Fallujah and Deir al-Zor residents deprived of vital aid

Extreme inflation and shortages take a toll on cities in Iraq and Syria occupied by Isis

Iraqi politicians have called on the government to lift the siege on the city of Fallujah to allow residents trapped by Islamic State fighters who occupied the city in early 2014 access to food and medicines.

Fallujah’s parliamentary representative Liqaa Wardi told the BBC that 200 residents of the city had died of starvation while others were barely surviving on grass, locally grown greens and animal feed.

Some staple foodstuffs are unavailable while others are unaffordable for most residents. The price of flour has risen 400 per cent and that of vegetables by 300 per cent.

Stocks of medicines for diabetes and heart disease have nearly run out. Former mayor Eissa al-Issawi stated: “The people of Fallujah are dying a slow death.”


UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq Lise Grande said, "If you are poor, you can't afford to buy food anymore. The situation is deeply worrying." The UN has asked the army to create humanitarian corridors for the delivery of supplies. So far, a dozen critically ill people have been evacuated.

A US-backed army siege of the strategic Sunni majority city, 64km (40 miles) west of Baghdad, tightened last August in preparation for an assault which has been postponed due to the presence of up to 60,000 civilians. More than 200,000 fled after the Isis terrorist group took control. These refugees are being accommodated in a camp west of the capital where conditions are said to be difficult but not dire.

Fallujah, considered an Isis stronghold, has been a centre of Sunni resistance since the 2003 US occupation of Iraq and installation of a Shia fundamentalist-dominated regime. In February, a protest against conditions by Sunni tribesmen was crushed by Isis.

Five hours' drive to the west lies the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, besieged and blockaded for more than a year by Isis. The siege "is threatening the lives of the biggest unarmed mass of humanity in Syria", states the Justice for Life Observatory, a local opposition group. While the UN and humanitarian agencies recognise the 200,000 inhabitants of government-held areas of the city account for half of besieged Syrian civilians, they have received scarce attention and little aid.

An air drop failed in February after winds blew parachuted pallets off course and left Deir al-Zor waiting until April for the World Food Programme to air drop enough for several thousand people for a month.

According to the observatory, between February 2015 and March 2016, the civilian death toll was 63 due to Isis shelling of government-held neighbourhoods and 32 from malnutrition and disease. Food and medical supplies are delivered to the city’s airport by military aircraft but the volume is too little to sustain the population.

The prices of food and fuel have tripled. The poor survive on one meal a day containing half normal servings. Grass and wild plants are staples.

Since Isis cut power and water to government districts, drinking water has been pumped by a generator for three hours over two or three days, says the observatory. Not all households receive water, which is not purified because of a lack of chlorine.

Bread rations

Civilians buy water from private tankers or get water from the Euphrates river. Bread is in short supply because four of the seven government-run bakeries have closed due to a shortage of fuel. Civilians queue for 10-12 hours a day to obtain a family ration of eight loaves from government bakeries where the price is far below the price at private bakeries.

Before the war, Deir al-Zor, located in the east near the border with Iraq, was Syria’s oil hub, pumping 385,000 barrels a day. Farmers grew cotton, sugar beet and grain, and tribesmen herded sheep. Oil output, controlled by Isis, has been drastically reduced, while farmland has been devastated by fighting or lies fallow.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times