Humanitarian preparedness and response

Infographic: map with countires highlighted and dollar ammounts shown, see link to text alternative page in caption.
Infographic: Australia’s Humanitarian Assistance 2015–2017. View larger image. Text alternative for this infographic.

How we are helping

2017-18 Budget Estimate:
$399.7 million

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for leading the Australian Government’s response to international humanitarian crises. Disasters are increasing in frequency, scale and impact. Since 2005, disasters have killed more than 700,000 people globally and left nearly 23 million homeless.1 The impacts have been greatest in the Indo-Pacific region.

Australia's location in the Indo-Pacific provides us with a unique perspective on humanitarian action. Australia is committed to helping partner governments manage crisis response themselves. We do this through building the capacity of the national government and civil society to respond to disasters. We also work with experienced international partners to prepare for and respond to disasters in support of partner governments, including other donors, United Nations agencies, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and non-government organisations.

Between July 2015 and June 2016, Australia responded to over 20 crises, including in Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Africa, Afghanistan and the Pacific, providing total emergency assistance of over $231.3 million.

Why we give aid

Humanitarian crises undermine growth, reverse hard-won development gains, increase poverty and can result in long-term instability. The international humanitarian system is confronted by unprecedented political, operational and financial challenges2. The magnitude and complexity of disasters and crises have changed the humanitarian landscape. Despite record levels of humanitarian support, donors are not able to keep pace with the rising need – funding requirements rose 430 per cent in the decade to 2013 and continue to escalate.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Asia and the Pacific is the world's most disaster-prone region. Between 2015-2016, more than 1.7 billion people were affected by disasters in the region. This represents 84 per cent of people affected worldwide by disasters. During this time, the region experienced an average of 41 tropical cyclones and 12 earthquakes with a magnitude over 6.0 per year. Where the impact of a disaster exceeds a country's capacity to respond, Australia stands ready to assist.

How we give aid

DFAT’s Humanitarian Strategy provides the framework for Australia’s humanitarian action, which is designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and in the aftermath of conflict, disasters and other humanitarian crises, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations. 3

The Australian Government is committed to responding to international humanitarian crises. Australia has a range of response options available when responding to humanitarian crises, in particular in the Indo–Pacific region – where we are expected to lead or play a major role. The type of response will depend on the scale and nature of need and how best we can make a difference to broader international efforts.

Effective preparedness and response, together with disaster risk reduction, builds community and government resilience to crises. This reduces casualties, minimises economic loses, limits the scale of re-building exercises and allows countries to remain focused on economic and social growth. Australian aid also focuses on helping communities and governments to be better prepared for and respond to natural disasters. Investing in disaster risk reduction is the most effective way to reduce the impact of a crisis, save lives and limit the economic costs of a disaster. Risk reduction activities includes ensuring buildings are built stronger to ensure they can withstand extreme weather events, improving warning systems and supporting vulnerable communities to gain access to insurance. For more information see our page on disaster risk reduction.

Providing assistance

The Australian Government has the capacity to rapidly deploy humanitarian assistance to countries affected by crisis. While Australia contributes to the international humanitarian system, including by adhering to global standards and principles, we bring a unique approach that is adaptable, flexible and heavily focused on building resilience. We work closely with governments and humanitarian partners to ensure Australia's support is practical and tailored to the most urgent needs. While we support efforts globally our focus remains firmly on the Pacific region.

Australia has a range of specialist capabilities to respond to humanitarian crises, these can be grouped into three broad categories:

  1. Australian personnel deployed to provide humanitarian expertise
  2. lifesaving humanitarian relief supplies
  3. partnerships with local and international humanitarian organisations that have capacity to deliver support in line with Australia's humanitarian priorities.

Australian Medical Assistance Team

The Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) is a specialised disaster response capability of qualified professionals from Australian state and territory health services who are drawn from a national register to provide emergency medical care in the aftermath of a disaster. AUSMAT is a flexible capability structured to meet the health needs of disaster-affected countries. DFAT, the Department of Health and Attorney-General's Department Emergency Management Australia work closely with State and Territory Governments to prepare and deploy AUSMAT in response to international disasters. As part of Australia's immediate response to Tropical Cyclone Winston, AUSMAT provided emergency medical care for more than 1,700 people in Fiji.

Relief supplies and logistics

Australia has stockpiles of relief items in Australia and overseas. This includes essential life-saving items, such as water purification tablets, shelter supplies, hygiene kits, mosquito nets and blankets. We have capacity to provide supplies within 48 hours of a request for assistance by a partner government. Where an emergency response requires items that we do not have in store, we fast-track procurement so the right type of relief is provided quickly, while still ensuring value-for-money.

