Starving to Death: Images from Madaya, Syria, You Don't Want to See

Forty thousand people live in this Syria town, Madaya, where they have been starving to death and surrounded by landmines for the past six months. Photo credit: Madaya page on Facebook

Forty thousand people live in this Syria town, Madaya, where they have been starving to death and surrounded by landmines for the past six months. Photo credit: Madaya page on Facebook

Forty thousand people, living in the Syrian town of Madaya, in the Qalamoun mountain range, are reportedly dying from starvation as the world watches in silence, activists say. The small mountainous town, 1,400 metres above sea level, is located 40 kilometres north of Damascus in the governorate of Rif Dimashq, alongside the Lebanese border, and has been besieged by Syrian government forces backed by Hizbulla militia, who are preventing food and aid from reaching it since July.

It is at the centre of a struggle between different factions embroiled in fighting across Syria, and its people are paying the price.

In a report published yesterday, along with harrowing photographs of starving Syrians and Madaya residents who have died from starvation, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) explained what was happening (Editor's note: Global Voices has chosen to not republish the photos because of their graphic nature):

People of Madaya city are still starving to death since 174 days due to the strict siege by regime forces and Hezbollah, the city contains 40,000 people including 20,000 civilians who fled their houses in Zabdani which witnessed violent clashes and heavy bombardment by regime forces and air forces.

SOHR observed hundreds of landmines planted by Hezbollah and al-Assad forces around Madaya city in addition to cutting the city off the surrounding areas by barbed wires and high wires to prevent any stealing in or out operations, the city contains 1200 chronic medical conditions, and 300 children suffering malnutrition and different medical conditions, amid sharp lack of medical and food supplies what caused a dramatic rise in the prices of food supplies, 1 kg of sugar or rice costs 3600 SP which is about 90 USD, SOHR documented the death of 17 civilians including women and children due to the lack of food and medicine, or by landmines, and snipers during attempts to gather food around the town.

News reports say the people of Madaya have been eating leaves from plants, insects, and even cats, after their food has run out. On its Facebook page, Hand in Hand for Syria paints a more horrid picture:

Most of the photos coming out of the small town of Madaya (in the suburbs of Damascus) are too graphic to share. Shocking images depict the true face of human desperation; people reduced to mere skeletons – with sunken eyes and protruding rib-cages, waiting for death to claim their name next.

For the past 6 months, the people of Madaya have been living under siege. Crops and food supplies have dwindled, leaving nothing but desperation behind. The remaining food in the town has become so expensive that most people simply cannot afford to buy food to eat.

They started by boiling crops. When the crops finished, they would boil grass and plants…then insects. When the malnutrition became unbearable, people began to resort to eating cats.


To date, starvation has claimed the lives of more than 50 people in the town. Malnutrition is rife, and with the cold winter weather starting to set in, thousands of people are at an increased risk of developing hypothermia.

But the world is not flinching, according to blogger BSyria, who notes:

According to Raed Bourhan, a Syrian fixer who is based in Beirut, Lebanon, winter setting in is further exacerbating an already dire situation in Madaya:

In another tweet, he shares photographs of children “robbed of their rights” as the war continues in Syria:

And a third tweet explains how prices of food have skyrocketed in the besieged areas, which are surrounded by landmines and snipers who prohibit residents from leaving:

Madaya's own Facebook page has launched an appeal calling on activists to protest in solidarity with Madaya in front of Russian embassies (Russia has undertaken airstrikes in Syria) and United Nations offices:

An invitation to activists and human rights and humanitarian organizations around the world, and a protest in solidarity with the besieged Madaya in front of the Russian embassys and UN offices.

Another post pleads with the world to save the children of Madaya:

A Syrian child from Madaya, besieged for the past six months. Photo credit: Madaya page on Facebook

A Syrian child from Madaya, besieged for the past six months. Photo credit: Madaya page on Facebook

On Facebook, Syrian Kenan Rahbani shares the photographs of starving Madaya residents and notes:

Sorry to post these graphic images, but I must.

These people aren't starving because they are poor, or because there is no food. Hezbollah and the Assad regime are starving the town of Madaya to death. It has been completely besieged and no food, medicine, or water is allowed to enter. The UN is right there but they can't get into the town because Hezbollah and the Assad regime won't let them in.

