Fighting in Syria is returning the country to the "bleakest days" of the conflict, as the ongoing civil war surpasses the length of World War II, a senior UN official warned yesterday.
Despite the arrangement of de-escalation zones, the international organisation expressed particular concern for the 400,000 people in eastern Ghouta near the capital Damascus, who are suffering from the ongoing siege by President Bashar Al-Assad's forces, cutting off all access to basic supplies.
"[They have been through] a seven-year war, longer than the Second World War. With little, if any, reserves, no heat in their houses and living amid ruin, [for them] it will be a horrific winter," Jan Egeland, special advisor to the UN special envoy for Syria, told journalists after a meeting of the Humanitarian Task Force in Geneva.
Eastern Ghouta is suffering from the tightened blockade after an offensive by the Syrian regime earlier this year cut underground smuggling routes that formerly allowed civilians access to food, fuel and medicine.
The besieged province is also subject to airstrikes from the Syrian regime, despite such attacks being expressly forbidden by agreements signed between the warring parties.
The UN also warned of the increasing numbers of people facing starvation, particularly children suffering from malnourishment. Last month, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights reported that 397 civilians had starved to death in the past five years, with a further 1,000 children at risk of starvation.
"We have confirmation that seven patients died because they were not evacuated and a list of 29 critical cases … including 18 children, among them young Hala, Khadiga, Mounir and Bassem … they all have a name, they all have a story, they all have to be evacuated now," the senior advisor stressed.
However, he emphasised that evacuating the area was not a permanent solution and called for the government shelling of the region to stop.
He also referenced the south-eastern town of Berm, highlighting that the situation there was equally dire, where as many as 55,000 civilians are in need of assistance but had received no humanitarian aid since June.
More than half a million people are believed to have been killed since 2011, the vast majority by the Assad government and allied forces. The regime has also used chemical weapons against civilians and prevented aid from reaching those affected on the ground. UN officials further estimate that some ten million people have been displaced as a result of the fighting.