Management response

The evaluation of Australia's response to the Horn of Africa humanitarian crisis, 2011 was a well-planned and executed review and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) thanks the review team for their extensive work—the review is of a high standard. DFAT welcomes the review team's articulation of the achievements and its frankness in expressing some of the challenges encountered in the Horn of Africa response. While the review examines assistance provided in the Horn of Africa, DFAT considers that the review and its recommendations provide useful lessons to inform both future humanitarian responses and aid programing more broadly than the Horn of Africa region and the management responses are framed in this light.

Overall, DFAT welcomes the findings of the evaluation and agrees or partially agrees with all the recommendations and has already made some progress in addressing key findings. DFAT makes particular note of observations that suggest that most of DFAT's current procedures are geared towards delivery of humanitarian assistance in the context of rapid-onset crises in the Indo-Pacific region.

DFAT agrees there is a need for clearer triggers to activate stand-by mechanisms and funding for rapid-onset crises in protracted settings. The challenge of committing funding prior to declaration of a disaster is shared with many other donors. However, as the review team recognised, Australia responded appropriately once the disaster was declared. The Australian Government responded quickly and showed strong leadership in marshalling support from other donors. DFAT will build on this positive finding and provide greater clarity to our partners in the global humanitarian system about the scale and scope of Australian support in slow-onset and protracted crises beyond the Indo-Pacific region.

Since the Horn of Africa crisis, DFAT has undertaken development programming in the area of food security, economic recovery, and resilience in Africa to reduce the likelihood of large numbers of people falling back into humanitarian crises when shocks hit. Australia has maintained its focus on a number of priority humanitarian situations where there are high levels of need and we have been able to build on assistance provided in previous years.

The way Australian aid is managed and delivered has gone through significant changes since the Horn of Africa response. DFAT assumed responsibility for providing advice to the government on aid policy and managing Australia's overseas aid program on 1 November 2013, following the abolition of the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) as an Executive Agency. Integration will enable DFAT to better pursue Australia's national interests by ensuring closer alignment and mutually reinforcing linkages among the government's aid, foreign affairs and trade efforts. Integration will deliver efficiencies and strengthen our capacity to pursue our national interests abroad. Within this context, the unique challenges of humanitarian crises have been recognised through the retention of a stand-alone Humanitarian Division. The Humanitarian Division will maintain its level of specialised capabilities across the spectrum of humanitarian activities, from risk reduction and resilience building to response and recovery.  The Humanitarian Division provides advice, expertise and additional funding when necessary to help guide country program responses to humanitarian crises.




Management response

1. DFAT should develop procedures for responding to slow-onset humanitarian crises.

  • A simple activation mechanism that identifies which section is in the lead and the likely level of financial commitment.
  • A strategy development process that sets priorities, targets specific outcomes, shapes the funding portfolio and identifies activities distinct from funding needed to increase the effectiveness of Australian assistance.
  • Key elements of a staffing plan with an appropriate surge capacity to ensure requisite human resources to deliver and monitor humanitarian assistance. The plan should include support for staff to deal with the stresses of their work, as well as monitoring of workloads and wellbeing of staff by individuals not involved in the response.


DFAT's Humanitarian Response Branch, in consultation with geographical Branches and Posts will develop guidelines to provide predictability for responses to escalations in slow-onset and protracted crises. These procedures will include guidance on:

  • how to determine which part of the department is to lead on protracted crisis responses
  • the process to develop strategies for responses to protracted crises
  • how to set priorities based on the strategic intent and likely financial commitment, and what key considerations should be taken into account if that strategic intent changes
  • what procedures will be put in place to provide adequate support to staff on desk and at post and monitor workloads and wellbeing.
  • Procedures for responding to humanitarian crises have been strengthened since the Horn of Africa crisis in 2011:
  • All officers deployed for humanitarian emergency responses are subject to psychological and medical screening prior to deployment and on return. Support is extended to officers working on responses in Canberra also to ensure staff are adequately supported during periods of high workload or stress.
  • Officers deployed to posts or the field are provided with a detailed terms of reference prior to their deployment to ensure the parameters of their work are well understood, the security environment is appropriate and work health safety risks are identified with mitigation strategies in place.

