In 2015–16, the department provided an estimated $329 million in life-saving humanitarian assistance in response to more than 20 crises.

Our assistance helped communities hit by disasters, such as the severe flooding in Myanmar in September 2015, Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji in February 2016, as well as the millions of people displaced due to the ongoing crisis in Syria.

The department played a lead role assisting Pacific governments respond to natural disasters by supporting nationally-led efforts in disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery.

We worked closely with the Australian Defence Force to deliver relief supplies, often bolstering capacity through civilian deployments and deploying health and search and rescue teams.

The department partnered with Australian NGOs on our development and humanitarian programs, including through the Australian-NGO Cooperation Program for resilience and disaster risk reduction, and the Humanitarian Partnership Agreement for emergency preparedness and response.

There are currently 65 million people displaced globally. To assist those affected by protracted crises, the department worked with UN agencies including the UN Refugee Agency, the World Food Programme, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. We also worked closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross to help those affected by armed conflict and to promote international humanitarian law.

The department led international efforts to re-energise and reform the global humanitarian system, particularly at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, held in Istanbul in May 2016. We advocated for a fundamental shift away from a ‘one size fits all’ humanitarian business model and a focus on building resilience to natural hazards, particularly through nationally-led responses. We advocated for women to be central in preparedness, response and recovery efforts, the need for stronger protection mechanisms for people with disabilities in emergencies, increased participation of the private sector, and the importance of innovation in humanitarian assistance. We pressed for region-specific humanitarian activities that provide better support to disaster-prone nations in the Pacific.

Over the coming 12 months, the department will work with partners to implement the summit’s recommendations—many of which reflect Australia’s priorities.

Evidence has shown that $1 invested in disaster risk reduction activities can save up to $15 on response and recovery in the aftermath of a disaster. In 2015–16, the department worked with partners to build disaster resilience through investment in activities such as hazard and risk mapping, early warning systems, evacuation plans and livelihood diversification. These activities strengthened the ability of governments, businesses and communities to better respond to natural disasters, and recover more quickly in a way that supports sustainable development outcomes.


Leading the Government’s response to international crises including humanitarian emergencies in the
Indo–Pacific region

Tropical Cyclone Winston

Case Study
DFAT officer Cameron Noble delivering aid supplies to local government officials in Fiji. [DFAT/Cameron Noble]
Humanitarian officer, Crisis Response Team, Cameron Noble (right) hands over aid supplies to local government officials, Koro Island, Fiji, following Tropical Cyclone Winston, 4 March 2016. [DFAT/Cameron Noble]

Tropical Cyclone Winston

Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in Fiji on 20–21 February 2016, the strongest cyclone ever recorded in Fiji. It caused 44 deaths and affected around 540,000 people (about 62 per cent of Fiji’s population). The department led Australia’s rapid response. We coordinated one of our largest civil-military responses to a humanitarian crisis overseas and committed a total of $35 million in assistance.

The department ensured close collaboration with all partner agencies and the governments of affected countries in the aftermath of the cyclone. We activated our Crisis Centre and Humanitarian Operations Centre to provide 24-hour support to ministers and manage the whole-of-government response, receiving about 300 calls from the public. Our consular staff working in Canberra and in Fiji quickly confirmed the welfare of 1,100 Australians and permanent residents registered as being in Fiji when the cyclone hit.

To deliver our response on the ground and supplement our post, the department deployed its Crisis Response Team, including consular officials, humanitarian specialists as well as policy, media, logistics and technical officers. The department worked closely with the Australian Defence Force on the deployment of HMAS Canberra.

The department coordinated the delivery of an initial humanitarian relief and early recovery package of $15 million, including 520 tonnes of life-saving relief supplies. We worked with the Government of Fiji and NGO partners to assist more than 200,000 people, including by providing shelter and hygiene kits and access to safe water. The department’s support played a critical role in restoring access to health facilities in Fiji at a time when affected communities needed emergency health care.

The department’s close cooperation with the Government of Fiji throughout the response ensured our assistance was delivered in accordance with its priorities and through its coordination mechanisms. Our strong connections with New Zealand and France through the FRANZ disaster relief arrangement and linkages with Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) members and the PIF Secretariat enabled better regional coordination.

The department is now supporting the Government of Fiji on its transition to a longer-term recovery. Through our aid program, we have provided an additional $20 million package of assistance that will rebuild schools and health facilities, replace damaged medical equipment, restore water and sanitation services and repair damaged markets.

Tropical Cyclone Winston underlined the crucial role that the department plays in leading and coordinating the Australian Government’s response to international crises. The department’s contingency planning and crisis preparedness framework supported an effective whole-of-government response from Australia.

