The depth of suffering in the Syrian town of Madaya, subject to a six-month siege by government forces, became clearer on Tuesday as UN officials reported back on the delivery of the town's first outside supplies since October.
Mothers could not breastfeed due to malnourishment and dehydration, so babies were fed with water, herbs and potatoes, Tarik Jasarevic of the World Health Organization told reporters at the UN offices in Geneva.
"There are people around but there is no life," said Sajjid Malik of the UN refugee agency UNHCR, who accompanied the aid convoy that entered the mountain town near the Lebanese border on Monday evening.
"Many people live on grass and soup with some spices," he said. Locals had told him that a kilogram of rice cost 300 dollars.
Red Cross spokesman Pawel Krzysiek, who also accompanied the aid convoy, told dpa by phone that the effects of the siege on residents were obvious.
Children, women and elderly men he saw on the streets looked "pale, weak and skinny," Krzysiek said.
An activist in Madaya said that over 40 truckloads of food and medical supplies, including 7,800 sacks of flour and the same number of food parcels, had been distributed overnight.
But locals feared that the siege might be reimposed once the aid convoy departed, Mazen Burhan of the local humanitarian committee told dpa via Skype.
The delivery came after a global outcry at images of emaciated corpses and reports that locals had been reduced to eating grass and leaves due to the siege of the rebel-held town by Syrian troops and fighters from the Lebanese Shiite movement Hezollah.
Doctors without Borders (MSF), an international medical charity that supports the town's medical centre, says almost 30 people there have died of starvation since early December.
The United Nations said overnight that more than 400 people were on the brink of death and in need of immediate medical evacuation.
One local resident, talking to dpa via Skype, appealed for the siege to be completely lifted.
"We thank God and the good people of the world who worked on sending us the supplies, but we do not want them to stop work on lifting the siege," Abu Hussein said.
"After all, we are Syrian citizens and we have the right to live in our land and have food," he added.
"The situation in Madaya is tragically far from unique," Gens Laerke of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned.
Across Syria, almost 400,000 people in Syria are trapped in areas besieged by the various parties, he said.
"The usage of siege and starvation as a method of war has become routine and systematic with complete disregard of civilian life," Laerke said.