60,000 Residents of Besieged Syrian Towns Get Aid for First Time Since April

Madaya and three other besieged towns got aid for first time in five months.

ByLena Masri
September 26, 2016, 1:16 PM

— LONDON -- Long-awaited aid has reached Madaya and three other besieged Syrian towns for the first time since April.

Humanitarian assistance was supposed to arrive in Madaya, Foah, Zabadani and Kefraya last Tuesday, but that delivery was put on temporary hold following an attack on an aid convoy in western Aleppo that left at least 21 people dead.

On Sunday, trucks finally arrived with wheat flour and food enough for the four towns' 60,000 residents, most of whom are women and children. The aid also included medical and hygiene supplies.

“Sunday, we had a convoy deliver aid to Madaya, Foah, Zabadani and Kefraya,” David Swanson, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told ABC News.

”When the cars first entered we were very happy because we were on the verge of famine," Hala Yousef, 40, a teacher in Madaya who lives near where the aid trucks parked, told ABC News. "The children were very happy and some of them were hanging onto the truck. One child hung onto the truck while it was driving. The driver told him to get down. "Are you bringing soya? Are you bringing soya?" the boy asked referring to a nutritious food product made of soybeans. "Yes, we have soya," the driver said. "Just get down."

Yousef said that while the aid brought some relief, residents are upset about the increased violence in parts of Aleppo, which is still waiting for humanitarian aid.

She also said Madaya residents were pleased to get the food aid that included beans, rice, bulgur and flour, but troubled that the shipment didn't include other essentials.

"We were really hoping for salt and milk," she said. "We only received two boxes of milk, enough for a very small number of children for a month and a half, not more. What if the next aid delivery is delayed or something happens? We are very scared and will only use milk in rare cases. We were also really hoping for tomato paste, which we use to cook the beans. We didn't get any tuna, which was also our only source of meat."

Madaya's estimated 40,000 residents are facing a meningitis epidemic, according to Save the Children. Yousef is one of many residents who suffer from the disease. She said they didn't received meningitis medication but other types of medicine that help.

People live without basic food such as vegetables, fruit and meat. While they were waiting for aid their main diet was bulgur and rice, which means that many of the residents are malnourished.

Many in Madaya are out of work. Others, including Yousef's husband, don’t get paid, she said. At the same time, prices of food are extremely high -- Yousef says that the normal price for two pounds of cucumbers or tomatoes is more than $20, while canned tuna costs almost $30. Yousef makes $200 a month, but sends all the money to her sister in Lebanon who takes care of her three children who were able to leave Madaya over a year ago. Yousef and her husband couldn’t leave because they are wanted by the Syrian government for doing aid work, she said.

"There is almost never meat and almost never any kind of fresh fruit or vegetables. We have heard of children who were 4 or 5 years old who saw pictures of an apple and didn’t know what it was because they had never seen one in their memory,” Misty Buswell, Save the Children's regional advocacy director for the Middle East, told ABC News.

An estimated 13.5 million people, including 6 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, according to the United Nations. Of these, 5.47 million people are in hard-to-reach areas, including the close to 600,000 people in 18 besieged areas.

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