THE HAGUE: More than one million Syrians are living under siege after nearly five years of war, a new NGO report said Tuesday, warning the crisis was “far worse” than UN officials have acknowledged.
“New data gathered by Siege Watch shows that there are well over 1,000,000 Syrians under siege in locations in Damascus, Rural Damascus, Homs, Deir Ezzor and Idlib governorates,” said the report jointly released by a Dutch group and a US-based organisation.
It listed 46 communities around Syria where it said a total of 1,099,475 people were besieged, with the overwhelming majority encircled by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
People in those areas had an “elevated risk of death” due to deprivation from lack of food as well as electricity and running water, the report said.
“The scale of the crisis of besieged areas in Syria is far worse than the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has acknowledged,” said the report from Washington-based The Syria Institute and PAX, a peace organisation based in the Netherlands.
The latest figures from the UN released in January put the number at 486,700 people, with more than half in areas besieged by regime forces.
But data from Siege Watch, a joint project between The Syria Institute and PAX, showed that there was “continued under-reporting of the siege crisis in Syria” in monthly UN reports.
The UN’s “characterisation does not accurately reflect the situation on the ground,” the report said.
Out of the 46 besieged communities, only two the towns of Fuaa and Kefraya in Idlib province were being held hostage by opposition forces, the Siege Watch report said.
A third area Deir Ezzor city where some 200,000 are trapped was encircled by both jihadists from the Islamic State group and regime forces, it said.
The report criticised the UN, saying it “dramatically underestimates the number of people living under siege” meaning many people “remain unaware of the extent of the crisis and the international response has been muted as a result.”
The problem had been graphically highlighted in the town of Madaya, after photos of starving and severely emaciated adults and children shocked the world last month.