"Yemen is on the brink of famine. Cholera is compounding a dramatic food crisis. Food is being used as a weapon of war," Elisabeth Rasmussen, the WFP assistant executive director, said at a conference on aid to Yemen on Sunday.
The United Nations has already described the ongoing conflict in Yemen as the "largest humanitarian crisis in the world." The war has left seven million people at risk of famine and an estimated 17 million, which amounts to about 60 percent of the overall population of the country, food insecure. Another 2,100 people have died of cholera since April as hospitals struggle to secure basic supplies across the country.
Saudi Arabia has been incessantly pounding Yemen since March 2015 in an attempt to crush the popular uprising and reinstate the former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a staunch ally of the regime in Riyadh.
Long the most impoverished country in the Arab world, the conflict in Yemen has left seven million people at risk of famine and an estimated 17 million -- 60 percent of the overall population -- food insecure, according to the United Nations.
Another 2,100 people have died of cholera since April as hospitals struggle to secure basic supplies amid blockades on ports and the country's main international airport.
The Saudi-led coalition, which controls Yemen's airspace and some ports, was this month added to a UN blacklist for the "killing and maiming of children".
Aid groups have warned that the closure of Sanaa international airport is hampering the delivery of desperately needed supplies, which now have to go through the Red Sea port of Hodeida.
"All parties to the conflict must provide safe, rapid, unhindered and sustained humanitarian access to people in need, through all ports and airports, in particular through Hodeida port and Sanaa airport as well as by road," said Mark Lowcock, UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs.
Earlier an independent UN human rights expert said, the deliberate starvation of civilians could amount to a war crime and should be prosecuted.
In a new report, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Hilal Elver, examined the right to food in conflict situations and found a grim picture depicting the most severe humanitarian crisis since the UN was established.
"Contrary to popular belief, casualties resulting directly from combat usually make up only a small proportion of deaths in conflict zones, with most individuals, in fact perishing from hunger and disease," she said.
Conflicts have proliferated around the world and with them has come a rise in food insecurity.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the proportion of undernourished people living in countries in conflict and protracted crises is almost three times higher than that in other developing countries.
In five conflict-stricken countries alone, approximately 20 million are facing famine and starvation.
Another estimated 70 million people in 45 countries currently require emergency food assistance, a 40% increase from 2015.
Since the human right to food is a universal one, Elver noted that countries and other parties to conflicts must act and avoid using food as a weapon of war.
"If the famine [occurs] from deliberate action by state or other players, using food as a weapon of war is an international crime and there is an individual responsibility to that," she said.
"The international community should make it clear that this is a war crime or a crime against humanity, otherwise we will give a certain permission [to it]," Elver continued.
In Yemen, rates of acute malnutrition have increased dramatically since the beginning of the civil war in 2015, making it the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Elver said that Yemen is a "clear situation" where famine constitutes a crime against humanity in which both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthis are responsible.
She noted, however, that there is still widespread impunity in situations when famine is deliberately caused and pointed to the International Criminal Court as an example which has not prosecuted individuals responsible for such crises.
Though UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has included the Saudi-led coalition in his annual shame list for violations against children, Elver called for the creation of legal mandates to prevent famine and protect people's right to food.