Immediate and significant humanitarian assistance needed in Al-Houla: UNICEF

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The building where Souad has taken refuge is freezing cold at night. She and her family are surviving on WFP food aid.

Without immediate and significant humanitarian assistance in the near term, Al-Houla, a cluster of villages north of Homs in Syria, is looking at a high-risk of increased malnutrition, the possibility of disease outbreak and further displacement. That's the assessment of an inter-agency mission that crossed the frontlines to deliver aid to the besieged area this past week.

In Geneva, UNICEF Spokesperson Marixie Mercado said the team which also included the World Food Programme, provided hundreds of hygiene kits and nutrition supplies.

The team found a critical shortage of medical supplies in the four partially functioning medical facilities. Major illnesses reported include upper respiratory infections, scabies, lice, diarrhoea and some mental illnesses. The water supply is limited and there is no fuel to power water systems. Nurses reported seeing increasing numbers of children with pale skin, very dry skin and sunken eyes which are all common signs of malnutrition.

Ms. Mercado says 31 of the 41 schools in Al-Houla are damaged and none of the school-aged children there – some 25,000, have been in classrooms for two years now. She adds that the estimated population was about 70, 000, half of whom are displaced.

The team found basically communities whose coping mechanisms were almost completely exhausted a place where families normally stored food for up to one year but these supplies had run out. There has been no farming for almost two years, the few shops that are open have very little on their shelves. 

Al-Houla was the site of clashes a year ago that killed almost a hundred people including 49 children in one day. This was the first UN mission to Al-Houla which was completely cut off for many months.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’43″

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