WARNING: Distressing

It has taken three years, 14 million people on the brink of starving to death and 10,000 dead civilians before the US finally asked for the chaos in Yemen to stop.

But it may be too late for the impoverished Arab nation, which borders Saudi Arabia, as it faces effectively being wiped off the Earth as more than half its population starve due to a sickening Saudi war tactic.

It was already one of the world's poorest countries before a brutal civil war began in 2015 when rebel Houthi fighters seized the presidential compound in the country's capital Sana'a and overthrew the government.

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A father gives water to his malnourished daughter at a feeding centre in a hospital in Hodeida, Yemen. Photo / AP
A father gives water to his malnourished daughter at a feeding centre in a hospital in Hodeida, Yemen. Photo / AP

Saudi Arabia — accusing the predominantly Shia Muslim Houthis as puppets of their sworn enemy, Iran, and opposed to their Sunni beliefs — reacted at first by dropping bombs.

These air strikes killed thousands of people at weddings, funerals and on school buses, aided by bombs and intelligence from their allies in Australia, the US and the UK.

UN human rights experts say coalition forces may have now have committed war crimes in Yemen and humanitarian organisations say their partial blockade of the country has helped push 14 million people to the brink of famine.

The New York Times is calling the mass starvation the "world's worst man-made humanitarian disaster".

But it is one story which has gripped the world — the death of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul last month — which may have finally triggered a Western response to the disturbing situation in Yemen.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis urged a halt in the three-year Saudi-led assault to defeat Houthi rebels in Yemen, the impoverished country mired in what the UN has called the world's worst humanitarian catastrophe.

People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in Washington. Photo / AP
People hold signs during a protest at the Embassy of Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in Washington. Photo / AP

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called for an end to air strikes "in all populated areas" — an implicit acknowledgment that the US-backed, Saudi-led coalition has hit civilians, despite Washington's past assertions that strikes were not targeting civilians.

The major shift comes as the US view rapidly dims of Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, amid global outrage over the Khashoggi murder.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters at a news conference at the State Department in Washington. Photo / AP
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters at a news conference at the State Department in Washington. Photo / AP

"There is no doubt that the Khashoggi case has turned American opinion against the Saudis," said Charles Schmitz, an expert on Yemen and chair of the geography department at Towson University.

But he noted that the United States was still deeply involved in the war effort. The US has been providing in-air fuelling and other logistic support to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as they bombard and enforce a blockade on Yemen, with accounts of bombs striking hospitals, buses and other civilian targets.

The US allies want to oust the rebels, who seized the capital Sana'a in 2014 and enjoy at least limited support from Iran.

A Yemeni man displays an American-made CBU 58A/B, cluster bomb, in a police compound in Sanaa, Yemen in 2016. Photo / AP
A Yemeni man displays an American-made CBU 58A/B, cluster bomb, in a police compound in Sanaa, Yemen in 2016. Photo / AP

But it is the people of Yemen who suffer.

As well as warning that 14 million Yemenis are at serious risk of famine, the UN has also said at least 10,000 people are already dead, and a cholera epidemic has taken hold as a direct result of the conflict.

Saudi Arabia has increasingly faced pressure in the US Congress — in March, the Senate narrowly rejected a bid to end US support to the war.

On Sunday, The New York Times published an unusually graphic front-page photo of an emaciated seven-year-old Yemeni girl, despite Saudi efforts to restrict media access.

Waleed Alhariri, who heads the US operations of the Sana'a Centre for Strategic Studies, noted that there have been previous ceasefire attempts that quickly unravelled.

"(The US statement) might be a sign of frustration by the US administration that things are getting out of hand. Or maybe it's a way of saying that they are trying to do something but cannot, and are blaming the warring parties that they cannot resolve the conflict," Mr Alhariri said.

A malnourished baby receives medical treatment at al Sabeen Maternal Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Photo / AP
A malnourished baby receives medical treatment at al Sabeen Maternal Hospital in Sanaa, Yemen. Photo / AP

"It's a good diplomatic statement but it has not been backed by concrete, genuine action or a full-scale diplomatic effort to solve the conflict," he said.

But Dr Schmitz said there could be a way forward by addressing Houthi missile strikes into Saudi Arabia.

The Saudis, backed by the US, have voiced outrage over the Houthi strikes and blamed Iran, but Dr Schmitz believed the rebels saw the missiles as a bargaining chip, noting that they did not target Riyadh until the kingdom's intervention.

"The Houthis very much want to stop the bombardment, the Saudis very much want to stop the Houthi missile threat, and if the United States could contribute to that, I think it would go a long way," he said.

The US has now called on the warring parties to meet in a third country in November for talks supervised by UN special envoy Martin Griffiths.

Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, hold a poster in 2016 of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during a rally in support of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, in Sanaa, Yemen. Photo / AP
Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, hold a poster in 2016 of Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah during a rally in support of Iranian-backed Hezbollah, in Sanaa, Yemen. Photo / AP

Britain and France, two other veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, backed the US support for a ceasefire.

Jeremy Taylor, the regional advocacy adviser in charge of Yemen for the Norwegian Refugee Council humanitarian group, called the ceasefire call "long overdue". Saying that the UN "has been running out of adjectives to describe how bad things are," Mr Taylor voiced hope that a ceasefire could offer humanitarian workers a chance at least to try to halt further deterioration.

"We have been asking for years for this kind of statement. What we really want now is political pressure on the parties in the way that the US can."
However, experts say this won't be enough to end the devastating war.