This is happening in the year 2016 in Syria. And ISIS has nothing to do with it.

And Syrian activist Rafif Joueati wonders how many more people need to die before the world acts:

She also asks:

And wonders:

Further reading


  • Thomas Hood

    This is pure pro-terrorist propaganda. Wikipedia gives the population of Madaya in 2004 as 9,371, not the 40,000 claimed by propagandist Amira Al Hussaini. By now it should be much less than 9,000 because Sunni terrorists will have purged the town of non-Sunni minorities. Those starving in Madaya are likely to be non-Sunnis who are being starved to death for propaganda pictures.

    • Minnie Fellini

      Couple of things. Between 2004 and 2011 Syria’s population growth rate doubled concurrent with the displacement of Iraqi refugees by the millions, so Madaya reaching 20,000 by now is just not that much of a stretch. Guess you missed the part about the influx of another 20,000 from neighboring Zabadani, forcefully displaced by the regime. I’d suggest reading up, not only on the evolution of the civil war, locations of various factions and their temporal displacements, but also the history of the town itself, before making any further unfounded pronouncements on so-called pro-terrorist propaganda campaigns. The town has always been a site of refuge for anti-government forces. This is not the first time it has taken in rebels and civilian populations displaced by political strife. They take much pride (and risk) by embracing, not purging, your alleged “non-Sunni” minorities.

      That aside, what possible difference does it make whether those being starved to death by Butcher Al-Assad’s regime are Sunni, Shia, Alawite, Druze, Christian, Jews, atheists or WHATEVER, who took the pictures or what their purported underlying agendas are? Starvation is starvation, and this strategy is a war crime of monumentally horrific proportions.

      • Thomas Hood

        The number in the above quote and repeated on the propaganda-laden Internet is 40,000, not the 20,000 you now contrive. Statistical round numbers are always fiction. By now the population of Madaya should be less that 5,000, counting the influx of Sunni terrorists that you so much admire. Where is you evidence for Iraqi refugees flooding Madaya? Why would an Iraqi fleeing Sunni terror in Iraq move to a Sunni city in Syria? Note how empty the streets are. Also note how undamaged the building are. Also note how well fed are the young men in their civvies (pictured in other Madaya articles) holding the banner. They are your admired butchers who have the guns to take whatever they want. You really should stop playing stupid and read about how bread is a weapon of your beloved terrorists. Bread is the main foodstuff of Syria. It grows mainly in Eastern Syria, controlled by terrorists, and is used by terrorists in their terror campaign. Your beloved terrorists have made bread so expensive that it is cheaper for the Syrian government to buy wheat for Syria from Russia and Iran.

        • FMCR2015

          “Also note how well fed are the young men in their civvies (pictured in other Madaya articles) holding the banner.”

          I think I know the banner you’re referring to. Is it this one?

          Because the people holding the banner aren’t in Madaya, they’re in Kafranbel. It’s a completely different town, in Idlib province, and anti-government activists there regularly produce banners like this and put them on social media. In this case, they’ve made a banner about Madaya. If you look on the banner, it says “from Kafranbel 3 Jan 16” along the bottom. Just wanted to clear that up.

          If you google image search the town, you’ll see some of the previous banners they’ve made.

        • Minnie Fellini

          Note how you fail to realize you are looking at “civvies” living in Kafr Nabl, some 200 miles to the NNE of Madaya, in the Idlib Governorate. False premise. Tsk, tsk. Also, that “round numbers” argument stating the obvious is kinda lame as well.

          Speaking of “contrived” population stats, wouldn’t that less than 5,000 figure you claim SHOULD be so qualify as your own concoction, given the subjunctive mood you chose to use? By definition, that conveys opinion, belief, even statements contrary to fact. No surprise there, since the bulk of your post is fact challenged, particularly assumptions you make about a complete stranger. Here’s the thing. 20,000 Madayans plus 20,000 Zabadanis equals 40,000 starving Syrians, surrounded by regime forces actively engaged in real time war crimes. No amount of name calling, personal insults or flailing deflection attempts will change that.