Australia maintains a standing agreement with an Australian logistics company to provide all aspects of humanitarian logistics; procurement, freight and personnel. The Australian Defence Force also has capabilities that the Australian Government can draw on for major crises in the region. Australia also provides global logistics support to our USAR and AUSMAT technical teams. In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji, the first deployment of Australian-funded prepositioned supplies was delivered to affected communities within 48 hours.

Australian Red Cross (ARC)

Australia is providing $28.8 million in humanitarian funding over the next four years (2015-19) under our partnership with Australian Red Cross. This is complemented by additional development funding.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) is one of Australia's most trusted and effective partners in disaster response. The ARC is one of 189 National Societies in the Movement. It acts as an auxiliary to the Australian Government to save lives and alleviate suffering in the face of international emergencies by delivering humanitarian services to vulnerable people in need. The ARC also works to promote and strengthen international humanitarian laws and values.

Our investment in the ARC supports:

  • strengthened disaster preparedness and emergency response capacity of partner governments and national societies in disaster-affected countries, particularly across the Pacific, to enable timely, effective and appropriate responses to disasters
  • building resilience of targeted national societies and communities in the Indo-Pacific to cope with and recover from crises and disasters
  • increased public awareness of international humanitarian law and values, in an effort to reduce violence, conflict, discrimination and stigma.

Australian Humanitarian Partnership

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) is a strategic five-year (2017-2021) partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Australian NGOs.

The AHP will deliver more effective, innovative and collaborative humanitarian assistance by allowing Australia to use the networks and access of Australian NGOs to respond to natural disasters and protracted crises in our region and beyond.

The program will help to save lives, alleviate suffering and enhance human dignity during and in the aftermath of conflict, disasters and other humanitarian crises.

The AHP also has a specific focus on strengthening the ability of local communities and organisations in the Pacific to prepare for and respond to crises. Overall, $50 million will be invested from 2017-2021 to build the capacity of local organisations across the region to manage disasters more effectively.

DFAT has partnered with six peak Australian NGOs and their consortium partners to deliver on these priorities:

  • CARE Australia
  • Caritas Australia
  • Oxfam Australia
  • Plan International Australia
  • Save the Children Australia
  • World Vision Australia

More information is available on the AHP factsheet [PDF 201 KB].

Australian Civilian Corps

The Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) is a pool of experts managed by DFAT to provide humanitarian and conflict expertise in some of the world's hotspots and to help our neighbours recover from disasters. Since its establishment in 2011, the ACC has undertaken over 180 deployments in over 20 countries, the majority in Asia and the Pacific.

In 2015–16, Australia's $5.4 million supported the deployment of over 40 specialists. These included specialists to support:

  • Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga to recover from the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Winston, including by assisting the longer-term reconstruction effort
  • he ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq, by providing technical assistance to support people displaced and affected by the ongoing fighting

National Disaster Management Offices in the Pacific, through an institutional capacity support program designed to enhance disaster preparedness and to deliver surge support when disasters strike.

RedR Australia

RedR Australia is a humanitarian organisation whose mission is to relieve suffering in humanitarian crises by selecting, training and providing competent and committed personnel to humanitarian relief agencies worldwide.

In 2015/16, Australia's $5.1 million investment in RedR Australia supported RedR to recruit, train and maintain a register of professional and technical experts. This resulted in the deployment of over 137 technical experts in humanitarian emergencies and disaster responses.

Across 297 deployment months, experts responded to:

  • droughts and floods brought on by the El Nino weather pattern
  • the Nepal earthquake
  • Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu
  • Cyclone Winston in Fiji
  • the European refugee and migrant crisis.

Staff deployments

DFAT maintains a pool of highly trained staff through its Crisis Response Team (CRT). In response to a crisis, DFAT CRT officers can be deployed overseas at short notice to support Australian diplomatic posts and/or partners in the field. The CRT includes staff with high level expertise in humanitarian responses and these staff provide essential humanitarian support in affected countries. Since November 2013, the CRT has been deployed to Nepal, Vanuatu, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Myanmar, Fiji and Tonga.

Multilateral partners

Australia also responds to humanitarian crises through our multilateral partners. See Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships for more information.

1. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Historic framework adopted 24 March, 2015 https://www.unisdr.org/archive/43382

2. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Saving lives today and tomorrow p.11

3. As defined by the Principles and Good Practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship to which Australia has been signatory since 2003

Last Updated: 21 August 2017