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'Emaciated' survivors hint at worse in Ethiopia's Tigray

FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020 file photo, refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region ride a bus going to the Village 8 temporary shelter, near the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan. Life for civilians in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region has become "extremely alarming" as hunger grows and fighting remains an obstacle to reaching millions of people with aid, the United Nations said in a new report released late Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020 file photo, refugees who fled the conflict in Ethiopia's Tigray region ride a bus going to the Village 8 temporary shelter, near the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Hamdayet, eastern Sudan. Life for civilians in Ethiopia's embattled Tigray region has become "extremely alarming" as hunger grows and fighting remains an obstacle to reaching millions of people with aid, the United Nations said in a new report released late Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

NAIROBI – “Many, many severe cases of malnutrition” are being reported in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, Red Cross officials said Wednesday, as 80% of Tigray’s 6 million people are unreachable in the fourth month of fighting and "emaciated” women and children fill displacement camps.

Reports of people already starving to death might just be a handful, but “after a month it will be in the thousands,” warned Ethiopian Red Cross president Ato Abera Tola. After two months, he said, it will be tens of thousands.

Fighting continues between Ethiopian and allied forces and those of the now-fugitive Tigray government that had dominated the country’s leadership for nearly 30 years.

The conflict broke out just before the harvest in the largely agricultural region and in the midst of a locust outbreak. Much of the Tigray population has been living off whatever resources they have since early November, and many people are on the run, leaving possessions behind.

Nearly 3.8 million people in Tigray need help, Abera said.

He described seeing displaced women and children in the northern town of Shire who were “all emaciated ... their skin is really on their bones.” And these are the people who were able to escape to the camps, he 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, is what I’m saying.”

The Tigray regional capital, Mekele, “is, a paradox to say, a very lucky place,” added Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. It now hosts a quarter-million displaced people.