          TH, I learned about the importance of bread in Syria when I lived in Madaya back in the early 80s, under Fascist Al-Assad Senior’s iron-fist rule. No discussion of the use of bread as a weapon is complete without at least a tacit mention of the regime’s manipulation of bread subsidies in the grand scheme of his ethnic cleansing campaigns. Here. This should help shed some light on the subject:

          • Thomas Hood

            The original picture I saw of the banner was clipped, thus my mistake in thinking it was made in Madaya like other pictures in the article. There were no 20,000 Madayans. No 20,000 Zabadanis were moved to Madayan. The move was made after Zabadani had been fought over repeatedly, when — as happens in the normal couse of things — most of the population had fled, leaving only the diehards. The Christians of Zabadani had undoubtedly already fled the persecution of your beloved Sunni terrorists. You wish to justify the absurd 40,000 number because it is the number the propagandists you favor use. Thanks for the pointless anti-Assad link. It nowhere mentions that the high costs of bread is because of the taxes imposed at each terrorist checkpoint as wheat and flour is moved from east Syria, where it grows, to the population centers in the west.

        • Bhavan

          There are 7 million internally displaced people in Syria, so the population of many towns and cities has changed drastically. Using a 2004 census to guess the population of the town now is not very sensible. Someone who criticizes the brutal mass-murdering regime does not necessarily support the Islamist opposition. They could be a supporter of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the other major faction in this war, or perhaps they do not support any side.

          • Thomas Hood

            The “Syrian Democratic Forces” is a 2015 contrivance of the American government. It is, I think, almost entirely Kurdish. Exact figures of its ethnic composition are concealed. It’s sole aim is to provide ground forces to fight ISIS, not to liberate Syria from other terrorists. Apparently the Kurds participate in exchange for arms, ammunition, and the hope for future American support for their claims. I think many of their claims are just but that they will be betrayed by American CIA ethics just as soon as they are no longer considered useful.

          • Bhavan

            The numbers are not concealed, they are unknown. There is a difference. Anyways, numerous videos exist on Youtube showing Arab battalions completing their training to join the YPG even before the SDF was formed. Al-Sanadid Forces and Jaysh al Thuwar have joined them, both groups have significant numbers of fighters. I’d say the SDF is at minimum 25% Arab and many other ethnicities, such as Syriacs, are present. Their spokesman, Talal Silo, is a Turkmen. A huge chunk of the population in the land they control are Arabs and this is increasing the further south they go. They are not only fighting ISIS, in Allepo (Afrin Canton) they frequently clash with Al-Nusra allied groups as well.
            That being said, I agree that the US will probably dump them if and when they are no longer considered useful. The US has given them some ammunition but practically no weapons, specially not heavy weapons (they don’t want to piss off Turkey). The biggest contribution America has made to their effort is acting as their airforce.

    • Context helps the truth

      Agree with you on the counts.
      This is a new propaganda scheme, under a humanitarian needs disguise, after the flood of refugees coming into Europe Scheme that was Orchestrated by Turkey to put pressure on the Europeans. These schemes are being created to justify sending US and European boots into Syria, at a massive scale.

    • True

      shame on you,,you are disgusted

    • Una Plauks

      Madaya’s original population of 20,000 has doubled to 40,000 with the forced displacement of residents mostly from Zabadani.

      Read more:

    • People often say that white men speak with forked tongues. They could show you all the proof in the world and you’d still make up some excuse denying it. If you’re not going to help resolve a very real humanitarian crisis, one that was ultimately caused by your military, then do everyone a favor and piss off. Go do whatever it is your kind does best, like staging armed takeovers of federal buildings while thumping your chest about how much of a patriot you are.

    • Sami Abid

      Yes there is à lot of filtering, verrouillage when could be , in these information type AND many media
      Some photos are just pueril

    • Emna

      this is what you’ve been told !!!! madaya is surronded by non sunni forces ! and the people starving are mostly Sunna not non sunna !!!!! and i think it doesn’t matter they are people !! something has to be done to help them you think you know what’s going on well you have no idea ! what you are saying is wrong

      • Thomas Hood

        > the people starving are mostly Sunna not non sunna !!!!!

