United Nations/CAIRO/London - The United Nations warned Wednesday of a “developing famine” in Yemen, where more than half a million children are severely malnourished, and pressed for access to its war-torn regions.

Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by conflict since March when a Saudi-led Arab coalition launched air strikes against Iran-backed Shiite Huthi rebels. The UN’s World Food Programme said the conflict has left Yemen on the brink of a famine in the areas of fighting.

“All the signs that will lead us to the qualifiable definition of famine are in fact developing in front of our eyes,” WFP executive director Ertharin Cousin told reporters in Cairo following a three-day mission to Yemen. Cousin called for immediate and regular access for WFP aid workers to areas of conflict.

“If we cannot support the commercial markets by ensuring that the ports are open... If we do not see increased donor supply, we are facing the perfect storm in Yemen,” he said. “The markets do not have the staple food that is necessary to meet the needs of the broader population. The humanitarian community does not have the necessary access or funds.”

Already in June, the UN envoy for Yemen, Ould Cheik Ahmed, appealed for a ceasefire and warned: “We are one step away from famine.” WFP said a study it carried out showed food security was at its most precarious for Yemen’s 1.3 million internally displaced people.

The agency, in a statement, said it has reached 3.5 million people with food supplies since the conflict erupted, “but fighting makes deliveries difficult and dangerous”. More than 1.2 million children are suffering from moderate to acute malnutrition and over half a million children are severely malnourished, it said.

Separately, the UN children’s fund said Wednesday an average of eight children are being killed or maimed each day in Yemen’s conflict and warned of “terrifying consequences” for the country’s youth. Nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured in the past four months, UNICEF said in a report.

“Disrupted health services, increased levels of child malnutrition, closed schools and higher numbers of children recruited by fighting groups are among the effects of the conflict now ravaging the Arab world’s poorest country,” it said. “Children are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition,” said the UNICEF representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis. Moreover, An average of eight children are killed or maimed every day in Yemen as a direct result of the conflict that has gripping the country since April, according to a new report released Wednesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“This conflict is a particular tragedy for Yemeni children,” UNICEF Representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, said. “They are being killed by bombs or bullets, and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition. This cannot be allowed to continue,” he stressed. ‘Yemen: Childhood Under Threat’ reveals that nearly 400 children have been killed and over 600 others injured since the violence escalated some four months ago.Disrupted health services, increased levels of child malnutrition, closed schools and higher numbers of children recruited by fighting groups are among the effects of the conflict now ravaging the Arab world’s poorest country, the study finds.

As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, it will have terrifying consequences for their future, it warns. Across the country, nearly 10 million children are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes. UNICEF has been at the centre of humanitarian operations in Yemen since the beginning of the conflict, working across the country to respond to the critical needs of children by providing life-saving services.

, including safe water, as well as treatment against malnutrition, diarrhoea, measles and pneumonia. Over the past six months, the agency has provided psychological support to help over 150,000 children cope with the horrors of the conflict, while 280,000 people have learnt how to avoid injury from unexploded ordnances and mines.

Yet despite the tremendous needs, UNICEF’s operations remains grossly underfunded. With only 16 per cent of the agency’s funding appeal of $182.6 million met so far, Yemen is one of the most under-funded of the different emergencies UNICEF is responding to around the world. “We urgently need funds so we can reach children in desperate need,” Harneis said. “We cannot stand by and let children suffer the consequences of a humanitarian catastrophe.” While emphasizing the urgent need to end the conflict once and for all, the Fund reiterated its call on all parties to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and to stop targeting civilians and crucial infrastructure like schools, water and health facilities.

The agency said: “As devastating as the conflict is for the lives of children right now, it will have terrifying consequences for their future”. Nearly 10 million children — 80 per cent of Yemen’s under-18 population — are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, it said.

In its report, WFP estimates the number of food insecure people in Yemen is now almost 13 million, including six million deemed “severely food insecure and in urgent need of external assistance”. The UN food agency made an urgent plea for donations ahead of the start of an emergency food supply operation in Yemen next month expected to cost about $320 million.

“The damage to Yemen’s next generation may become irreversible if we don’t reach children quickly with the right food at the right time. We must act now before it is too late,” Cousin said in the statement. Moreover, months of brutal conflict in Yemen have killed or injured more than 1,000 children, and the number of young people recruited or used as fighters has soared, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said on Wednesday.

Some 400 children have been killed and more than 600 injured - an average of eight casualties every day - since fighting escalated at the end of March, according to UNICEF. A Saudi-led Arab coalition has been bombarding the Iranian-allied Houthi rebel movement - Yemen’s dominant force - since late March in a bid to reinstate exiled President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has fled to Riyadh.

The war has killed more than 4,300 people, many of them civilians, and spread disease and hunger throughout the country. More than 1.3 million people have been forced to flee their homes since March, and nearly 10 million children - 80 percent of the country’s under-18 population - need urgent humanitarian aid, UNICEF said in a report released on Wednesday.

“Children are bearing the brunt of a brutal armed conflict which escalated in March this year and shows no sign of a resolution,” the U.N. agency said. “This conflict is a particular tragedy for Yemeni children ... (they) are being killed by bombs or bullets and those that survive face the growing threat of disease and malnutrition,” UNICEF Yemen representative Julien Harneis said.

The report Yemen: Childhood Under Threat said the number of children recruited or used in the conflict had more than doubled to 377 so far in 2015 from 156 in 2014. All warring sides in Yemen are increasingly using teenage boys - who see fighting as a way to support their families financially - to swell their ranks, UNICEF said.

A quarter of Yemen’s health facilities - around 900 - have closed since March, while shortages of medicines and medical supplies have disrupted those that remain open, according to the U.N. body, which said the health system was “crumbling”. More than 2.5 million children under the age of 15 are at risk of contracting measles, while nearly 2 million are likely to suffer from malnutrition this year, almost one million more than in 2014, UNICEF said. “I would sell everything I have to ensure my children’s wellbeing... what really disturbs me is how difficult it has become to get proper medical treatment,” Umm Faisal, mother of an 18-month-old baby in Yemen, told UNICEF.