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On Madaya: An open letter to the international community

Yesterday I received an email from someone in the aid […]

17 March 2016

Yesterday I received an email from someone in the aid community with the subject heading: “Urgent appeal: Assistance for two seriously injured people in Maday,” referring to one of the towns outside Damascus encircled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and allied forces since July 2015.

“I thought you might have some ideas on who best to contact about an urgent appeal we received from a contact in Madaya who informs us he and another woman are severely suffering from serious internal injuries,” the aid worker wrote in the email.

Syria Direct reporter Ammar Hamou broke the story of mass starvation in the town, 40km northwest of Damascus, last December. Madaya had entered into a truce agreement with the Assad regime two months before. The crippling encirclement of Madaya, however, was tied to stipulations around other encircled towns. The result is that the total blockade remains in place today with 40,000 people trapped inside.

Back to the email: If evacuation is not possible, “colostomy bags and anti-convulsion medication are urgently needed for two patients trapped in Madaya, [name redacted] and [name redacted], one male and one female. Both patients have intestinal injuries that require surgery,” the aid worker wrote.

Through his contacts in Madaya, Hamou verified the information. The male, aged 25, and the female, in her early 40s, have intestinal tears that resulted in abscesses. Both “very urgently” need colostomy bags, Dr. Mohammed Darwish told Ammar Hamou via chat app What’sApp. Darwish is appealing for medical aid to be delivered by the Red Crescent “or with any delegation visiting Madaya.”

The woman’s situation is worse because she has shrapnel injuries that have led to severe infection. Both she and the young man were expecting to be on one of the three previous medically urgent evacuation lists, but weren’t, and they don’t know why.

“None of the agreed-upon individuals has been evacuated since the last aid delivery to Madaya,” Darwish said. [Darwish provided a detailed inventory in Arabic of requested medical supplies as well as information about 14 other urgent cases requiring evacuation that Syria Direct will translate and provide to any interested party.]

An active, if heated, discussion took place in the Syria Direct newsroom today over the ethics of publishing the aid worker’s information without obtaining comments from all of the organizations involved in assisting Madaya (for more on that, see here.)

A full report would require the kind of time that I am afraid these two patients do not have.

“People are besieged and dying of their injuries right now all across Syria,” one Syria Direct reporter said. That is true. But if we can’t make a difference in the entire world at this moment, here lies an opportunity to make a difference in two people’s worlds.

This plea I’m writing is neither a judgment nor an indictment. It does not detract from or negate suffering in other countries, other parts of Syria, or even within our own homes and lives. I’m simply asking the world to notice these two people. They are dying and they don’t have to.

Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning: “It is true that decent people form a minority. More than that, they will always remain a minority. And yet I see therein the very challenge to join the minority. The world is in a bad state but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best.”

Kristen Demilio/Editor

Syria Direct

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