OPED: We must answer Syrians' cries for help

William Lambers
UN World Food Program, Catholic Relief

Painful. That is how UN World Food Program officer Dina El Kassaby describes the situation in Eastern Ghouta, Syria. Life-saving food is literally a stone's throw away from reaching civilians who have been left starving from the civil war.

This photo released on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018 by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, shows a member of the Syrian Civil Defense group carrying a girl who was wounded during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. Syrian government warplanes supported by Russia continued their relentless bombardment of the rebel-controlled eastern suburbs of Damascus for a sixth day Friday, killing five people, opposition activists and a war monitor reported. The death toll from the past week climbed to more than 400. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

The World Food Program (WFP) can see these innocent war victims, but they can’t reach them. As long as the Syrian government and military forces block access the WFP, UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies cannot go in. The bombings continue and children starve in the meantime.

That is just the situation WFP and other relief agencies are facing in Syria right now. The civil war between the Assad government and rebel groups has targeted civilians routinely, with deadly results. Right now the suffering is most intense in Eastern Ghouta.

The United Nations says "Nearly 400,000 people in Eastern Ghouta have been subjected to airstrikes, shelling and bombardment. As a result of the siege of the area by the Syrian Government forces, residents of this area are living under extreme conditions, including malnutrition."

President Trump must lead in demanding a cessation of hostilities in Syria and the safe passage of humanitarian aid into Eastern Ghouta. 

Trump must follow the example of General Dwight Eisenhower, who faced his own horrible situation during World War II when the Netherlands was starving during Nazi German occupation. Eisenhower negotiated large scale aid deliveries into the Netherlands. Ike warned the Germans that anyone who interfered with humanitarian aid would face severe punishment.

Trump must also issue the same warning to the Syrian government on Ghouta. He must encourage Assad allies, including Russia, to support the resumption of humanitarian aid.

The President must also encourage a peaceful end to the civil war. The price of continued fighting must be emphasized to all those who continue to take up arms. Peace is the only alternative.

Humanitarian aid must resume at once, especially for the Syrian children whose very future hangs in the balance. Think about what malnutrition is doing to children right now in Eastern Ghouta. It causes mental and physical damage that will be irreversible if they don’t get treatment quickly. Some will just perish.

In this photo released on Thursday Feb. 22, 2018 which provided by the Syrian anti-government activist group Ghouta Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrians check their destroyed buildings which attacked during airstrikes and shelling by Syrian government forces, in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, Syria. (Ghouta Media Center via AP)

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the starvation of the Netherlands would be on their hands if they did not act during World War II. They authorized Eisenhower to take the necessary steps.

Eisenhower also made sure that food stocks were in abundance for the relief of the Netherlands. That is another area where Trump must do better. Along with the Congress, Trump must ensure that US food aid programs are fully funded and able to supply humanitarian relief in Syria for these emergencies.

Once the war in Syria ends, and hopefully that will happen today, there will be a reconstruction phase. Food will be the foundation of that rebuilding.

In the meantime, we must act with urgency to save the children of Eastern Ghouta. The United States and its allies saved millions in the Netherlands from starvation during World War II.

We can save many more today in Syria if we have the will and the heart to take action. The people of Eastern Ghouta are pleading for someone to rescue them.

William Lambers is an author and historian who partnered with the UN World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services on the book Ending World Hunger. He writes on History News Network, the Hill and many other news outlets.