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An Entire 21-Ton Airdrop of Food for a Besieged Syrian Town Has Been Lost

The pallets contained lentils, vegetable oil, rice, and salt, and could have fed 2,500 people for a month (there are currently 200,000 people living in Deir al-Zour).

Wyatt Marshall

Photo via Flickr user USAID U.S. Agency for International Development

The entirety of a 21-ton emergency food drop intended for starving Syrians besieged by ISIS has been lost, according to the United Nations' World Food Programme. The 21 one-ton pallets of food aid were dropped from 23,000 feet above the city of Deir al-Zour, and subsequently drifted off course or were badly damaged.

The pallets contained lentils, vegetable oil, rice, and salt, and could have fed 2,500 people for a month (there are currently 200,000 people living in Deir al-Zour). Four pallets fell close to the intended target but their parachutes failed to open. Ten "drifted away and are unaccounted for." The remaining seven fell in areas believed to be laced with landmines.

"This plane had to fly at a high altitude to avoid rockets, missiles, and gunfire," Abeer Etefa, a spokeswoman for the WFP, told NBC.

In a separate statement, the WFP said it would again attempt to reach starving people in Deir al-Zour. The WFP has been unable to deliver aid to the city since March, 2014. "High-altitude drops are extremely challenging to carry out and take more than one trial to develop full accuracy," the WFP said.

In a previous incident unrelated to the WFP, Iraqi military pilots accidentally delivered food, ammunition, and supplies intended for besieged Iraqi forces to ISIS instead.

The WFP has struggled desperately to deliver aid to cities cut off from food supplies due to the ongoing Syrian civil war, which has led to the deaths of at least a quarter of a million Syrians. The aid program has been forced to navigate tedious negotiating sessions to reach civilians caught in the conflict. Last month, the WFP, the World Health Organization, the Syrian Red Crescent, and the International Committee of the Red Cross succeeded in delivering 355 tons of aid via a convoy of 50 trucks to the city of Madaya, where 28 people died from starvation over the course of about six weeks.

READ MORE: The Starving Syrian Town of Madaya Is Finally Getting Food Aid

Discussing the situation in Madaya in January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon categorized the starvation in Syria as a war crime.

"Let me be clear: The use of starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime," Ban said in a statement. "All sides—including the Syrian government, which has the primary responsibility to protect Syrians —are committing this and other atrocious acts prohibited under international humanitarian law."

Etefa told NBC that the plane that led the airdrop mission to Deir al-Zour was manned by a highly experienced crew, and that "airdrops are always a last option."