Jihadist (illustration)
Jihadist (illustration) Thinkstock

The suffering in the Syrian town of Madaya is the worst seen in the country's civil war, the United Nations said Tuesday, a day after delivering aid to the area besieged for months.

"There is no comparison in what we saw in Madaya," the UN refugee agency's chief in Damascus, Sajjad Malik, told journalists in Geneva, when asked to compare the devastation in the town to other areas in Syria.

He said there were "credible reports" of people starving to death during the months-long siege by pro-regime forces.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, told journalists in New York on Monday that there was "no starvation in Madaya" after the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said 28 people in the town had starved to death.

A convoy of trucks from the UN, Syrian Red Crescent and International Red Cross (ICRC) delivered emergency food supplies to Madaya on Monday, in the first aid to reach the area since October.

"There was no life," said Malik, who was in the convoy, describing a town of desperate people who in many cases were too weak to voice outrage over their suffering.

Food has been so scarce that people "repeatedly mentioned that a kilo of rice would cost $300 (275 euros)", Malik said. One family "sold a motorbike to get five kilos of rice," he added, detailing the extent of the devastation among the town's estimated 40,000

Residents told UN staff that a main source of food in recent weeks has been a soup made of grass boiled with the few available spices.

With no access to electricity, people in Madaya had tried to stay warm by burning cardboard, the UN official further said, adding: "Whatever we had in the cars, we gave to them."

As part of its deal with Damascus, the UN has permission to carry out two more aid deliveries to Madaya in the coming days, but timing and details have not yet been agreed with the regime. 

Malik said the World Health Organization would seek to establish the number of people who had died from starvation in Madaya when UN agencies were allowed back into the area. He stressed the vital need to sustain aid deliveries through the coming

"If we are not able to sustain this... even the effort we have put in now will be a band-aid," he said. "We want to make sure that these sieges are lifted."

Amid the total collapse of health services in the town, WHO said it wants to deploy mobile health clinics to Madaya.

AFP contirbuted to this report.