More than 16 million people in Yemen are going hungry, five million of whom are just one step away from famine, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator told the Security Council on Thursday, citing newly released data.

Iran PressMiddle East: Malnutrition rates in Yemen are at record highs as the country is speeding towards the worst famine the world has seen in decades.

"We are running out of time," said Mark Lowcock, who also heads UN humanitarian affairs, noting that across Yemen, more than 16 million people are going hungry, five million of whom are just one step away from famine. 

He painted a picture of children starving to death – with distended bellies, emaciated limbs, and blank stares, pointing to some 400,000 under-age-five girls and boys who are so severely malnourished that they are in “their last weeks and months”. 

Over fears of the devastating impact, it could have on Yemen’s food supply, last week the United States reversed its designation of Ansar Allah as a foreign terrorist organization.  

"US officials have made clear, and we agree, that the concerns around this issue are strictly humanitarian," said Mr. Lowcock, adding that the US also reaffirmed its intention to prioritize diplomacy in ending the war and dealing with the humanitarian crisis.  

He warned that if Yemen tips into a massive famine, an opportunity towards lasting peace would be lost. 

To prevent a further catastrophe, the Humanitarian Coordinator called for urgent action on five points, beginning with the protection of civilians. 

As front lines reportedly move closer to civilian areas – with attacks sparking a dangerous escalation – Lowcock worried that hundreds of thousands of people may again be sent running for their lives at a time when everyone should be doing everything possible to stop the famine. 

On his second point, humanitarian access, he reminded that international humanitarian law required rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access and emphasized that despite many challenges, aid operations are still delivering. 

Turning to fund, his third point, the Humanitarian chief said that in 2020, the aid operation received half of what it had the previous year, which resulted in millions of people in need. 

"On 1 March, the Secretary-General will convene a virtual high-level pledging event for the Yemen crisis," he said, calling for everyone to show they are serious about seizing the opportunity for peace.  

On the fourth issue, supporting the economy, he advised, among other things, to bring the exchange rate down to more sustainable levels.  

And on his final point, making progress towards peace, Lowcock stressed that first, the violence must stop and called for a mediated nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of the political process.