DOI: https://doi.org/10.20529/IJME.2014.017

Starvation of children in Syria – sanctions and the politics of revenge

As Syria completes two years of western sanctions (2011–13), their dramatic effects on health are being highlighted with first reports of starvation deaths among children in the suburbs of Damascus (1). Although heavy fighting has taken place in this area, experts had predicted for some time the unworkability of sanctions for regime change (2, 3), arguing that only civilians would pay the price in a country (Syria in this case) which was once well on the way to meeting the Millennium Development Goals 4 targets on reducing child mortality (4). In this, as in the case of other “sanctioned” countries, it is not just “civilians” but the most vulnerable among them – children, who are experiencing the tragic consequences of sanctions.

Several infants have died of hunger in the suburbs of Damascus and also in Yarmouk and other pockets of the country at the epicentre of conflict.

Several children had died by mid-October (2013) and one doctor was quoted as saying to Der Spiegel (5) that dozens of infants are so weak that a mild infection will kill them. While the west remains obsessed with its own security and the need for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons so that they do not fall into the hands of the jihadists, International humanitarian law would be better served if they (the Western governments, notably the USA, UK and France) made some real effort to protect civilians by putting pressure on the Syrian government and on western-funded militias, not to continue to use civilians as a shield or a tool for vengeance.

Kasturi Sen, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX2 6EU, UK


  1. Cihan. Starvation kills children in Damascus.World Bulletin.net. 2013 Sep 30 [cited 2013 Dec 11]. Available from: http://www.worldbulletin.net/?a Type=haber&ArticleID=119406
  2. Pape RA. Why economic sanctions do not work. International Security [Internet]. 1997 autumn; 22(2): 90–136. Available from: http://www. stanford.edu/class/ips216/Readings/ pape_97%20%28jstor%29.pdf
  3. Robbins CA. Why economic sanctions rarely work. Bloomberg Businessweek [Internet]. 2013 May 23 [cited 2013 Dec 11]. Available from: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-05-23/why-economicsanctions-rarely-work
  4. Sen K, Al-Faisal W, AlSaleh Y. Syria: effects of conflict and sanctions on public health. J Public Health (Oxf). 2013 Jun; 35(2):195–9. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fds090
  5. Reuter C. Cut off: starving Syrians hope to live through winter. Spiegel Online International [Internet]. 2013 Oct 31 [cited 2013 Dec 12]. Available from: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/starvation-threatensisolated-towns-in-wartorn-syria-a-930757.html
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