Syrian city remains under siege after 500 days: Homs passes milestone as civilians continue to die from gunfire and starvation

 

Beirut

The siege of the Syrian city of Homs has now raged for more than 500 days – a grim milestone that marks the length of suffering its civilians have endured.

Syrians are not only suffering from gunfire and bombing, but are also being “massacred by hunger” as food supplies dwindle and many are unable to be reached by international aid groups.

“There are no vegetables, very little bread. Milk for the children – there is none,” an old woman from Homs says in a video interview recently posted on YouTube – one of the main ways for Syrians to disseminate their opinions amid the civil war.

“Where is the Islamic world, where are the Arabs?” she asks accusingly. “There is nobody but Allah.”

Syrians are feeding their children anything they can find, including leaves, one Syrian mother told Save the Children for a recent report.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is trying to reach three million Syrians to offer assistance, but the security situation has hampered efforts to reach many areas.

A recent study by a collective of NGOs revealed that the number of Syrians in need of food aid could be as high as 10.5 million – more than half the country’s current population.

Homs is particularly affected; although the regime has won back control of most of the town, the old city remains under rebel command. Up to 3,000 people remain in the besieged part of the city, according to a local physician. Children daub the walls not with political slogans, but a daily reality: “I am hungry.”

“Most people are showing signs of malnutrition,” according to Yazan, a local activist, who says he has also felt his strength be sapped by hunger.

A view from the damaged Khaled bin Walid mosque in the al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood of Homs (Getty) A view from the damaged Khaled bin Walid mosque in the al-Khalidiyah neighbourhood of Homs (Getty)  

The crisis is set to worsen. Syria had already been experiencing a drought before the civil unrest kicked off, pushing people into extreme poverty. But 2013 has seen the worst harvest since an even more serious drought that hit 30 years ago and the government has had to admit that wheat production is falling far below its expected levels.

While the world focuses on chemical weapons inspections, the Damascus suburbs that were subject to the chemical attacks last month are also suffering from a severe lack of food. At least six people, including an 18-month-old girl, have died of hunger in the past few weeks, according to activists. Footage posted online shows severely malnourished children.

Such images are set to increase, according Ertharin Cousin, the head of the World Food Programme. “Those pictures will get worse and we, as the international community, should not wait until we have famine-like conditions before we bring attention to the fact that we don’t have access to too many of these areas.”

Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs (Getty) Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs (Getty)  

Although the agency is looking to ramp up its aid, reaching an additional million people across Syria, some pockets of the country cannot be reached because of fighting, Ms  Cousin said.

She appealed for access for UN chemical weapons inspectors, who returned to the country on Tuesday, to be coupled with increased aid access. “When you talk about a cessation of hostilities to allow access for the chemical workers, that cessation in hostilities should also allow access for humanitarian workers too,” she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Advisor - Opportunities Available Nationwide

£15000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to ...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced Special Needs Support Worker

£12 - £14 per hour: Recruitment Genius: We are looking for someone to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Content Assistant / Copywriter

£15310 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence