A hospital in Qayyara, about 60 kilometers south of Mosul, has opened a new specialist ward to deal with the growing number of malnourished children as fighting rages on between the armed forces and the jihadists holed up in the city. The dire situation highlights the war's heavy toll on several hundred thousand trapped civilians.
The hospital scene is heartbreaking. Infants shriek due to hunger pangs but doctors cannot feed them as it might worsen their condition. Most of the babies are less than six months old, which means they were born at the time when government forces closed the last major supply route, leading to food shortages in Mosul.
Locals who have managed to escape Mosul say there is almost nothing to eat there but flour mixed with water and boiled wheat grain. Whatever little food remains are too expensive for most inhabitants to afford or are hoarded for Islamic State (ISIS) members and their supporters.
"Normally, nutritional crises are much more common in Africa and not in this kind of country," pediatrician Rosanna Meneghetti told Reuters. "We did not anticipate this."
The problem is partly pointed to the lack of traditional breastfeeding among mothers. Much as they wanted to breastfeed their babies, many mothers are unable to do so due to the physical and emotional rigors of living in a war zone.
"The mother is very stressed and can't find much food herself so cannot produce so much milk," Meneghetti explained.
One of the mothers was forced to feed her baby with either sugar or flour dissolved in water.
While most of Mosul have been retaken, the U.S.-led coalition is struggling to eject the militants from several districts in the west, including the Old City. The offensive is taking longer than authorities have predicted. The longer the campaign drags, the more people die — especially children.