Eighty percent of Ethiopia’s conflict-hit Tigray region has been cut off from humanitarian assistance and tens of thousands could starve to death, the Ethiopian Red Cross has warned.
The grim assessment on Wednesday came as fighting between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the now-fugitive Tigray government that had dominated political life for nearly 30 years entered its fourth month.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
“Eighty percent of the Tigray is unreachable at this particular time,” the president of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, Abera Tola, told a news conference, adding that some starvation deaths have already been reported and the figures could climb fast.
“The number today could be one, two or three, but you know, after a month it means thousands. After two months it will be tens of thousands,” he said.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said the military campaign in Tigray responded to orchestrated attacks on federal army camps by Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional governing party.
In late November, he declared victory after federal forces entered the Tigrayan capital Mekelle.
But humanitarian workers and diplomats say continued insecurity has hampered the aid response.
Tola said on Wednesday that aid access remained largely restricted to main roads north and south of Mekelle, excluding most rural areas.
Displaced civilians who have managed to reach camps in Tigrayan towns are “emaciated”, he said.
“You see their skin is really on their bones. You don’t see any food in their body,” he said. “Sometimes it is also really difficult to help them without some kind of high nutritional value foods.”
Nearly 3.8 million people in Tigray need help, Abera said.
Once humanitarian workers are able to reach Tigray’s rural areas, “there we will see a more devastating crisis”, Abera said. “We have to get prepared for the worst.”
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent (IFRC) who visited Tigray this week, told Al Jazeera he was “shocked” by what he encountered, describing accounts by people displaced by the fighting as “unbearable”.
“The situation there is one of the most difficult I’ve ever seen. The people there are missing almost everything,” he said, sounding the alarm over the lack of food and life-saving medicines, among others.
Rocca said only four hospitals out of 40 are operational in the region and are all facing major shortages in medical supplies that have crippled doctors’ ability to perform any surgeries.
He also decried the “unacceptable” looting that has ravaged most of the health facilities in the region, including the disappearance of 140 of IFRC’s ambulances.