Christopher Gunness, spokesman for the UN relief effort in Syria, writes: The lexicon of man’s inhumanity to man has a new word – Yarmouk. The camp, on the edge of Damascus, was once the bustling, vibrant heart of the Palestine refugee community in Syria, where 160,000 Palestinians lived in harmony with Syrians of all stripes. Over the past six months, it has become synonymous with infant malnutrition, women dying in childbirth for lack of medical care and besieged communities reduced to eating animal feed – all this in the capital city of a UN member state in the 21st century. Yarmouk sums up the tragic, profound suffering of civilians in the Syria conflict. It should not have to.
This tragedy has a human face. Khaled, aged 14 months, is a war child. He was born as Syria’s pitiless conflict engulfed Yarmouk: armed opposition groups entered the camp and government forces responded by encircling it. Trapped with his parents and four siblings, he has seen more suffering in his short life than most of us will experience in a lifetime.
Khaled embodies Syria’s tragic conflict, but also the opportunities that we must grasp. He would probably be dead had it not been for Dr Ibrahim Mohammad of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), who treated him for a severe form of malnutrition known as kwashiorkor, caused by a prolonged lack of protein. He also had symptoms of rickets.
“When I first saw Khaled he looked like a five-month-old,” says Mohammad. “He was about to die. Khaled had survived on water and almost no solid food for two months.”
When asked about life in Yarmouk, Khaled’s mother Noor, 29, becomes agitated. “Hell would be better,” she says. “We boiled spices with water and drank it. We ate grass until all the grass was gone.” [Continue reading…]