By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations is considering using other ports in Yemen or land convoys to deliver food for 17 million hungry people in case the main port of Hodeida is attacked, the chief U.N. humanitarian official there said on Tuesday.
Yemen has been divided by two years of civil war that pits the Iran-allied Houthi group against a Western-backed Sunni Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia that is carrying out air strikes. At least 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen, said the aid effort was on a "knife edge" due to insufficient funding, despite the threat of famine. The U.N. has received only 7 percent of its $2.1 billion appeal for 2017.
Yemen's main port at Hodeida is badly damaged and has been short of cranes. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has already switched to using Aden port in the south.
"We face an enormous difficulty bringing material into the country because of the coalition's activities on the open seas and the delays in bringing vessels into Hodeida, which is the main port for us to supply humanitarian and commercial goods in to the country," McGoldrick told a Geneva news briefing, speaking by telephone from Sana'a.
"However, because we find there is a possibility of the attack on the Hodeida area because of the current west coast military activity, that port may become inoperable or inaccessible in the near future," he said.
Army forces and a group of militias launched an offensive on the Red Sea coast in January to deprive the Houthis of ports and to isolate them. Nearly 50,000 people have already fled, joining 2 million displaced, McGoldrick said.
The United Nations is looking at "contingency planning of using alternative ports such as Aden" and land convoys from Saudi Arabia and other neighbouring countries, he said.
Aden port will be insufficient due to its size and congestion. Salif port is used for dry goods and Ras Isa for oil.
The ICRC said last week that the world has three to four months to save millions of people in Yemen from starvation.
"I think ICRC is right. We have estimated that our food stocks in the country are around a three-months supply, both from a humanitarian and a commercial point of view," McGoldrick said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)