Humanitarian preparedness and response

How we are helping

2016-17 Budget Estimate:
$339.7 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 April 2016, Australia responded to 20 crises, providing $167 million in life-saving assistance.

Why we give aid

Australia supports humanitarian action for three main reasons:

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 challenges. 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.2

Over the last decade, most humanitarian crises in the Indo-Pacific region have been the result of disasters. The Indo-Pacific region accounted for a staggering 85 per cent of the world’s deaths and 38 per cent of economic losses during 1980–2009, despite being home to 61 per cent of the world’s population and generating just one quarter of its gross domestic product3. 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. 4

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.

Urban Search and Rescue

Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) is a specialist capability to locate and remove victims who have been trapped or affected by a structural collapse. They may also provide medical assistance to the victims. A USAR taskforce is a team of highly trained personnel including, rescuers, ambulance specialists, engineers, hazardous material technicians, paramedic doctors and others. They have the capability to assist with initial relief operations, re-establish critical infrastructure, and once the rescue phase is completed, assist with early recovery operations.

An Australian USAR team provided assistance in Vanuatu after Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. They conducted urgent repairs to Vanuatu Central Hospital, 27 schools, 5 health clinics and 13 road and infrastructure sites.

Australia maintains two internationally deployable USAR teams:

  • AUS Taskforce 1 – Queensland Fire and Emergency Services
  • AUS Taskforce 2 – Fire and Rescue New South Wales

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.

Humanitarian Partnership Agreement (HPA)

The HPA is the primary mechanism for humanitarian funding for Australian NGOs. The Agreement brings together DFAT and six pre-selected Australian NGOs (Care, Caritas, Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision) to:

  • strengthen the strategic humanitarian partnership between these organisations and the department
  • support NGOs’ efforts to foster community resilience and preparedness in the Pacific
  • enable a rapid and coordinated response to humanitarian needs, especially in response to rapid-onset humanitarian emergencies.

The HPA has two major components:

  • a disaster risk management and disaster risk reduction component to expand the risk reduction programs of the six HPA partners
  • a stand-by emergency response arrangement by which the department can request a single proposal for a joint humanitarian response from all or some of the six HPA partners..

Most recently, this partnership was activated to respond to the Syria crisis and Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji.

The design for the successor mechanism is currently underway and details can be found through the link below.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Program in Crisis and Post Crisis Settings (SPRINT)

Since 2007, Australia has committed $26.3 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) to deliver the SPRINT initiative. SPRINT saves lives and accelerates community recovery by providing crisis-affected women, men and children with lifesaving sexual and reproductive health services.  This includes providing safer environments for women to give birth, HIV prevention, family planning services, prevention of sexual violence and assistance to survivors of violence.

Australia's investment in the SPRINT initiative:

  • supports national governments to integrate sexual and reproductive health into national disaster management policies
  • builds the capacity of local, national and regional organisations to implement the minimum initial services package for reproductive health in crises
  • supports timely sexual and reproductive health responses during emergencies.

By the end of 2016, SPRINT had responded to 71 humanitarian crises and reached over 890,000 people with crucial services.

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 100 deployments in over 15 countries, the majority in Asia and the Pacific.

In 2014–15, Australia’s $7.8 million supported the deployment of over 60 specialists. These included specialists to support:

  • the conduct of free and fair elections in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea
  • Vanuatu to recover from the impacts Tropical Cyclone Pam, including by assisting the longer-term reconstruction effort
  • Nepal’s recovery from the devastating earthquakes, including advising the Nepal Ministry of Education’s efforts to rebuild over 10,000 damaged or destroyed schools.

The ACC also helped analyse the impacts of the El Niño-driven drought in PNG and other Pacific countries. The program is now playing a key role in supporting Fiji to recover from Tropical Cyclone Winston and in supporting Pacific countries to better prepare for future cyclones.

RedR Australia

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

In 2014/15, Australia’s $7.6 million investment in RedR Australia, included $2 million to Australia’s Ebola response and $500,000 in response to Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu. This helped:

  • provide approximately 240 deployment months of professional and technical services to UN response emergencies and disasters globally, notably following Tropical Cyclone Pam
  • recruit, train and maintain a register of professional and technical experts
  • provide an additional 38 deployment months in response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

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

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

3. UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Asia Pacific Disaster Report 2010—Protecting Development Gains, accessed 23 June 2011

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

Last Updated: 9 February 2017

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