Beirut, Jan 16: The UN children's agency said that it witnessed the death of a teenager who died of starvation "in front of our eyes," as well as several cases of severe malnutrition among children trapped in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya near Damascus.
Doctors Without Borders said later that five people died of starvation after the first UN humanitarian aid convoy since October arrived in Madaya on Tuesday afternoon. Hanaa Singer, UNICEF's representative in Syria, said in a statement that the 16-year-old, identified as Ali, died of malnutrition on Thursday in Madaya's clinic.
Brice de le Vingne, director of operations for the medical aid organization known by its French initials MSF, said it was "shocking" that people were dying despite the arrival of convoys carrying food and medicine. "Some of the current patients may not survive another day," he said.
"Medical evacuations for the most critically sick and malnourished need to happen immediately, and it is hard to understand why patients clinging to life have not already been evacuated." MSF said 23 patients died of starvation in Madaya in December, five died on January 10, and two more died on Tuesday as the first convoy was en route.
With the five deaths after the convoy's arrival, the total number of deaths from starvation confirmed by the MSF-supported medics in Madaya is 35, MSF said.
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien said Tuesday that about 400 people needed to be evacuated from Madaya for urgent medical treatment. Trucks from the UN and other humanitarian organizations entered Madaya on Thursday for the second time in a week after reports of starvation deaths.
The town has been under siege for months by government forces. Two other communities, the villages of Foua and Kfarya in northern Syria, besieged by Syrian rebels were also included in the aid operation.
The death of the teenager as international aid workers were inside Madaya reinforced the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in the town and other besieged areas. Another aid worker who entered Madaya, Abeer Pamuk of SOS Children's Villages in Syria, said the situation is so devastating that desperate parents resort to giving children sleeping pills in order to calm their hunger.