However, many of these procedures apply to rapid-onset disasters in the Indo-Pacific region. DFAT will examine how these procedures may be adapted to better prepare and deploy surge capacity in other contexts, in line with the government's strategic intent.

2. DFAT should develop clear measures of success for humanitarian action and ensure that funding agreements with partners include specific reporting against these measures.

  • Identify measureable indicators for strategic outcomes, such as food security, protection and resilience.
  • Work with partners to develop better outcome monitoring systems and to ensure more equitable outcomes for ethnic minority groups, women and children.
  • Set out reporting requirements in formal agency-level grant agreements with implementing partners, especially United Nations agencies. This reporting should include detailed financial accounting, as well as specific reporting on outputs and outcomes achieved.
  • Work with key partners to develop thinking about value for money in humanitarian action. Consider developing a 'library' of costs that can be used as benchmarks for programming in various contexts.


The Australian Government's development policy—Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty, enhancing stability—will guide the allocation of aid and drive reforms to the way Australian aid is managed at the country, sectoral and global levels.

Linked to this policy, the Making Performance Count performance framework will improve aid program performance, value for money and results.

By December 2014, DFAT will review standard reporting clauses and formats for Humanitarian Partnership Agreement (HPA) partners, the Australian Red Cross (ARC) and deployed Australian experts including medical teams, RedR Australia, DFAT Rapid Response Team (RRT) members and Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) deployees.

DFAT will continue to advocate for greater disaggregation of data by multilateral partners.

In negotiating agreements with UN partners, DFAT will seek to include clearer reporting requirements, bearing in mind that Australia has a commitment to harmonise reporting through the Good Humanitarian Donorship process.

DFAT will also encourage UN partners to publish International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI)-compliant data to strengthen transparency of humanitarian aid flows globally.

3. DFAT should continue to build humanitarian cadre and expertise.

  • Increase in-house knowledge in key areas that are essential to understanding and responding to slow-onset crises, notably early warning, early action, resilience and multiyear funding.
  • Identify the most appropriate types and level of technical specialism and niche roles for the Australian aid program in chronic food and protracted conflict emergencies, and improve and increase skills in these areas.
  • Continue to invest in policy and advocacy capacity to engage with the humanitarian system, contributing to its overall effectiveness.
  • Ensure there are sufficient geographical humanitarian positions to be prepared for spikes in crises.
  • Adapt surge-capacity arrangements to bring in humanitarian skills to support programs dealing with slow-onset emergencies at short notice..


DFAT will continue to support the development of humanitarian expertise as an important part of maintaining Australian response capacity in rapid, slow-onset and protracted crises.

Since 2011, DFAT has: 

  • engaged a humanitarian adviser
  • established a stand-alone Humanitarian Division
  • maintained a pool of trained staff able to deploy at short notice
  • established a period offer to access specialist logistics services
  • built a register of 514 ACC deployees
  • supported the international accreditation of two Australian urban search and rescue teams
  • trained a national cadre of Australian Medical Assistance
  • supported over 200 RedR specialists, many of whom have been deployed to protracted crises such as South Sudan, Myanmar, Chad and the Central African Republic.

DFAT also provides specialist training programs for key staff involved in the management of crises, as well as specific regional training for the Pacific and South-east Asia each year.  Where individual posts or divisions are identified as requiring further capacity development, the Humanitarian Division provides additional support to ensure a greater depth of knowledge (e.g. in January 2014, specific training for the Manila post was identified as a key lesson learned from the Typhoon Haiyan Response and was delivered in May 2014).

The Humanitarian Division will incorporate protracted crises as a theme for the Humanitarian Focal Point network. This will increase in-house knowledge around operating in protracted crises. Geographic programs and staff at Posts will be encouraged to share lessons and seek advice on common issues, such as early warning signals, multi-year humanitarian funding, remote monitoring and humanitarian reform in these contexts.

DFAT agrees in principle that there is a need for further support to geographic programs and staff at Posts and will examine options to improve surge-capacity. This could include specialist training programs for staff who may be involved in the management of crises, as well as specific regional training. 

