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International Convoy Reaches Besieged Area Of Syria


In Syria, aid groups and activists say starvation is a weapon of war. For months, the Syrian town of Madaya has been blockaded by the Syrian government. Thousands of people have been trapped, slowly starving. Antigovernment rebels have also surrounded the towns of Fua and Kefraya, blocking food and supplies to them, too. Today, international convoys were able to enter the three towns and bring some relief. Here's what Pawel Krzysiek with the International Committee of the Red Cross said in an audio diary as one group entered Madaya.

PAWEL KRZYSIEK: It's really heartbreaking to see the situation of the people. A while ago, I was just approached by a little girl, who - and her first question was just, did you bring food?

MCEVERS: For more on this, we are joined by Abeer Etefa of the United Nations' World Food Programme. She's based in Cairo but has been in close contact with the U.N. team that's on the ground. Abeer Etefa, thanks for being with us today.

ABEER ETEFA: Thank you for having me.

MCEVERS: What can you tell us about the convoy? First off, how is it that they were allowed to go in now after all this time?

ETEFA: It's been a long day for hundreds of aid workers around the country. The agreement was the aids and the relief will go simultaneously to the besieged town of Madaya, and at the same exact time, it will get into the two besieged areas of Kefraya and Fua. That's in different - completely different parts of the country, 200 kilometers from Madaya.

MCEVERS: What are your teams seeing there in terms of need? What do people need the most?

ETEFA: Our teams - once they got inside the city of Madaya, they have reported that people are waiting for them, waiting for them, smiling at them. Children are extremely malnourished and asking them, are you bringing food with us? The team that's on the ground are confirming that what we have seen in these pictures that have circulated in social media is very much close to reality. Children are malnourished. They are surviving on boiled water with herbs for many, many days. I think the health issues that we are going to see after people have been cut off from food for four or five month will be irreversible damage.

MCEVERS: How long can the supplies that the team is brining last?

ETEFA: These supplies are enough to feed 40,000 people in Madaya for one month. The supplies that are going into Fua and Kefraya are enough for 20,000 people for one month. But what we need is unimpeded and regular access to these areas. People need food every day, and we cannot survive on a convoy that goes in every three or four month. And while there is so much focus on Madaya and the situation there requires an immediate response, the U.N. is equally concerned about the situation of the 4-and-a-half million people living in hard and difficult-to-reach areas. That includes 400 southern people in besieged areas. They have been completely cut off from aid and supplies for many month, and some areas, we've never reached before.

MCEVERS: Why is it that these towns are only receiving one month's worth of supplies?

ETEFA: Forty-four trucks is what we can manage to get in, and throughout the week, we will be continuing to send food and supplies. But we need regular, unimpeded access. We cannot send food that's enough for a year and let people besieged. We have to reach them on monthly basis.

MCEVERS: What's keeping you from getting that unimpeded access that you talk about?

ETEFA: Unimpeded access and regular supplies to these besieged towns mean that all the parties on the ground give the U.N., the World Food Programme and all the humanitarian aid workers safe passage. You have to be granted access.

MCEVERS: So you're saying granted the safety and the access that you need from both the government and the forces that fight for it and the rebel forces as well.

ETEFA: Exactly. You can't force a truck into a checkpoint. It has to open for it. We tried that before in many cases, but we've learned that it's going to take time, and it's going to take negotiation, coordination and commitment from these parties to the conflict that - they allow to aid to the people besieged.

MCEVERS: That's Abeer Etefa. She's a spokesperson for the U.N.'s World Food Programme which brought food and supplies to the Syrian town of Madaya today and also the towns of Fua and Kefraya. Thank you so much.

ETEFA: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.