged areas in Syria."
"International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians. It also prohibits the starvation of civilians as a tactic of war," Yacoub El Hillo, U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria, and Kevin Kennedy, regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, said in a statement. "The U.N. calls for immediate humanitarian access to all hard-to-reach and besieged areas and for the facilitation of safe evacuation of civilians."
Refinery29 is committed to telling the human story behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. To read the story of three Syrian women forced to flee violence and civil war, and how they have rebuilt their lives in Turkey, read "Daughters of Paradise" here. For full coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis, read more here.