Editor K / July 23, 2014

Hey UN, What About Eastern Ghouta?


Image by Khaled Malek

The UN Security Council has authorized humanitarian access without Syrian government consent at four border crossings into rebel-held areas. This might be good news for areas on the border, but might not be the case in other areas. One example is in Eastern Ghouta, where over 700,000 civilians have been living under siege since February 2013. Luxemburg’s UN Ambassador said, “The consent of the Syrian authorities will no longer be necessary,” yet, the UN could only enter besieged areas like Eastern Ghouta after getting the Syrian government’s permission. Such control means that aid may or may be allowed inside, or it may not and raises the question of whether this will be just like the last three times when access by government permission did not deliver sufficient aid for civilians in the area.

Abo El Izz, Executive Director of the United Relief Office of Eastern Ghouta (URO) said that the UN, in the three authorized entrances it previously made, could only bring about 4000 food packages, while Eastern Ghouta, an area spreading over 400 kilometers, held 100,000 families waiting for such aid. Abou Adam, public relations officer in the Merj sector of URO, has mentioned that recent UN reports seem to mention only the city of Douma, as if it were the whole of Eastern Ghouta. In reality, it’s just one of 62 cities and towns besieged in Eastern Ghouta, which, in his opinion, marginalises all other areas, and neglects the real number of besieged civilians and humanitarian needs.

ِAfter the last resolution, the UN was granted access to Moadamieh in Western Ghouta, an area that used to be under siege until it agreed to reconcile with Assad forces. Yet, even after the reconciliation, the Syrian government did not allow medicine to enter. Such conditions make doctors in rebel-controlled Eastern Ghouta even more concerned, especially with the spread of epidemic and communicable diseases there, such as tuberculosis, hepatitis and typhus.

Dr. Majed, public relations officer of Eastern Ghouta Unified Revolutionary Medical Bureau, has even more reasons for his concerns, especially after the UN delivered highly concentrated foods for malnutrition with an expiration date of only three days after UN entrance. “We needed three days just to count the items and see what cases were more urgent to determine our distribution strategy,” Dr. Majed said, “No one explained why this happened, but I hope the next time they pay more attention.” Dr. Majed also said that the only medication they received back were children’s medicine, and even that did not cover the needs of the children. Now his major concern is getting diagnosis tools for epidemic diseases: “On a monthly basis, there are 60 tuberculosis cases we know of, but we can’t know how many tuberculosis or hepatitis cases we actually have without the right diagnosis tools. We only discover diseases in their advanced phases when they’re almost impossible to treat. Not to mention that tuberculosis can’t be treated with regular antibiotic. Some special medications are required, but we don’t have a way to obtain them.”

It’s not clear whether international aid organizations are knowingly neglecting Eastern Ghouta, or if they’re just hesitant to help it. But even those organizations courageous enough to help can only offer to send money. While this money could cover the costs of smuggling food and fuel through specific agents, medication has become an unrealistic luxury. Now Eastern Ghouta’s doctors are trying to develop some domestic alternatives to cure their patients, and such UN entrance might be their only chance in getting any medical aid that could actually cure a seriously ill patient.