        How do you know this? Considering the monstrous behavior (including cannibalism) of Islamic terrorists and their skill in propaganda, I suspect that the persons starving to death (as pictured at SOHR) are Alawite and Christian captives. No food aid will reach them because they are scheduled for death by their captors.

  • Context helps the truth

    This writer fails to disclose that Madaya was a hub for drugs and weapon smuggling infecting the Syrian civil war landscape. Madaya and Zabadani are the equivalent of a housing project for Al-Nusra and ISIL terrorists that were and are holding hostage Madaya citizens and in the meanwhile attacking innocent civilians around Damascus, and the Qalamoun territories in Lebanon and Syria.
    As hard-hearted as it may sound, the population of Madaya did not have problem making fortunes out of selling weapons and Drugs fueling the last 5 years of Syrian Hell. This hell is burning the whole Syrian population not just the Madaya population.
    Please read about the ”” outlining how the Zabadani population were let free after the deal that the UN had brokered. Madaya people need to follow suit and make a deal with the government.

    As a reader, you have to understand that the Syrian government and the army had taken an oath to defend the their country and they should do so, this is unlike the those “Freedom fighters” who sold their country to foreign rulers in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, great examples of democracy and freedom, for quick money and now see what it had gotten them and gotten their children.

    • True

      shame on you ,,
      you are just as a non human as your disgraceful Assad (terrorist) system.
      You system who kills his people with bombing and chemical weapons ,, who sent terrorist to Iraq (2004-2009) ,, Asad regime who killed Al-Hariri (2005) ,, And now ,, kill Madaya people by siege and starvation,, you are disgusted

    • Thomas Hood

      > This writer fails to disclose that Madaya was a hub for drugs

      Are there Captagon labs in Madaya? If so, that would explain why terrorists flock there. Captagon deadens the conscience and permits one to rape, behead, and torture without feeling guilty.

    • Minnie Fellini

      Make a deal with the same folks who have land-mined their town and starved their kids and elders to death? That’s insane.

    • Michaelinlondon1234


  • Paul J

    The rebels have been given the choice to stay under seige or re-locate to rebel territiry in Idlib, and they decided to stay. In may seiges during the Syrian war, the rebels denied the local population the chance to leave, preferring to keep them as human shields, which news invariably only came out much later after the western media and bleeding heart NGOs were no longer paying attention.

    Besides which, anyone who pays attention to Syria should be instinctievely suspicious of a media outlet, like this one, which publishes writings from Christian revolutionary activists in 2015. That ship left port a looooong time ago, the rebels are overwhelmingly hardcore sunni sectarians and have been for years.

  • Una Plauks

    “Madaya’s original population of 20,000 has doubled to 40,000 with the forced displacement of residents mostly from Zabadani.”

    Read more:

  • nayia theo

    So why can’t there be food and supply drops from the sky if access is difficult?

  • […] by Amira Al Hussaini · comments (16) Donate · Share this: twitter facebook reddit […]

  • BobbyWong

    (BTW I’m American)

    This is what happens when a nation’s sovereignty is weaken, functioning society is disrupted. So who sunk Syria into stateless chaos? FSA? ISIS? Who supported these terrorists against Syria’s legitimate government?

    Would you be shocked that it is America? Google “FSA ISIS CIA” and see for yourself how America continues to support and fund jihadists.

    Even after what happened with Osama Bin Ladin, Americans like myself are powerless to stop our government’s global hegemony and tyranny.

  • Sami Abid

    vous traduisez l’article sur Madaya. Eh bien je voulais y mettre un commentaire pour parler d’une photo trouvée sur twitter comme quoi une famille Syrienne fouillant à travers champs avec une grand mère sur fauteuil roulant !!! Eh bien la photo à fondu comme glace de mon device, quoique téléchargée 3 fois et renommée différemment.!!
    . Il faut faire attention donc , et déjà France24 en arabe à parlé des fabrications de images.
    . comment la photo à été prise? Le photographe les attendait la bas?/ no comment


  • […] by Amira Al Hussaini · comments (16) Donate · Share this: twitter facebook reddit […]

  • peace4syria
    There is a video of the Yamada citizens, they protest against the occupation from Ahrar al sham, claiming their solidarity with Assad…

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