GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations delivered food to a record 3.3 million people in Syria in October, up from 2.7 million the previous month, but said on Friday civilians were going hungry in besieged areas that remain inaccessible.
Embattled parts of Damascus and its rural areas, where fighting has intensified, have not been reached for many months and the nutritional state of those trapped is believed to have deteriorated significantly, the World Food Programme (WFP) said.
“WFP is concerned about the fate of many Syrians trapped in conflict areas and still in need of urgent food assistance. We are monitoring worrying reports emerging of malnutrition among children in besieged areas,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva.
More children are being admitted to hospitals in Damascus and other parts of the country for treatment of malnutrition,
a condition that leaves them weakened and more susceptible to other diseases, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
“We know that there is an upward trend in the number of children being admitted with moderate and severe acute malnutrition. Most of these cases are being reported from two referral hospitals in Damascus - the Children’s Hospital and the Damascus Hospital,” UNICEF spokeswoman Marixie Mercado said.
The trend of rising child malnutrition was confirmed by its partner aid agencies in Hama, Homs, Aleppo, Rural Damascus, Quneitra, Deir al-Zor, rural Deraa and Idlib, she said.
“There is a lack of skilled professionals to deal with severe acute malnutrition, which is a condition that requires medical treatment,” Mercado said. “Obviously these children at much more risk of sickness and death than children who are not malnourished.”
Nearly one in 10 Syrian children already suffered from malnutrition in 2009, the last time a nationwide family survey was conducted, UNICEF said. Northeastern areas suffered several years of drought before the conflict began in March 2011.
The WFP’s target remains to reach 4 million people a month with food assistance in Syria, where food prices have soared and millions have fled their homes for squalid makeshift shelters.
Fighting and insecurity hampered WFP access to parts of Aleppo and Hassakeh provinces in October, Byrs said.
“Elsewhere in the country and especially in the governorates of Damascus and Rural Damascus, more areas are becoming inaccessible due to the intensification of the conflict,” she said.
With civil war raging, WFP has been unable to deliver food supplies to 38 locations, including Mouadamiya on the edge of Damascus, which it has tried to reach nine times over the past year without success, she added.
A rare moment of coordination between the Syrian government and rebels enabled 1,800 civilians to flee the besieged town on Tuesday, but thousands remain trapped with little food, water or medicine.
The evacuation was the third from Mouadamiya. The United Nations says 3,000 women and children have already left. The opposition says 12,000 people face starvation and death in the town, which they describe as 90 percent destroyed.
Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have used sieges to root out rebels from residential areas during the war that has cost more than 100,000 lives and displaced millions.
The government says the residents of Mouadamiya are being “held hostage” by terrorists.
“According to the information we have there still people trapped in Mouadamiya. We are trying and stand ready to assist as soon as these people will be able to go out. But the Syrian Arab Red Crescent is on the spot and assisting those who can flee,” Byrs said.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alistair Lyon