'Why did it take you so long?' - hope and anger greet aid in Madaya

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Hope mixed with anger and disbelief greeted aid workers bringing the first food and medical supplies in months to the residents of a besieged Syrian town. "You could see a mixture of hope in people's eyes and disbelief that this thing was actually happening," Pawel Krzysiek of the International Committee of the Red Cross told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday. "Many people were coming cheering, shaking our hands, but some of them were shouting angrily 'why did it take you so long?'" he said, speaking by phone from Damascus. The aid convoy arrived on Monday, bringing the first food and medical supplies for months to the western town of Madaya, where 40,000 people are trapped by encircling government forces and local doctors say some residents have starved to death. "We didn't actually know what to expect," said Krzysiek, who was unloading the supplies brought by the ICRC and the United Nations until 5 a.m. on Tuesday. He said it was "heartbreaking" to see how many people were waiting, and for how long, for aid to reach the town. "Many people were telling us 'listen, we haven't had bread or a proper meal for a very long time ... we're dreaming about bread'," Krzysiek said. "One woman showed me a photo of a nice-looking dish that turned out to be leaves with spices and salt." Madaya residents told Krzysiek that whenever they cooked their food, they added extra salt because that made them drink more water so their stomachs felt a bit fuller. "This kind of thing is really heartbreaking, that this situation in besieged places, no matter where they are, is very cruel," Krzysiek said. "It never gets better, it always gets worse ... People shouldn't have to starve to death to receive help," he said. (Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)