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.