UNITED NATIONS, The situation in Yemen is spiralling towards total social, economic and institutional collapse with more than 17 million people food-insecure and almost seven million one step away from famine.

This was the candid assessment shared with the United Nations Security Council here by the UN's top humanitarian official as the Council also learned that a comprehensive peace agreement between the warring parties appeared a long way off.

The latest outbreak of cholera in the country, brought on as a direct result of the conflict and crumbling healthcare system, has already claimed more than 500 lives with a further 150,000 more infections expected over the next six months.

With violence continuing on various fronts between a Saudi-led Yemeni government coalition and the Iran-allied Houthi movement, the already poor country is on the brink of complete collapse, says UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien.

The economy is collapsing, employment has all but disappeared, food and fuel prices have sky-rocketed and severe disruptions to fishing and agricultural productions continue. The bottom-line is that what food there is is largely unaffordable to the vast majority of the population, especially the most vulnerable such as the two million people who remain internally displaced.

A debilitated healthcare system has been unable to respond to a growing cholera epidemic with damaged infrastructure leaving over eight million people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

In just the last month, twice as many people are suffering from suspected cholera cases compared with those in the last six months combined and one third of them are children. It is important to bear in mind that malnutrition and cholera are inter-connected; weakened and hungry people are more likely to contract cholera and less able to survive it, said O'Brien.

More than 16 000 people have died in more than two years of conflict and a peace agreement appears elusive as the UN's Special Envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, confirmed.

The parties must urgently come together to prevent the deepening of this catastrophic situation. I will not hide from this Council that we are not close to a comprehensive agreement. The reluctance of the key parties to embrace the concessions needed for peace, or even discuss them, remains extremely troubling, he added.

The special envoy also urged the Council to strongly convey to the parties the need to engage with his team to immediately agree to steps to avoid further bloodshed in order to halt the slide towards famine.

Most pressing for him will be to ensure the continued functioning of the western port city of Al Hodeidah so as not to further threaten the flow of food and medical supplies into the country and of resuming salary payments to more than one million civil servants who have not been paid for months.

My proposal, which includes security, economic and humanitarian elements, would allow for the continued flow of commercial and humanitarian supplies and ensure the end of any diversion of Customs revenues and taxes so that they can be used to support salaries and services rather than the war or personal benefit," he said.

"Agreement on these issues between the parties will safeguard the population of Al-Hodeidah against further harm and preserve commercial and humanitarian supply chains and payment of salaries.

Meanwhile, reports are emerging that families are increasingly marrying off their young daughters to have someone else care for them while using the dowry to pay for basic necessities.