80 percent of Ethiopia's Tigray 'cut off from aid'
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 on 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.
On Saturday, the head of the World Food Programme said Saturday he had reached a deal with Ethiopia to expand access for aid workers and "scale up" operations in the country's conflict-hit northern Tigray region.
The government and WFP "have agreed on concrete steps to expand access for humanitarians across #Tigray, and WFP will scale up its operations," David Beasley said on Twitter following a visit to the Tigray capital Mekele.
A WFP statement said Ethiopian officials had agreed to speed up reviews of aid workers' requests to move within the region.
It also said WFP had agreed to government requests to provide emergency food aid to one million people in Tigray and help with transportation to hard-to-reach rural areas.
Ethiopian peace minister Muferihat Kamil said in a separate statement the government was "moving with urgency to approve requests for international staff movements into and within Tigray.”
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The government has downplayed fears of widespread starvation while touting its own efforts to meet the needs of a population of around six million.
It says it has provided emergency food aid to 1.8 million people.
Tigray remains largely cut off to media, making it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.