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Aid Groups Witness Starving Syrians


They were scenes that haunt the soul.

That was how U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described what aid workers saw when they went into Syria this past week.

After months without access, convoys carrying food, medicine and other humanitarian aid rolled into Syrian towns. Dr. Rajia Sharhan was on one of those convoys. She's a nutritionist with UNICEF. She recounted for us what she saw in the town of Madaya.

RAJIA SHARHAN: When we arrived there, we saw children; we saw adults, mothers - all suffering from malnutrition. They all had visibly wasted so their bodies were too weak even to move around or to talk because of the lack of nutritious food over a long period of time.

MARTIN: As the convoy drove through town, children stood on the street screaming for help. Eventually, Dr. Sharhan and the other aid workers made their way to a building that was being used to care for the sick and the dying.

SHARHAN: And then we went into the basement of that makeshift hospital. There was a bed. There was two lying children. Both of them had severe acute malnutrition complications. One of them was dying in front of our eyes. I tried to resuscitate that child, but unfortunately, he passed away.

MARTIN: The child next to him was also very weak says Dr. Sharhan. She could barely get a pulse. But he was able to talk, and he was pleading with her. He wanted to know what happened to the boy who had been next to him.

SHARHAN: Did he die? Did he die? I tried to call that child down.

MARTIN: The doctors were able to get that boy stable.

SHARHAN: Now I just learned that that child, well, the second was evacuated outside Madaya to a specialized hospital, so he will live.

MARTIN: He was one of the lucky ones. Dr. Sharhan says there are thousands of Syrians facing starvation as the five-year-long civil war rages. Desperate to get aid to people, the U.N. is demanding access to these communities.

SHARHAN: Syria is under war. War makes everything difficult, really. But we are advocating strongly and asking all sides in this siege on all the communities in Syria and provide unimpeded, unconditional safe humanitarian access. We will deliver the life-saving food and health and nutritional supplies.

MARTIN: Dr. Rajia Sharhan - she's a nutritionist with UNICEF. She was recently with a convoy that delivered aid to the town of Madaya inside Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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