We’ve been under siege for three years and we now live in a ghost town - Syria

by Anoymous aid worker inside Syria | Save the Children - International
Wednesday, 9 March 2016 10:35 GMT

Amer Al Shami / Save the Children

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Our way of life has completed changed in Moadamiya – we now live in a ghost town. Nobody ventures out at night any more, only during the day, when they have to. Outside, it’s a wasteland - so many of the buildings, homes and schools have been destroyed. There are piles of rubbish everywhere because we have nowhere to transport it to and no fuel to burn it. At least 45,000 people are trapped in here with me like this, almost half of them children.

We’ve been under siege for three years now with very limited movement in and out of the area, but our neighbourhood has been effectively sealed shut since December 2015. World leaders are meeting in Geneva today to discuss our fate and the fate of all Syrians. We need them to finally end the siege, not a partial break to allow in a few aid deliveries, but for the noose to be taken from around our neck completely. Right now, we barely have any fuel, gas or access to electricity and phone lines – we are cut off.

The children who are forced to live here under siege pay the heaviest price. So many of them are growing up without one or both of their parents, because they have been imprisoned or killed. I see the younger ones who are traumatised, cold, hungry and living in a constant state of fear.  They are terrified by the relentless sounds of fighter jets, loud explosions and rockets being fired. Teenagers are extremely depressed because they have no hope and nothing to look forward to. I don’t know how to describe it – it’s like children are constantly living on the verge of death.  

Their parents are afraid of the fighting as well, but they’re preoccupied with how to provide even the basic necessities for their families. People here are surviving day by day and 95% are unemployed. Children go to sleep dreaming about food. They go to their mothers saying they are hungry, and their mothers try their best to comfort them by telling them to sleep and that their dads will bring food the next day. What else can a mother do when her child is crying because they are starving? 

We don’t even have access to milk, which is essential for any child’s growth – it’s simply not being let into the city. Foods that are being smuggled in, such as chickpeas or lentils, are being priced at ${esc.dollar}10 per kilo, which no one can afford.  Around 11 people have already died in Moadamiya because they were so severely malnourished. 

The medical situation here is catastrophic. The needs are huge – there are regular trauma injuries from the airstrikes and the conditions are making people sick, but it’s almost impossible to find any medicine for chronic illnesses or for simple infections and the hospital itself is no longer fit for purpose. We only have a handful of doctors left and essential medical supplies are scarce. People are not allowed to leave the city to get treatment. Pregnant women needing caesareans have been held at checkpoints for days, desperately trying to leave the city to give birth in some sort of safety – some end up giving birth then and there.

My organisation runs a facility for several hundred children. We try to keep up some sense of normality and give the parents a break. Many children don’t want to go to school because they’re afraid it will get bombed. Even if they do go, they have no basic materials –books are not allowed through checkpoints- and the classrooms are freezing cold. Our buildings have no windows or doors and there isn’t enough fuel to heat the rooms, so we burn anything we can to keep warm – bits of rubbish and plastic, tables and chairs.

We are constantly trying to figure out ways of getting help by any means possible, for example through charities or through individuals who take huge risks by smuggling goods in. But the difficulties we face are enormous.

The children of Moadamiya and other besieged areas can’t continue to live under these conditions – what are we doing to this generation, for them to grow up trapped under the bombs with no food or light? We ask for full access to be granted in and out of the city permanently and for the bombing of schools and homes to end.