Tropical Cyclone Winston also reinforced how important it is for the department to improve regional preparation for natural disasters. In July 2015, the department organised a meeting in Sydney of PIF foreign ministers at which they agreed to strengthen regional disaster preparedness and coordination. These preparedness measures allowed for a more rapid distribution of supplies and better regional coordination in response to Winston.

Australia’s cooperation with the Australian Red Cross


The Australian aid program has partnered with the Australian Red Cross (ARC) since 1977 to deliver development and humanitarian programs in the region and globally. ARC is a unique humanitarian partner and provides a transparent and accountable mechanism for the department to support local Red Cross National Societies in partner countries. This makes it easier for vulnerable people to access help in international crises. The ARC can also mobilise thousands of trained volunteers in a country to respond to a disaster.

Following a review of our previous agreements, in 2015 we entered into a new four-year $28.8 million humanitarian partnership with the ARC. The new partnership is focused on the Indo–Pacific region and prioritises humanitarian preparedness and response and risk reduction activities that address gender equality. The new partnership will also have a stronger focus on how the department and the ARC can better work with the private sector.

The department drew on lessons learned from our previous agreements with the ARC in framing the new arrangement. We incorporated multi-year funding to enable longer-term programming, ensured an annual allocation to promote agile responses and built in a focus on long-term preparedness. We also introduced a stronger monitoring and evaluation framework to assess progress towards partnership outcomes and their relation to the department’s Humanitarian Strategy.

Our review of the ARC agreement and the resulting changes are delivering benefits. In response to Tropical Cyclone Winston we funded the Fiji Red Cross to have pre-positioned supplies in evacuation centres that were able to be immediately released after the cyclone to those in most need. Since 2010, our partnership with the ARC has provided:

  • sustainable and safe water to more than 25,000 people;
  • health and hygiene support to over 50,000 people;
  • first aid training for almost 3,000 people; and
  • more than 150 technical specialists deployed to assist in disasters.

Australian Civilian Corps

Australian Civilian Corps specialist Gail Owen (centre) works with members of the South Fly District Disaster Committee at Daru, Western Province, Papua New Guinea, to deliver food aid to remote drought affected communities, March 2016. [Gail Owen]

Australian Civilian Corps

Since 2013, the department has embedded Australian Civilian Corps(ACC) disaster management specialists into Pacific National Disaster Management Offices (NDMOs) to provide capacity building and surge support ahead of the cyclone season.

The program was reviewed in April 2016, enabling us to share lessons learned and engage deployees in the development of an implementation plan for the program to 2020.

The review found that ACC specialists have played an important role in providing critical response, recovery and surge support, coordinating responses, providing valued logistical support and helping link the department to key decision makers. The ACC NDMO program has also provided an important mechanism through which Australia can support Pacific countries deal with the impacts of climate change and natural disasters.

The review also found that placing ACC specialists in advance of the Pacific cyclone season enabled them to build relationships with key interlocutors and improved their effectiveness in supporting response and recovery in a disaster. ACC specialists continue to support the implementation of resilience building and disaster risk reduction activities.

Over the coming 12 months, we will formalise a partnership between the ACC and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, which will act as the host-organisation for the regional ACC disaster management specialist. ACC will continue to be an instrumental mechanism to deliver on our commitment to disaster preparedness and resilience in the Pacific.

Analysis and outlook

In 2015–16 the department coordinated timely and fit-for-purpose humanitarian responses in challenging environments. These ranged from responses to fires in Indonesia and flooding in Myanmar, to major natural disasters such as Tropical Cyclone Winston and the impacts of the El Nino drought across the Pacific, Asia and Africa. The department also provided assistance to the 11 million people displaced by the Syria and South Sudan crises.

Despite increasing pressures on the global humanitarian system, the Australian Government is continuing to increase the scale and quality of support it provides to countries and regions in urgent need. Pacific Island countries are among the most vulnerable in the world and are exposed to a range of natural hazards which often lead to disasters. In leading the Australian Government’s humanitarian responses in the region, the department will continue to deepen engagement with partner governments, the private sector and communities in the Indo–Pacific to improve their ability to respond to and recover from crises.

Our response to Tropical Cyclone Winston provided assistance to hundreds of thousands of affected people and further deepened Australia’s relationship with Fiji. Our engagement with other donors and the NGO community sharpened our immediate and longer-term responses and we plan to draw on this experience in future.

We will implement our Humanitarian Strategy, launched in May 2016, which for the first time captures the entire scope of humanitarian action from disaster risk reduction to early recovery. This strategy provides a more coherent and sustainable approach to crisis prevention and response in our region.

At the World Humanitarian Summit, we unveiled the winners of the department’s Pacific Humanitarian Challenge—a range of projects which will help make Australia’s aid program more responsive. The projects are truly innovative—for example, using survey drones to help responders provide timely assistance during a disaster and investments in low-cost insurance through mobile phones—and we will work with the winners to provide better assistance to communities affected by disasters.

Back to top