JAKARTA - Concluding a four-day trip to Indonesia to see tsunami devastation at first hand, WFP Executive Director James Morris today announced the establishment of a humanitarian air base in Malaysia dedicated to serving UN and other aid groups shipping relief supplies into Indonesia and other affected countries.
Speaking at a press conference in the Indonesian capital, Morris said the Humanitarian Air Hub, established by WFP in partnership with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, will give a significant boost to the relief effort in Aceh and North Sumatra provinces of Indonesia, and elsewhere.
The Humanitarian Air Hub, at the Subang Air Base in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, went operational yesterday when a Malaysian military C-130 aircraft left for Banda Aceh airport carrying the first part of a total of 700 metric tons of fortified biscuits destined for the hundreds of thousands of people in urgent need of food.
"The Air Hub will not only relieve the extreme congestion in the two airports in Sumatra but it will sharply reduce 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.
"On behalf of the humanitarian community, I want to express our sincerest appreciation to the Government of Malaysia and the Royal Malaysian Air Force for this invaluable contribution to the international relief effort in support of the victims of the tsunami disaster," Morris said.
The Air Hub will improve the UN delivery of food and non-food items also being moved in the country by the military from Indonesia, the United States, Australia and Singapore.
The Air Hub will be managed jointly by WFP, the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF), the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) and the UN Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC). Two aircraft from Subang moved a total of 32 tons of biscuits on Friday. More are arriving in Banda Aceh today.
Morris accompanied UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other leaders in the aid sector on a helicopter assessment of the west coast of Sumatra, the land mass closest to the December 26 earthquake's epicentre. "The devastation and loss of life are heart-breaking," Morris said. "All of us must join in the massive relief effort it will take over the coming years to heal the people and their land."
"It is going to be a long road to recovery but I am heartened by the extraordinary generosity of people and governments around the world," Morris said, noting that for perhaps the first time in its history, the donations to a WFP emergency operation were being generously supported by the private sector.
On Thursday, WFP announced an appeal for US$256 million to provide assistance for six months to help two million people. WFP's needs are part of a US$977-million package of regional aid operations announced by Annan at a one-day high-level conference of Asian leaders and top donors on the disaster.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Video footage of the arrival of the Malaysian military plane will be available.
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