World in slumber as Syrians die of hunger

Last month the world woke up to a horrific truth about Syria. It was a picture which went viral on social media and was picked up for publication by print media and television channels world over.

Morbid and macabre, the picture showed a few Syrians cutting up a lion on a road in Damascus.

Though the picture did not give out any details unconfirmed reports suggested a grim reality. Syrians had killed the lion in he zoo to eat its meat. Starvation has made the Syrians desperate.

And if the animal has really been killed for food then the level of desperation of the Syrians and hunger among them are indeed alarming. The magnitude of tragedy in the war-torn country is indeed humongous. Hunger and winter are now killing people with impunity. Syrians, caught between starvation and cold like devil and the deep sea, are dying like flies almost everywhere. Existence cannot be more grim.

In its unprecedented mortification Syria today is just like Dante's hell.

In Syria, more than the fear of death or of the bombs raining in from sky, hunger is palpable and all-pervading. A forty-nine-year-old emaciated father buried his two children. They died of hunger and their parents are now waiting for their turns. The family, living on the outskirt of Damascus has been starving for past several weeks. With no money and no food, they even killed a cat a few days ago to eat.

British daily, The Independent, a group of Syria clerics issued a fatwa allowing people living in besieged suburbs to eat meat normally forbidden under Islamic law. The Muslim clerics said people could eat cats, dogs and donkeys in a bid to reduce growing hunger in the agricultural belt of Ghouta.

They called the move a cry for help to the whole world and warned the living would be forced to eat the dead if the situation were to continue deteriorating.

The eastern Ghouta district has been under siege by the Syrian Army for six months and residents have reported food shortages. The area was among other regions in Damascus affected by a chemical weapons attack in August.

The three-year-old conflict in Syria has so far taken a toll of at least 11,500 children. Almost half of them have died of hunger and hunger-related causes. Forces for both sides of the divide are monopolising food supplies and hoarding food for fighters. Common people, especially the children, old and women, are left to starve. Desperate rebels are forcing people out of their homes into cold to die and are turning their places into bunkers.

And if a few hundred more die of hunger and freezing winter they can use these figures to garner world's support for their fight and showcase the depth of the country's wounds.

In Aleppo hunger among people is soul churning. Barefooted children in tattered clothes shivering like a lifeless twig in cold roam around the city with plastic bags to scavenge anything and everything which they can eat for survival. Their mothers, equally emaciated because of long starvation, too roam around with a begging bowl.

Aleppo has always been the most thriving city in Syria and the most important commercial centre. The conflict of the past three years has reduced Aleppo into a city of beggars, muggers, renegades and a city where men and women are ready to do anything and every thing for a morsel of food.

Its eight-kilometre-long covered souq, biggest in the world, now offers a sad spectacle. Deserted and with virtually nothing available this souq offers in miniature the general scenario of despondency across Syria today. Syrians have not only lost the revolution they have also lost Syria.

The Syrian narrative today is shameful and heart-wrenching. But not enough, we presume, to wake up the world's conscience from its stony slumber. Nothing is being done to mitigate the situation; nothing is being done to save lives; nothing is being done to salvage Syria's morale which is fast depleting.

When the movement to pull down the regime began the Syrians thought it may not last long and counted heavily on foreign intervention like in Libya. But as it dragged on and the movement turned violent foreigners' dabbling in the country increased worsening the situation, adding fuel to the fire.

Terrorism analyst and former political analyst with Saudi Embassy in Washington Fahad Nazer's observation is nearest to truth. Faced with such a grim reality, the wide spectrum of players involved in the conflict will continue to plague the country, make the nation bleed more, keep it hungry and add to the suffering of the beleaguered people of Syria.

The tepid response of the world, especially that of the United States and Europe, is mitigating the soaring hunger and is disgraceful all the more because Washington, London and Paris showed great enthusiasm in intervening in Syria in August. Had a fraction of that enthusiasm been shown to keep the Syrians fed and to stop the deteriorating tragedy the crisis could have assumed such proportion.

Former US president Bill Clinton still nurses a wound in his mind and a regret for not able to save lives in Rwanda. He said, "If we'd gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost…it had an enduring impact on me." We wonder, if ever Clinton's party colleague Barack Obama and US Secretary of State John Kerry, who swore to save lives in Syria would ever regret for not able to keep Syrians fed and save them from dying.

The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman.


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