The head of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society said Wednesday that 80 percent of the country’s conflict-hit Tigray region was cut off from humanitarian assistance and warned that tens of thousands could starve to death.
The dire assessment underscores widespread fears of a humanitarian catastrophe three months after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations intended to topple Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
“Eighty percent of the Tigray is unreachable at this particular time,” Ethiopian Red Cross president Abera Tola told a press conference.
Some starvation deaths have already been reported and the figures could climb fast, he said.
“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.
Abiy has said the military campaign in Tigray responded to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal army camps.
In late November he declared victory after federal forces entered the Tigrayan capital Mekele, but humanitarian workers and diplomats note that continued insecurity has hampered the aid response.
Abera said Wednesday that aid access remained largely restricted to main roads north and south of Mekele, 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.”
The Ethiopian Red Cross Society now estimates that around 3.8 million of Tigray’s roughly six million people need humanitarian assistance, up from an earlier estimate of 2.4 million, Abera said.
The government has said it is working with the UN and international organisations to expand aid as the security situation allows.