The decision to slash the aid budget to war-torn Yemen would see thousands die and damage the UK's global influence, a top UN official has reportedly warned.

In a stinging attack on UK policy the head of the UN’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs said ministers had chosen to 'balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen.'

According to reports the former permanent secretary at the Department for International Development Mark Lowcock described the budget reduction to the country an act of 'self-harm.'

It comes as the government prepares to slash aid to help those devastated by the brutal civil war by half.

In a widely condemned move that sparked outrage the UK will provide just £87 million to Yemen relief efforts this year, compared to £164m the previous year.

Mark Lowcock
Mark Lowcock gave a stinging attack on the move

The conflict in Yemen is now the world's worst humanitarian disaster and the six-year war has left 80 per cent of the population reliant on aid.

The Guardian reports that Mark Lowcock described the move to cut the budget as “an act of medium and longer term self-harm, and all for saving what is actually – in the great scheme of things at the moment – a relatively small amount of money”.

He said: “The decision, in other words, to balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen, has consequences not just for Yemenis now, but for the world in the long term.

“I think it’s indisputable that the UK has particular responsibilities in Yemen.

“It is the pen holder at the security council, a substantial provider of humanitarian assistance in the past and it has historical responsibilities. So I think it is quite shocking that there was such a huge cut.”

A Yemeni boy looks at smoke billowing above a neighborhood
Yemen is the world's worst humanitarian crisis
Boris Johnson
A government spokesperson said the pandemic had led to difficult decisions being made

He said cutting aid to the war-ravaged country would cause 'direct harm' and lead to 'large scale loss of life and the piling of misery.'

A government spokesman was reported to have said that the 'seismic impact' of the pandemic meant that 'tough but necessary decisions' had to be taken.

It added this included temporarily reducing the overall amount spent on aid and that decisions on individual programmes were yet to be taken.

Last week, at Prime Minister's Questions Boris Johnson moaned that Keir Starmer wouldn't stop asking questions about the mass deaths and starving children in the country.

The PM complained that the Labour leader didn't ask him questions about how well the Covid roadmap was going.

He said: "He can't even address a question on the issues of the hour. He could have asked anything about the Coronavirus Pandemic, instead he's concentrated his questions entirely to the interests of the people of Yemen."

The war in Yemen, in which a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement since 2015, has killed more than 100,000 people and left the country divided, with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most major urban centres.