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Indonesia earthquake: WFP flies relief in, and wounded out

JAKARTA - Less than 10 hours after the undersea earthquake struck off the western coast of Sumatra, the United Nations World Food Programme launched a major emergency response, using a dedicated fleet of aircraft to deliver emergency aid to the affected islands, while evacuating critically injured people.

At first light on Tuesday, three WFP helicopters and two Twin Otter aircraft were deployed to help mount a coordinated and rapid response to this latest natural disaster. Search-and-rescue teams, emergency medical kits and medicines, and relief assessment teams were sent to Nias and Simuelue Islands.

From Nias, the fleet of aircraft is ferrying seriously injured people to the town of Sibolga, directly east on Sumatra's mainland. The hospital in Nias' main city of Gunungsitoli was badly damaged.

"It's critical to send aid very quickly to people who were already extremely traumatized by the 26 December tsunami disaster," said Mohamed Saleheen, WFP Country Director for Indonesia. "These people have received a horrible double shock, and immediate assistance is one of the best things we can do for them."

WFP has also given the green light to its NGO partners on those islands to utilize available relief food stocks for the earthquake victims.

A further 300 metric tons of rice, canned fish, biscuits and vegetable oil left Banda Aceh today for Nias, which bore the brunt of the earthquake. These back-up food reserves aboard a landing craft will arrive together with a portable warehouse, to give WFP more storage space on the island.

Before this latest crisis, WFP was giving food to some 22,000 tsunami survivors on Simeulue and 2,000 on Nias. Initial estimates from assessment teams on the ground on Nias are that some 200,000 people out of the total population of 450,000 will need food aid for about two months.

"WFP, along with many other aid organizations, was still working in northern Sumatra after the tsunami, which enabled us to deploy our aircraft, personnel and food stocks to this new emergency very quickly," said Saleheen. "We believe a rapid and concerted response will help the government reduce this major earthquake's death toll."

WFP is also taking a lead role in the creation of an air base in Sibolga, where aircraft -- including those lent by countries in the region like Singapore and Australia -- can fly the swiftest route possible to Nias. The base will also host critical fuel storage facilities.

"After three months of building up a complex and difficult relief operation in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces, we are using that same network as a bridge for a swift response to this disaster," Saleheen said.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency; each year, WFP provides food aid to an average of 90 million people, including 56 million hungry children, in more than 80 countries.

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