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Starved to death

Starving+Syrian+baby.+Picture+released+by+AFP+.
Starving Syrian baby. Picture released by AFP .

Starving Syrian baby. Picture released by AFP .

AFP

AFP

Starving Syrian baby. Picture released by AFP .

Alice Cai

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A baby. One week old. Wrapped in a plush blanket, comfortable in the warmth of its mother’s arms. Its skin smooth and soft as silk, glowing with the essence of fresh, pure life. Imagine its eyes. Large, smiling, oceans of possibility, untouched by the harsh weather of the world.

Its laugh is soft and bubbly, ringing with an excitement for the life awaiting it…

Then, a darkness bleeds into the room. A cold wind disintegrates the mother, sweeps her away like dust. There are voices now, echoing all around, ones of fear and panic. The blankets rot, deteriorating into nothing but stringy rags. The baby shivers. Its face starts to twitch, forehead scrunching up, eyes filling with a kind of horrifying pain that turns possibility into claustrophobic limitation. It can sense the oncoming storm, and its excitement for the future morphs into utter fear. Its mouth, dry, is quenched, its stomach, empty, is starved. The silken skin grows rough, cracks, starts to itch. Blood seeps out from the openings in its lips. Its body shrinks, as if deflated, until nothing but a thin, translucent layer of skin remains. Like a sheet of wet towel, it clings to the bones of its skeleton. It’s body spasms, shrivels up, and a cry leaves its hollow throat. From within radiates the darkness of death and fear.

A newborn faced with death.

The Syrian Civil War started March 15, 2011, and is in its seventh year. According to the Syrian Center for Policy Research, there have been 470,000 casualties as of Feb. 2016 and more than 1.88 million injuries. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 6.1 million people are internally displaced, and more than 4.8 are seeking refuge abroad. The Syrian government has imposed blockades as a war tactic and used chemical weapons during attacks on opposition groups. According to the World Report 2017: Syria, “Arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, torture, and forced disappearances by government forces continue to be widespread and systematic in Syria, and take place within a climate of impunity.”

The picture of the starving Syrian baby was released on Oct. 16 by the news agency AFP. In it is the malnourished one-month-old Sahar Dofdaa, weighing only 1.9kg. It was taken in a hospital in the rebel-controlled town of Harmouria, which is located on the east side of Ghouta, Syria. As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Ghouta has been under a blockade imposed by the Syrian government, which cuts off food and medical aid to citizens in need.

According to the World Health Organization, malnutrition leads to lifelong effects on the health of a person. It can even have health effects that pass down generations, damaging the maternal physiology irreparably. In the case of this Syrian baby, it starved because its malnourished mother wasn’t able to breastfeed. 10 days after the pictures were released, on Sunday, October 21, at just one-month-old, it starved to death.

What does starvation feel like? To be hungry, and not just be hungry, but starve, and not just starve, but starve to death?

This picture shows one starving Syrian baby, but it represents a whole population living in the worst of conditions. It is the picture of starvation. But not only of that; it is the picture of hopelessness, of pain, of desolation, of the oncoming metaphorical and literal death of a nation.

Does this whole thing sound over-dramatic? Perhaps it is because most people in First World countries have not been subject to that kind of pain in life. When death is heard of, people say, “Oh, that’s so sad!”, yet a minute later they are laughing about a meme and hanging out at the football game. To most, such crises are elsewhere, across the seas in a far, far away land. Caught up in a web of ephemeral concerns, drowning in the daily bustle of mind and body, going from YouTube to Instagram to Snapchat to Netflix, ideas like “war” and “famine” and “epidemic” and “genocide” become nothing more than interesting movies, stories that give a nice thrill. Or even worse, click bait for news channels and websites.

The release of this picture has elicited response from the media. Last week, several major news agencies published articles on this picture and its implications. When interviewed by Times of Israel, UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, said, “The deliberate starvation of civilians as a method of warfare constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

However, there is only so far the media can go. It is the responsibility of the people to decide to take action, and it lies in the hands of the nation’s leaders to carry out that action.

Please hear the Syrian baby’s cry for help.

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