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WFP chief praises Malaysia for tsunami relief support


KUALA LUMPUR - The head of the United Nations World Food Programme, James Morris, today paid tribute to the Government of Malaysia for its extraordinary support to the humanitarian response to the tsunami crisis, in particular for its partnership with WFP in creating the Humanitarian Air Hub at Subang air base in Kuala Lumpur.

Morris came to Malaysia today to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to thank them for Malaysia's assistance in response to the tsunami crisis thus far, and to discuss possible areas for future collaboration in Asia and beyond.

On his one-day visit here, he made a special trip to the Subang Humanitarian Air Hub to view the operations and to express his appreciation for the facilities and staffing support in the Subang military air base given by the Royal Malaysian Air Force. He emphasized that the Air Hub will greatly assist WFP and other UN and aid organizations working in the crisis.

"This base is of invaluable service to the aid community working to assist tsunami victims in Indonesia and other affected countries in the region," said Morris.

"The Humanitarian Air Hub not only relieves the extreme congestion in the two airports in Sumatra but it sharply reduces travel time," Morris said. He noted that the flying time from the Air Hub to Medan in North Sumatra province is 1.5 hours and to Banda Aceh two hours; it takes more than twice that amount of time to fly from Jakarta to those destinations.

The Humanitarian Air Hub has been receiving humanitarian aid material from Europe, North America and within the Asian region since it went operational on January 7. The cargo has then been airlifted to either Banda Aceh, capital of hard-hit Aceh province in northern Sumatra, or Medan, capital of neighbouring Northern Sumatra province.

The cargo planes -- lent by the Royal Malaysian Air Force and the air forces of Indonesia, the United States, Australia and Singapore -- are ferrying food, medical supplies, vehicles, telecommunications equipment, tents, water purification equipment, generators and children's school kits to Medan and Banda Aceh every day.

As of yesterday, a total of 30 airlifts have left the Humanitarian Air Hub. WFP expects that as immediate food needs in Sumatra are met, the cargo will eventually be sent by ship instead of air.

The Humanitarian Air Hub is managed jointly by WFP, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) and the UN Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC).

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

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Heather Hill
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