Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is running dangerously low on medical supplies like vaccines and antibiotics, officials from the World Health Organization said Friday.
WHO officials told journalists in Geneva that only 9% of health facilities were fully functional as fighting between federal government forces and Tigrayan fighters intensified in recent weeks.
Health facilities are constrained by fuel shortages and those operational were using saline solutions to treat wounds and rags to dress them, officials said.
The resumption of fighting between Ethiopian federal forces and Tigrayan fighters continued as representatives from both sides meet to find a diplomatic solution at peace talks in South Africa.
Humanitarian situation worsens
"In these situations of hardship and limited access, often death happens at a community level that goes underreported and unregistered," Altaf Musani, the WHO director of Health Emergencies Interventions, told reporters on Friday.
Musani noted the situation was "deeply worrying."
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan who lost his younger brother to disease, has also been vocal about the health crisis in the region.
Ghebreyesus tweeted late Thursday urging the international community to give "this crisis the attention it deserves. There is a narrow window now to prevent genocide."
Ilham Abdelhai Nour, World Health Organization team lead for Ethiopia, said Friday nearly one in three children under the age of 5 in Tigray was acutely malnourished.
The United Nations in March said more than 5.5 million Tigrayans needed food aid. A humanitarian truce between federal forces and Tigrayan fighters had renewed hopes of Ethiopia lifting its de-facto blockade.
Tigray had been mostly cut off from the rest of Ethiopia after Tigrayan fighters recaptured the regional capital a year ago and federal forces withdrew.
Ethiopian federal forces seize control of towns in Tigray
The humanitarian truce came to an end in August when fighting between federal forces and Tigrayan fighters resumed once again.
Ethiopian forces have seized control of several towns, including the strategic city of Shire, in recent weeks.
The Ethiopian government said it aimed to seize airports and other key infrastructure under the control of the Tigray forces.
While pursuing these objectives, it said in a statement, the government was committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict through African Union-led peace talks in South Africa.
The talks opened earlier this week and go on until October 30.
rm/sms (Reuters, AFP, AP)