UN warns Yemen conflict is leading to country's collapse

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UNITED NATIONS A quarter of Yemen's people are on the brink of starvation, parents are marrying off young daughters so someone else can care for them and cholera cases are escalating, U.N. officials warned on Tuesday as they work to avert a Saudi-led attack on a key port.

Since late April, a cholera outbreak has killed 500 people while 55,206 Yemenis - one third of them children - are ill, according to United Nations figures.

Yemen is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, with nearly seven million people on the brink of starvation.

Stephen O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council Tuesday that "Yemen now has the ignominy of being the world's largest food security crisis", with over 17 million people in need of food.

On Hudaydah Port, Mr. O'Brien said it is a lifeline for Yemen, being the primary point of entry for commercial and humanitarian imports into the country, which historically is 80 to 90 per cent dependent on imported food staples. Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian chief in Yemen, told The Associated Press on Tuesday, May 30, 2017, that treatable diseases like cholera could ravage Yemen this year without an increase in aid and an end to the two-year-old civil war.

But it "is also, sadly, a result of inaction - whether due to inability or indifference - by the global community", he said.

"Crisis is not coming, it is not looming, it is here today - on our watch and ordinary people are paying the price", said O'Brien, the United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs.

"Yet even serious negotiations of these first steps have been slow to start", he said.

"I will not hide from this council that we are not close to a comprehensive agreement", he said.

Yemen, located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, has been engulfed in civil war since 2014. Since then, the Iranian-backed Houthis have been dislodged from most of the south, but remain in control of Sanaa and much of the north.

The envoy said that pro-Government forces are attempting to make progress on the western coastline of Taiz governorate - from Al-Dhubab and Al-Mokha towards Al-Hodeidah port and inland towards Taiz city.

Violence has also continued in Hajjah governorate and the border area between Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Last week, 22 worldwide and Yemeni humanitarian and human rights groups including Save the Children, the global Rescue Committee and Oxfam raised alarm over Yemen.

Cheikh Ahmed said that during his recent visit to the region he made clear to both parties that the spread of fighting to Hodeida would threaten the flow of desperately needed food and medical supplies and lead to "a devastating loss of civilian life and infrastructure".

Under his proposed agreement, Cheikh Ahmed said, parallel negotiations would take place on avoiding military clashes in Hodeida and resuming salary payments nationally to all civil servants.