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AP Exclusive: First reports of starvation deaths in Tigray

In this photo provided anonymously, A severely malnourished child is treated in an intensive care unit at the Ayder Referral Hospital, where medicines have almost run out and hospital staffers haven’t been paid since June, in Mekele, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, in a Sept. 2021 photo provided anonymously. The United Nations has warned of famine in Tigray and now internal documents and witness accounts obtained by the AP reveal the first starvation deaths since Ethiopia's government in June imposed what the U.N. calls “a de facto humanitarian aid blockade.” (User-Generated Content via AP)

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The AP has led the way on Tigray coverage for almost a year, and its latest story on severe hunger continues to break important ground. For months, the U.N. and other groups have warned of impending famine in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region. Now the AP reports exclusively, citing internal documents and witness accounts, on the first starvation deaths since the Ethiopian government imposed a blockade in June.

Getting any information at all out of Tigray right now is a coup — the government has blocked Internet access and humanitarian groups are terrified to talk to the press for fear of being thrown out of the region. Despite these conditions, Nairobi-based reporter Cara Anna managed to paint a picture of the desperate shortage of food within Tigray.

Anna obtained internal documents showing that an aid group reported starvation deaths in every single district it covered, the most extensive account yet of the blockade’s impact. She also obtained a list of items aid workers are no longer allowed to bring into Tigray because of the government’s fears that they will end up in the hands of the Tigrayan fighters — multivitamins, can openers, even personal medicines.

The story clearly exposed the government’s assertion of no hunger in Tigray as a lie, the latest example of AP holding the government accountable for what is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe.

Any story on famine relies strongly on visuals. With no access to the region, Nairobi-based chief photographer Ben Curtis dedicated himself to securing the necessary permissions and added information to use exclusive handout photos from sources in Tigray, including a former hospital director. The photos are horrifying, showing children on the brink of starvation, including one child who died.

AP’s story drew widespread attention and praise. Anna was interviewed by the BBC World Service and NPR, and the piece was tweeted, including by Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, and by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Other news organizations have followed AP’s lead on the story.

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