Over seven million children face food insecurity in Yemen and ending the country's war will not save all of them, the UN children's agency said.
“Today, 1.8 million children under the age of five are facing acute malnutrition, and 400,000 are affected by severe acute malnutrition,” said Geert Cappelaere, regional director of UNICEF.
On October 23, the UN said around 14 million people — half the population — in Yemen are facing “pre-famine conditions”.
When asked by AFP how many of these people are children, Cappelaere told AFP late on Wednesday “more than half”.
UNICEF later clarified that over seven million children face food insecurity, rather than the immediate threat of famine.
“In the last couple of years, we see the number of severely acute malnourished children stabilising”, Cappelaere said.
But “ending the war is not enough,” he added, referring to a more than three-year conflict that pits the government supported by a Saudi-led military coalition against Houthi rebels.
“What we need is to stop the war and (to create) a government mechanism that puts at the centre the people and children.
Editorial: Yemen forsaken
“The war is exacerbating the situation that was already bad before because of years of underdevelopment” in the Arab world's poorest nation, Cappelaere said.
He welcomed a call by the UN on Wednesday to relaunch peace talks within a month.
He said efforts to come up with a solution in the next 30 days were “critical” to improving aid distribution and saving lives.
Cappelaere said that over 6,000 children have either been killed or sustained serious injuries since 2015. “These are the numbers we have been able to verify, but we can safely assume that the number is higher, much higher,” he said.
Saudi Arabia and its allies entered the war to bolster Yemeni President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi after the Iran-backed rebels took over the capital Sanaa.
Since 2015, more than 10,000 people have been killed and some 22 million — three quarters of the population — are in need of food aid, according to the UN.
Yemen's government said on Thursday it was ready to re-start peace talks with Houthis, amid growing international pressure to end the years-long conflict.
The Yemeni government said it welcomed “all efforts to restore peace” after the UN called for the warring parties to enter negotiations.
“Yemen is ready to immediately launch talks on the process of confidence-building, primarily the release of all detainees and prisoners, as well as those who have been abducted or subject to enforced disappearance,” the government said in a statement carried by the state-run Saba news agency.
That came after a string of comments by key US officials and by the UN's envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths, who called on Wednesday for warring parties to come to the table “within a month”.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week called for an end to the Yemen war, including air strikes, in an implicit acknowledgement that a Saudi-led coalition was involved in the bombing of civilians.
Washington backs the coalition, which is fighting alongside Yemen's government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
But Saudi Arabia's regional role has come under scrutiny after the killing in its Istanbul consulate last month of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a former royal court insider-turned-critic who wrote columns for the Washington Post.