Yemen 'heading into the abyss' with catastrophic famine, United Nations warn

Alex Rossi, Middle East correspondent, in Yemen

The United Nations has told Sky News that Yemen is heading "into the abyss" - and is urging the international community to end the war before it is too late.

UNICEF - the United Nations Children's Fund - says as many as 400,000 children are at risk of dying from severe malnutrition and nearly 2.5 million need medical treatment because they are not getting enough to eat.

Yemen has been broken by nearly four years of war and is dangerously close to total collapse.

Government forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition are battling Houthi rebels who have taken control of several provinces, including the capital Sanaa.

The fighting, airstrikes by the coalition and an air and sea blockade have done huge damage to infrastructure and have destroyed much of Yemen's economy.

In many areas there is simply no money - and although there is food, a huge percentage of the population cannot afford to buy it, relying instead on meagre food aid.

The country is now facing a catastrophic famine.

UNICEF's representative in Yemen, Meritxell Relano, says the consequences could be unthinkable if a political solution is not found.

She added: "It's definitely totally preventable and actually the cause of this near famine or pre-famine situation in which we are is obviously the war.

"If the conflict continues this country is going into the abyss further and further."

In some areas, that point has already been reached.

We visited a number of refugee camps in Aslem in northern Yemen - and what we found was truly shocking.

People who have fled the fighting are surviving by boiling leaves to keep hunger at bay.

Many of the children we saw in the camps were severely malnourished, but in the immediate area there is just one basic hospital, which has been overwhelmed.

In one of the beds, we were shown a seven-year-old girl called Amal.

She is dangerously thin and her breathing was shallow - medical staff told us she was close to death.

There are more cases than there are beds.

The war has not just destroyed the economy, it has also ravaged the healthcare system.

But doctors say they are seeing more and more cases both in number and severity.

And they say the problem is getting worse.

Dr Fatoum Mohammad Al Maktar, a paediatrician at the provincial hospital in Hajjah province, fears for the future.

"The world has forgotten Yemen and they put us in this situation because it is not possible to see this in this time 2018 and we have severe acute malnutrition in Yemen... I want the world to stop the war at least they have to provide food for the Yemeni," she says.

And if they do not, she adds: "We will die and not exist as Yemenis."