Syria’s ‘town of the starving’

A resident of Moadamiya al-Sham, near the Syrian capital Damascus, recently contacted Amnesty International. Here is a firsthand account of the situation in the town, which has been under siege for the past year.

Only five kilometres from central Damascus, the children of Moadamiya al-Sham are dying of hunger.

For 12 months, Syrian government forces have placed the town under siege. And for the last eight months, the siege has been tightened: no food or medical supplies have entered the town, leaving it totally isolated from the outside world. No one enters or leaves Moadamiya, which is now being referred to as “the town of the starving”.

Every morning at dawn you see mothers going out to search for food for their children who have spent the previous day and night with empty stomachs.  

On one of those days of extreme hunger, I went into one of the homes only to see one of the mothers and her children with their faces pale with hunger. They had not eaten at all for two days and had no food in the house. They had not seen bread for six months. The same circumstances prevailed all over town – elsewhere, people were fighting over some vegetables planted by their father. He had died during an air force raid on the town nearly a month ago.

Walking down one of the town’s streets, my eyes became fixed on a group of children searching in one of the garbage bins for anything to eat. This is one of the few places left to rummage for food. But they found nothing – the residents have stopped throwing away their leftovers; everything edible is now spared.

Khalid, a former weightlifter who had broad shoulders and strong muscles, has now lost most of his weight and become so skinny that when he sent a photograph to his mother, who has left Moadamiya, at first she did not recognize him. When she realized it was her son, she spent the whole day crying. His only message to her said “pray for me to bear this hunger”.

In another house we found a group of youth sitting silently. When asked about their silence one of them replied:  “We have not eaten for two days, not because we forgot to eat but because there is nothing to eat. So we sit in silence, since talking uses up calories that one needs and cannot be replaced”.

Moadamiya’s children have learnt to differentiate between the flavours of different tree leaves – bitter, sweet or sour – in the same way children in other parts of the world differentiate between the flavour of pizza and meat slices with gravy and the taste of chocolate from crisp biscuits.

This is Syria’s “town of the starving” – Moadamiya al Sham.

Note: A version of this blog has appeared on Al Arabiya's website.

Read more:

Leaving it all behind – a Syrian family’s journey to safety (Blog, 8 November 2013)
Five things that will help Syrian refugees (Blog, 26 September 2013)
Syria’s internally displaced – ‘The world has forgotten us’ (Feature, 20 June 2013)