UN chief warns of famine in Yemen, urges halt to violence

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warns Yemen could face "the worst famine we have seen in decades" and urges warring parties to immediately halt the violence. WARNING: This story contains disturbing images

WARNING: This story contains disturbing images

A Yemeni child suffering from a diphtheria infection receives treatment at a hospital in the capital Sanaa earlier this week. Yemen's brutal conflict has created what the UN has dubbed the world's worst humanitarian crisis. (Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Friday that Yemen could face "the worst famine we have seen in decades" and urged the country's warring parties to immediately halt the violence.

The UN chief told reporters "the urgency of the humanitarian crisis leaves no room for complacency" and the "building wave of momentum" for peace must be seized.

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock warned last week that "there is a clear and present danger of an imminent and great big famine engulfing Yemen" that could affect 14 million people — half of the country's population.

The conflict began in 2014 when Houthi Shia rebels toppled the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition allied with the government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.

Guterres said more and more countries are engaged in helping create conditions for the warring parties to understand the need to cease hostilities and engage in serious negotiations.

He urged the coalition and the Houthis "to overcome obstacles and resolve differences through dialogue" at UN facilitated talks later this month.

A nurse weighs a malnourished girl at a treatment centre in Sanaa, on Oct. 7. The UN is warning a famine could hit millions of people in Yemen. (Khaled Abdullah/Reuters)

Guterres stressed that "violence must stop everywhere — with an immediate halt around critical infrastructure and densely populated areas."

"My objective is to appeal to the parties to the conflict to understand that there is an opportunity that must be seized, and to say that the humanitarian situation is so dire that if that doesn't happen" the world will have to deal with a famine in Yemen next year, he said.

"I must say, I hope the voice of reason will prevail," Guterres said.

A mother — having collected hard bread crumbs, including some covered with mould, and mixed it with water and salt — feeds her four children on Oct. 1 in Aslam, Hajjah, Yemen. (Hani Mohammed/Associated Press)