Tropical Cyclone Winston

Tropical Cyclone Winston caused widespread damage in Fiji on 20-21 February 2016, and also affected some areas of Tonga on 17 February. It is the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, causing 44 deaths and affecting more than sixty per cent of the population of Fiji (about 540,000 people).

Working closely with the Fiji Government, Australia provided $35 million in assistance. This included:

  • an initial $5 million package of immediate assistance to provide lifesaving supplies and support for people affected by the disaster;
  • a further $10 million to help children return to school, ensure health services reached affected communities and prioritise the protection of vulnerable people; and
  • $20 million to help Fiji's longer term recovery and reconstruction efforts, including rebuilding damaged or destroyed schools and health facilities, replacing damaged medical equipment and restoring water and sanitation services.  This assistance is also being used to repair and rebuild damaged markets, enabling farmers and market vendors to return to work.

The Australian Defence Force also provided extensive support, deploying assets and personnel to Fiji.

Video: Australia’s humanitarian support to Fiji after Tropical Cyclone Winston

Infographic: Australia's response to help Fiji recover from Tropical Cyclone Winston

Immediate support to Fiji

The Australian Government worked closely with the Fiji Government to provide immediate assistance to over 200,000 men, women and children. This included relief supplies such as shelter, water, food, and hygiene items, and access to education and emergency health care.

This support was complemented by emergency grants through Australia's existing bilateral program partners. These grants supported activities such as school feeding programs to encourage children to go back to school and supplied vegetable seeds to over 26,000 people to complement other foods sources.

Support for children

The cyclone damaged or destroyed almost 500 schools. Australia responded by helping the Fiji Government to assist children get back to school as quickly as possible.

Australia worked with Fiji's Ministry of Education, UNICEF and Save the Children to:

  • create temporary learning spaces for almost 15,000 children
  • provide educational materials for 38,000 children
  • restore water and sanitation facilities in schools
  • provide psychological support to teachers and children, and
  • support school feeding programs for the most affected communities.


Australia worked with Fiji's Ministry of Health and Medical Services to ensure that essential health services reached affected communities. Australia deployed a 21-person Australian Medical Assistance Team to Fiji that provided emergency health care to over 1,700 people in rural and remote communities. Australia helped establish temporary health care facilities in areas where clinics were destroyed, and helped re-establish cold-chain vaccination storage facilities that enabled important vaccines to reach affected communities.

Protecting the vulnerable

Protecting the rights and dignity of people affected by a crisis is an essential component of Australia's humanitarian work. Australian-funded clean delivery kits, which enable health facilities to safely deliver babies even when clean water and electricity is unavailable, were distributed in Fiji within 48 hours of the disaster.

Australia, through partners United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Medical Services Pacific, distributed reproductive health kits, 4,000 dignity kits and helped health outreach teams provide services to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Australia supported the establishment of the "Women Friendly Spaces" initiative, which helped women access information and services related to gender-based violence, health care and psychological support. This helped almost 2,000 women and girls in the three months following the cyclone.

Australia also assisted in topping up the Fiji Government's social protection payments to help ensure 72,000 people dependent on social welfare could buy food. To assist people with disabilities affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston, Australia helped the Spinal Injuries Association undertake a needs assessment, replace or repair assistive devices damaged or lost due to the cyclone and provide much-needed consumables.

Australian deployments to Fiji

Australian Government officials

Australian Government personnel were deployed to help within two days of Tropical Cyclone Winston. About 60 members of DFAT's Crisis Response Team were sent to Fiji and DFAT activated its Crisis Centre in Canberra.

Two Australian Civilian Corps specialists also worked alongside experts in Fiji's National Disaster Management Office to help manage response efforts.

Medical Assistance Team

The 21-person Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) was in Fiji for over three weeks, providing rural and remote medical outreach. The team provided much-needed care for more than 1,700 people in Rakiraki, Ovalau, Ba, Korovou and surrounding villages.

