The desperate gasps for breath of a starving Syrian baby

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Wala’a is three months old. Her pale skin looks like it has been thrown across her tiny bones.
Wala’a is three months old. Her pale skin looks like it has been thrown across her tiny bones. Photo: ITV News

Wala’a is three months old. Her pale skin looks like it has been thrown across her tiny bones. She is too weak to cry, so her suffering can only just be heard, in little yelps and gasps for breath.

This report contains footage of Wala'a that some people may find distressing.

In the first weeks of her life, Wala’a’s malnourished mother couldn’t give her the milk she needed, and she began to suffer from a chronic lack of glucose. Her parents sought help – at an improvised intensive care unit, a collection of incubators set up in the basement of an apartment building. There Wala’a may have been protected from the bombs falling on the streets above, but her hunger had taken its toll. Her hypoglycaemia had left her probably brain damaged and paralysed.

After a few days, the clinic’s staff said they had done all they could, so Wala’a’s parents took her home. Her mum now feeds her precious drops of powdered milk through a tube. The doctors say Wala’a needs four cans of formula every month. In a part of the city which is under siege, her parents can only find a fraction of that.

It is a little hell in which the family has already met tragedy. Wala’a’s parents told us that her elder sister Marwa died because of malnourishment two months ago, aged two and a half. "My children are dying in front of my eyes and I cannot do anything," says Wala’a’s mother.

Wala'a's mother now feeds her precious drops of powdered milk through a tube.
Wala'a's mother now feeds her precious drops of powdered milk through a tube. Credit: ITV News

War has cut off the family’s neighbourhood from the outside world. They live in a rebel-held area which government troops are determined to take back. In eighteen months of siege, only two aid convoys have made it through. Across Syria, aid agencies are demanding more access so that they can do their work. They say that more than four million Syrian children are now in desperate need of food, medicine or shelter.

Wala'a and her family live in the besieged area of Douma on the eastern edge of Damascus.
Wala'a and her family live in the besieged area of Douma on the eastern edge of Damascus. Credit: Google Maps

Twice in the last year I have had to look away when looking at video filmed inside the besieged districts of Eastern Damascus. Today was the second time.

The first time was last August, when I was viewing footage filmed in the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack in Eastern Damascus. An eight year old girl had woken up in hospital alone, traumatised by the terror of the attack and bewildered by the sudden absence of her family. With bombs, bullets, poison gas and now with hunger, Syria’s war is finding ever more ways to make its children suffer.