4. DFAT should continue to improve the quality, timeliness and focus of its operations, changing emphasis as evidence proves the efficacy of new or amended approaches.

  • Routinely consider options for cash-transfer programming and ensure partners consider this as a first rather than a last option. Ensure cash is targeted at women where appropriate.
  • Devolve decision-making to humanitarian and geographical professionals on technical issues where possible, and to Post and field teams where there is sufficient capacity.
  • Continue to investigate with others how early warning data can be translated into early and appropriate action.


Australia will continue to be an effective and principled humanitarian donor and will help build the resilience of countries and communities to disasters, conflict and economic shocks.

DFAT will continue to invest in innovations that improve the quality of DFAT's humanitarian assistance.

In line with the Australian Government's focus on economic diplomacy, DFAT will advocate for increased private sector investment in the humanitarian sector in international fora, including the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2015 Hyogo Framework for Action II.

DFAT will deliver on our Good Humanitarian Donorship commitments to provide humanitarian assistance in ways that are supportive of recovery and long-term development as well as maintain human dignity.

In line with international best practice, DFAT will continue to promote awareness of the use of cash transfers in crisis situations and the scope for channelling assistance to crisis-affected populations through long-term social protection schemes.

DFAT will harness the opportunities provided by the closer alignment of Australia's foreign and development policy portfolios to strengthen humanitarian advocacy for early action.

5. DFAT should develop strategies to better mobilise resources in response to slow-onset humanitarian crises.

  • In partnership with Australian Council for International Development and the private sector, explore innovative public fundraising and outreach that builds on the success of the Dollar for Dollar Initiative.
  • Examine options for a mechanism like the Humanitarian Partnership Agreement that can be adapted to different contexts and geographic locations.
  • Continue to use pooled funding–type arrangements such as the United Nations Common Humanitarian Fund, but work with the United Nations to speed up disbursal.
  • Develop new mechanisms, or modify existing ones, to fund non-government organisations directly, including those without an Australian base, where they are clearly the best placed to deliver lifesaving assistance.
  • Ensure that the speed of disbursal seen in the Horn of Africa crisis is maintained.


DFAT acknowledges that there is significant scope to mobilise resources beyond the aid program. DFAT will engage with the private sector and the Australian Council for International Development to identify areas of mutual interest that might be harnessed to complement Australian Government funding in the event of slow-onset crises.

DFAT will also promote public-private sector partnerships within the framework of global dialogues, such as the 2015 Hyogo Framework for Action II and the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, to increasingly harness the experience, ideas and resources of the private sector in support of global humanitarian systems and action.

DFAT notes the concerns regarding slow disbursement of pooled funds and will continue to advocate for more streamlined and accountable processes in fora such as the Central Emergency Relief Fund and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee.

The HPA mechanism will remain the primary channel providing for humanitarian funding through non-government organisations (NGO) in rapid onset crises. DFAT will continue to examine, on a case-by-case basis, whether this mechanism is suitable for slow-onset and protracted crises.

In selecting NGO partners to respond to a specific emergency, DFAT will consider their effectiveness and capacity to deliver an appropriate, effective, timely, efficient and accountable response. Australian NGOs will remain valuable partners in Australia's humanitarian programs but local and international NGOs may be preferred where they are best placed to respond.

6. DFAT should increase humanitarian liaison capacity in regions outside the traditional geographic focuses of the aid program.

  • Strengthen working relationships with humanitarian counterparts in other donor missions to identify division of labour opportunities, including options for delegated cooperation and/or shared resources.
  • Invest in coordination at a country level, either through direct hosting arrangements (as with the donor coordination for Somalia) or through personnel deployments into the United Nations system.

Agreed-in-principle. This recommendation needs to be considered in light of the Australian Government's commitments to focus engagement on the Indo-Pacific region.

DFAT will continue to foster and demonstrate humanitarian leadership and support crisis responses in regions where Australia has an enduring interest. This will include partnering with multilateral organisations, regional organisations, other donors and partner countries to extend our capacity to deliver effective humanitarian responses.

Last Updated: 9 December 2014