Operation Fiji Assist

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) provided extensive support to Australia's humanitarian activities through Operation Fiji Assist. ADF support included:

  • deploying approximately 1000 personnel to Fiji
  • aerial assessments by surveillance aircraft
  • seven MRH-90 helicopters to assist with response efforts and deliver humanitarian stores, and
  • C-17 and C-130 flights that delivered over 520 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and equipment.

The ADF's HMAS Canberra was also deployed to Fiji loaded with engineering assets, helicopters, water purification equipment and humanitarian supplies. It was positioned off Koro Island, where ADF engineers helped to repair schools, medical centres and infrastructure.

The ADF formally concluded its mission on 19 April, coinciding with the end of the Fiji Government's State of Natural Disaster.

Recovery and reconstruction

On 20 April 2016, Australia announced an additional package of $20 million to support longer term recovery and reconstruction efforts following Tropical Cyclone Winston. This funding is focused on returning life to normal in Fiji by rebuilding critical infrastructure.

Australia is helping the Fiji Government to rebuild schools and health facilities destroyed by the cyclone, replace damaged medical equipment and restore water and sanitation services. Australia is also repairing damaged markets and building accommodation facilities for women vendors to enable farmers and vendors to return to work. These buildings are being built to be more resilient to future natural disasters.

Australia has also invested in early recovery initiatives, including rehabilitating community water and sanitation systems, helping communities to build homes that are safer and more resilient to disasters and supporting livelihoods through cash-for-work programs and distributing farming supplies.

Energy sector partnership

Tropical Cyclone Winston damaged more than 4,500 power poles and affected up to 90 per cent of Fiji's power network. Following a request from the Fiji Government, the Australian Government partnered with the peak body of the Australian energy industry, Energy Networks Australia, to increase the speed of restoration work to Fiji's power network by an estimated 25 per cent.

Australia's energy sector has provided supplies and vehicles [PDF 140 KB] including three crane borers, three elevated work platforms and a service truck to Fiji. This equipment is valued at $10 million.

Last Updated: 20 October 2017
A DFAT official surveys damage to Koro Island
A DFAT official surveys damage to Koro Island, which was severely damaged by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Credit: Cameron Noble, DFAT.
Australian emergency relief supplies included 1,168,000 water purification tablets, 13,240 water buckets and 9,482 hygiene kits. Credit: DFAT.

Evaluation of Tropical Cyclone Winston education response

Group of children and teachers sitting under tree, overlooking ocean

This evaluation assessed whether Australia’s humanitarian response in the education sector following Tropical Cyclone Winston was relevant, timely, effective and appropriate.

Evaluation of education response

A man unloading an Australian Aid box from a truck
Republic of Fiji Military Forces personnel unpack Australian humanitarian supplies, which were delivered to Fiji to provide immediate lifesaving support. Credit: DFAT.
The Australian Medical Assistance Team travelled throughout Fiji to provide healthcare to locals following Tropical Cyclone Winston. Credit: AUSMAT.
Nurse Nadine Tipping and doctor Rob Cardwell carry medical supplies with Fiji health workers into the cyclone-ravaged village of Rakiraki. Credit: Clive Hyde, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.
(from left) Nurse Mistee Brett, paramedic Shaun Whitmore and doctor Carissa Oh treat a young patient in temporary shelter in Rakiraki. Credit: Clive Hyde, National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.
ADF personnel and a local counterpart help build a temporary storage unit, which became the focal point for distributing aid on Koro Island. Credit: Australian Defence Force.
ADF personnel meet locals on Koro Island. The ADF delivered plant equipment, tools and other material to assist recovery efforts on the island. Credit: Australian Defence Force.
A badly damaged house in Fiji
Australia’s humanitarian supplies were delivered to Tailevu, which was badly affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston. Credit: DFAT.
Power lines falling across a road
Damage to Fiji’s power network seriously affected the ability of schools, medical facilities and businesses to operate effectively. Credit: DFAT.
Three people standing in front of a truck which is repairing fallen electricity poles
Vehicles provided by the Energy Networks Association are helping to install power poles that are more resistant to cyclones. Credit: DFAT.