Under the gaze of critical eyes, a U.N. convoy has broken a year-long siege imposed on the eastern Ghouta region of Damascus.
Six medium-sized trucks entered via a rural passageway to the city of Douma, in the eastern Ghouta. Empty stomachs and more than 1.15 million starving, besieged people are waiting for the implementation of the U.N. resolution to supply immediate relief aid to the areas besieged by the Assad regime.
It has been 18 months since the last international relief aid entered Douma in the eastern Ghouta. Previoulsy, the international Red Crescent stopped all activities in the area, following a decision by the umbrella organization ignoring the presence of dozens of volunteers from the same area who continued working independently as volunteers under the name of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), Douma branch.
These volunteers have practiced their activities without any support from the international organizations. The decision to freeze activities was made using the excuse that the security situation had regressed, leaving more than 1.15 million people under siege facing fatal malnutrition.
A small U.N. convoy included representatives of the World Food Program, UNICEF and the World Health Organization, accompanied by SARC, while the amount loaded was shocking to everybody. The convoy included only three trucks and five cars, and the aid delivered contained just 600 food baskets and 400 shelter equipment baskets.
In an exclusive interview with The Syrian Observer website, Majd Abu Ali – who works with SARC and met the visiting deputation and discussed issues with its members – said that the visit was coordinated directly between the U.N. and the Free Syrian Army (FSA), who welcomed and accompanied them on their tour.
Abu Ali referred to the visit as "evaluative", aimed at completing a full estimation of the situation and needs in this area, as part of the implementation of the last international organization resolution, and that he has been assured that aid will be delivered based on this assessment.
Abu Ali also referred to the fact that the convoy held a very small amount of aid that will not satisfy even 1% of the population of Ghouta, while afflicted families exceed 140,000 in this area.
The visit took four hours, in which the team met many of the activists in Douma and attended activities, also visitoing the Red Crescent care center.
However, after they left, the regime bombed the area from the Abd al-Raouf neighborhood. The bombing resulted in massive destruction and a number of injured people. The tour also included some other areas in the eastern Ghouta.
The visit prompted a wave of criticism by the people, activists and the civilian bodies in the area. The small amount of aid received was considered a dilution of the international resolution and a true indication of the will of the Assad regime, which cares only about appearing to allow the team and aid to enter.
But what aid could be sufficient, given more than one million people are facing fatal malnutrition?
“This is the question,” said an activist named Soubhi, who is a former volunteer with the Red Crescent. Soubhi said he understood the “evaluative” visit and the need for the international organization to estimate the needs of the area. He said the international organization anticipates when entering areas like those for the first time by bringing in sufficient amounts of the necessary relief materials as a token of trust with the people.
But, he said, this was not the case here in the besieged areas. He said each of the 600 food baskets contains only 5 kilos of rice, some chickpeas and blankets, even though it is alomst Summer and there is no need for them now. The most important thing that should have been provided was a sufficient amount of baby milk formula, that is available at the Red Crescent centers outside the area, as well as 5,000 vaccinations for the children that were not included in the regime 's earlier vaccination campaigns. Then, the regime had shot at the Red Crescent vehicles at a military barrier and hit the volunteers.
Soubhi believes that the convoy should not have been allowed to enter with that amount of aid. He expressed mistrust for the regime, believing it will ban the entry of future convoys because it has already benefitted this time expereince by capturing the entrance to the area and displaying the aid convoy to the media, as if it had allowed relief materials, but in fact they were insufficient.
Soubhi said the convoy provided only 600 baskets while amount needed, as calculated by the Red Crescent for Ghouta is 30,000 baskets each month. He said the exchange of accusations after the limited delivery will only add to the sense of chaos. He believes the international organizations should have been pressured to use this opportunity to send a sufficient amount of foodstuffs. He said this should have happened during the evaluative visit, because it is known that the regime will not allow another one later, given it had achieved its aims.
The Red Crescent branch in Douma has received the relief which was delivered by the U.N. They wrote on their public facebook page: ”The Syrian Arab Red Crescent – Douma branch welcomed a U.N. deputation and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent deputation, which delivered approximately 600 food baskets accompanied with blankets and children’s milk, despite knowing that the population of Douma is more than 40,000 thousand families,” in an obvious criticism.
The head of the local administration in the eastern Ghouta, Nizar al-Samadi was also critical, saying that this is a very small amount for eastern Ghouta that is inhabited by 140,000 families.
"All of them are living in hunger and aid is just a new wedge being driven between the people of the eastern Ghouta, that contains 30 villages and towns, with coordination between the regime and the international organizations," he said.
"That amount of aid will be of no benefit but increasing the stressful situation and raises the people's hostility towards the parties which will do the distribution."
Askign how further adi will be delivered, Nizar said: "To whom it will be given and from whom it will be blocked?"
He said that it would be more useful and important that the resolution demand the opening humanitarian passages completely and break the siege of the eastern Ghouta, adding that "only then can we say for whom this humanitarian passage has been opened and thank them for their efforts.
Translated and edited by the Syrian Observer