* Several ships waiting clearance to deliver goods
* Aid groups say hunger growing
By Jonathan Saul
LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - A trickle of aid, medicine and commercial food cargoes is reaching Yemen yet the process remains slow as more ships await clearance to discharge at ports and logistical chains buckle due to fuel shortages and war.
Before Saudi Arabia launched air strikes in Yemen in March, the Arabian Peninsula’s poorest country imported more than 90 percent of its food - most of it by sea.
It faces increasing problems as many shipping companies have pulled out and those still willing to bring cargoes endure a long wait for clearance from Saudi-led warships trying to prevent arms supplies reaching Iran-allied Houthi fighters.
In recent days over 130,000 tonnes of wheat has reached Yemen in commercial ships as well as other supplies including sugar and fuel, partly helped by a five-day truce which expired last Sunday. But aid groups say it is not enough, warning of growing hunger and a worsening humanitarian crisis.
“12 million people out of the total population of 26 million need food assistance now and this number will continue to increase,” said Jonathan Cunliffe, Yemen-based country director with non-profit aid group International Medical Corps.
“There is no doubt food stocks have been run down. In Aden there is virtually nothing left. Wheat prices have quadrupled across the country. There is no purchasing power.”
It was not clear how much of Yemen’s strategic stocks of wheat and other commodities had been drawn down. The country needs over 100,000 tonnes of grain every month, as well as other basics such as vegetable oil, pulses and meat.
“The absolute bottom line is all the aid agencies in the world working at maximum capacity cannot replace completely the commercial sector inside Yemen. We cannot do it,” Cunliffe said.
Tawfiq Shaher, a public sector worker and Sanaa resident, said while there was more availability of flour and wheat in recent days, local prices had spiked.
“People can’t afford it and people displaced from their homes, don’t have any means to and are dependent on international aid, which is scarce,” Shaher said.
Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Muslim allies have carried out almost two months of air raids on Houthi fighters it says are armed by Shi’ite power Iran.
Tehran, which dismisses the allegation, has sent a ship to Yemen which is says is carrying thousands of tonnes of aid.
Commodities trade sources say the delays caused by coalition inspections were adding to challenges of importing goods into the conflict zone. “You don’t have any clarity on the situation and there are so many hiccups, which means more disruptions to come,” one trade said.
Eight ships were waiting in open waters outside the Yemeni Red Sea ports of Hodaida and Salif, including vessels carrying wheat, corn, sugar and fuel, Reuters ship tracking data showed on Friday.
Several ships had been able to discharge in recent days although for some had waited weeks.
The Lycavitos, carrying 31,000 tonnes of wheat, arrived outside Hodaida on May 2 and only berthed on May 18. It plans to sail from the port on May 23.
“The situation keeps changing on a daily basis. So, for ships trying to enter Yemeni ports, it is still hard to give any timescale over the whole process or procedure,” the ship owner’s agent Helikon Shipping Enterprises Ltd said. (Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Cairo and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Dominic Evans)