Starving Syrians turn to leaves as all animals in besieged city eaten
Up to 40,000 people in the besieged Syrian settlement of Madaya have been forced to turn to leaves and flower petals to stay alive after eating all of the town's stray dogs and cats.
Photographs and videos taken inside the former holiday resort show the corpses of men, women and children who have died of starvation as the siege enters its sixth month.
As the Syrian winter grips the city, electricity is in short supply and food sources almost non-existent.
Soldiers loyal to Syria's embattled president Bashar al-Assad and members of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah continue to surround the city, cutting off fresh supplies of food and drink and preventing citizens from escaping by filling the surrounding countryside with landmines.
One image shared on Facebook appears to show a desperate citizen preparing to slit the throat of a cat while other photos show malnourished children eating a broth made of olive tree leaves and water.
"There are no more cats or dogs alive in the town. Even tree leaves that we have been eating have become scarce," local resident Abu Abdul Rahman told Al Jazeera.
"Describing the situation as tragic is merely airbrushing reality on the ground," he added.
The situation is so desperate that starving residents spend their days trying not to move in an attempt to conserve energy.
With temperatures falling, the Red Cross says locals have been forced to burn plastic to keep warm, exposing themselves to fumes.
As the city's 40,000 inhabitants consume the final few animals living in the city, many have turned to grass and flower petals to provide basic nutrients.
While this may be just about enough to keep some otherwise healthy adults alive, children, the elderly and the sick are dying on a daily basis.
"We cannot provide milk for infants," Dr Khaled Mohammed told Germany's 'Deutsche Presse' news agency.
"Today, a 10-year-old child died of malnutrition," he added.
The price of a kilogram of rice, once the staple food of the town, is understood to have risen to a staggering €230 - far beyond the budget of all but the wealthiest residents.
Dr Mohamad Youssef, who acts as the manager of the medical council in Madaya, told Sky News that two or three residents are dying of starvation every day.
"The death toll is striking mostly the elderly, the women and children," he said.
"The medical staff are on high alert, 24 hours [a day]. They are receiving people who are severely ill and fainting all hours - day and night," he added.
Madaya lies just 15 miles from the Syrian capital Damascus, where Assad's regime is based. The Red Cross says it hopes to be in a position to bring aid to Madaya in the coming days but food packages are likely to have a limited effect.
In mid-October, more than 20 lorries were allowed to deliver medical and humanitarian supplies to Madaya but those items have already run out.
The situation has deteriorated significantly since then, meaning larger and more frequent deliveries are desperately required.
Up to 4.5 million people in Syria live in hard-to-reach areas, including nearly 400,000 people in 15 besieged locations who do not have access to the life-saving aid they urgently need. (© Independent News Service)