Extreme cold and lack of access to maternal health care have worsened conditions for children in Syria, UNICEF reported on Tuesday.
Fifteen displaced Syrian children died at the Rukban camp last month because of lack of medical care and bad weather conditions. Most of the children who died were less than four months old — the youngest was alive for just one hour.
And without significant change, the situation could get worse.
“Without reliable and accessible healthcare, protection and shelter, more children will die day in, day out in,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF’s Middle East regional director. “History will judge us for these entirely avoidable deaths.”
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Eight of the children died at the Rukban camp, located on Syria’s border with Jordan, where about 45,000 people are stranded in makeshift tents and huts.
Many of the families at the camp are fleeing war and violence in Haijin, one of the last regions controlled by Islamic State militants in eastern Syria.
The displaced people at the camp are trapped in limbo. They’ve been refused entry into Jordan because officials fear that Islamic State militants will enter the country and the area is incredibly dangerous, so Rukban has not received as much humanitarian assistance or support — including medication and food — as other camps over the past few years.
In an attempt to control the border, several routes have been shut down, cutting the region off from doctors and aid shipments, making the situation even more dire.
Rukban is home to about 50,000 people, 80% of whom are women and children. In addition to a lack of resources, the community also lacks medical care for pregnant women, mothers, and new infants according to UNICEF.
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Recent severe weather has threatened the health of babies and mothers, causing children to die from hypothermia. Low temperatures combined with heavy rain and snow have plagued the camp, while flooding is destroying makeshift homes and obliterating shelters.
“Extreme cold and the lack of medical care, for mothers before and during birth and for new infants, have exacerbated already dire conditions for children and their families,” said Cappelaere. “The lives of babies continue to be cut short by health conditions that are preventable or treatable."
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“I believe if we receive no help, especially in this cold winter, we will witness suicide attempts – people are so hopeless and desperate here,” Mahmood al-Hamil, who works at the camp, told the Guardian. “Rukban camp is a death camp with all roads blocked.”
Last November, emergency supplies were delivered to Rukban, the first aid to reach the camp in 10 months, but much more help is needed. The World Food Programme is demanding that additional supplies be sent as soon as possible.
"There are no excuses for this in the 21st century,” said Cappelaere. “This tragic manmade loss of life must end now."