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Humanitarian preparedness and response

Humanitarian preparedness and response

2023-24 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$643.3 million
2022-23 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$639.1 million
2021-22 total Australian ODA [actual]
$656.7 million

Partnerships for Recovery and Humanitarian preparedness and response

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for leading the Australian Government's response to international humanitarian crises. Partnerships for Recovery: Australia's COVID-19 Development Response (Partnerships for Recovery) reaffirms Australia's focus on partnering to deliver humanitarian assistance when disasters hit the Indo-Pacific region and the rest of the world, including through our COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Internationally, COVID-19 poses huge risks to the people who live in fragile and conflict-affected states. In 2021, 235 million (or one in every 33) people were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection due to conflict and disasters, more than in 20201.

Gender equality, inclusion of persons with disabilities, and advancing the rights of LGBTI and indigenous people are high priorities for Australia’s international engagement. Specifically in humanitarian action, Australian assistance aims to reduce the human impact of disasters and conflict for the most affected.

As a global and regional champion of Women Peace and Security, Australia takes seriously our commitment to advancing this agenda. Australia’s actions to protect women’s and girls’ rights, promote their participation in humanitarian action, conflict prevention and resolution, and achieve better outcomes in fragile, crisis, conflict and post-conflict settings are guided by our second National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security (2021-2031).

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 responses themselves. We do this through building the capacity of the national government and civil society to respond to disasters and prevent COVID-19 outbreaks. 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.

Why we offer assistance

Humanitarian crises such as COVID-19 undermine growth, reverse hard-won development gains, increase poverty and inequality, 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.2

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Asia and the Pacific is the world's most disaster-prone region, hosting three out of every four disaster-affected people. Since 2015, nearly 800 million people in Asia and the Pacific have been affected by a disaster and almost 50,000 people have been killed. In addition, over one quarter of the world's conflicts occur in Asia and the Pacific, leading to the region hosting 3.2 million refugees.3

Humanitarian crises affect people in different ways. Persons with disabilities are among the most marginalised and face particular barriers in accessing life-saving relief and recovery support. Women and girls are disproportionately affected in fragile and conflict-affected settings – experiencing unequal access to food, healthcare, education, and justice, and often experience sexual and gender-based violence.

Where the impact of a disaster exceeds a country's capacity to respond, Australia stands ready to assist.

How we are helping

Australia's humanitarian action 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.

We know that effective, efficient and equitable humanitarian action cannot be achieved without responding to the specific needs, priorities and capacities of diverse people including in relation to gender, disability, age, LGBTI, race and ethnicity among others. Australia’s humanitarian programs aim to understand and respond to this diversity.

Australia has a range of response options available when responding to humanitarian crises, in particular in the Indo–Pacific region where we offer significant support to partner countries. The nature of Australia’s response will depend on the scale of the crisis and the needs of the affected population and a consideration of how Australia can add value 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 losses, limits the scale of re-building exercises and allows countries to remain focused on economic and social growth. Australian development assistance also focuses on helping communities and governments to be better prepared for and respond to disasters. Investing in inclusive, gender-responsive disaster risk reduction is the most effective way to reduce the impact of a crisis, save lives, enhance women's leadership and limit the economic costs of a disaster. Risk reduction activities include ensuring buildings are made 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.

DFAT, in coordination with other relevant Australian Government agencies, monitors the performance of the humanitarian program to maximise outcomes. This assessment, and the identification of lessons learned, is informed by findings of evaluations of humanitarian investments commissioned by DFAT or partners. Independent evaluations of humanitarian programming focusing on high priority issues are published each year in accordance with DFAT's Development Evaluation Policy. These evaluations and management responses are available on the Humanitarian monitoring and evaluation page.

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 Indo-Pacific region as outlined in Partnerships for Recovery.

Australia has a range of specialist capabilities to respond to humanitarian crises. These can be grouped into three broad categories:

  • Australian personnel deployed to provide humanitarian expertise
  • Lifesaving humanitarian relief supplies
  • 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 medical response capability of qualified professionals from Australian state and territory health services to provide emergency medical care in the aftermath of a disaster. AUSMAT is structured to meet the health needs of disaster-affected countries. DFAT, the Department of Health and Department of Home Affairs' Emergency Management Australia work closely with state and territory governments to prepare and deploy AUSMAT specialists in response to international disasters. For example, as part of Australia's COVID-19 response in Papua New Guinea, AUSMAT medical specialists and logisticians supported PNG health authorities to prevent, detect and respond to the virus.

Disaster Assistance Response Teams

The Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) provide a range of capabilities to save lives following disasters, and help communities return to normal. The teams are drawn from Fire and Rescue New South Wales and Queensland Fire and Emergency Services and can deploy quickly to conduct search and rescue activities where people are trapped in collapsed buildings. They can also conduct structural assessments, manage hazardous material accidents, and provide general emergency management assistance. For example, following Cyclone Gita in Tonga in 2018, a DART deployed alongside a New Zealand Urban Search and Rescue Team to conduct structural assessments of over 340 buildings damaged by the storm.

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 has developed a set of protocols to mitigate against the risk of transmitting COVID-19 during the delivery of humanitarian supplies in the wake of a disaster. These protocols were adhered to when sending relief items to Vanuatu and Fiji following Tropical Cyclones Harold and Yasa.

Australia maintains a standing agreement with an international logistics company to support 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 Disaster Assistance Response Team and AUSMAT technical teams. In the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Gita in Tonga, the first deployment of Australian-funded prepositioned supplies was delivered to affected communities within 24 hours.

Australian Red Cross (ARC)

Australia is supporting humanitarian preparedness and action through a $50 million, five-year partnership (2019-2024) with the Australian Red Cross (ARC). The ARC is one of Australia's most trusted and effective partners in disaster preparedness and response. As part of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, through their membership with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the ARC is part of the largest humanitarian network in the world, with links to 192 National Societies across the globe.

  • become more sustainable humanitarian actors and have the trust of their public authorities and communities
  • deliver effective and inclusive disaster risk management
  • contribute to the Movement by influencing policy and practice that enhances locally-led, inclusive and accountable humanitarian action.

This partnership also focuses on the intersection of humanitarian response with cross-cutting humanitarian priorities, including gender, protection, disability inclusion, emergency health and WASH, disaster preparedness, climate resilience and anticipatory action. For example, regarding gender inclusion, the partnership is supporting national societies to meet the target that ‘at least 50 per cent leadership and governance structures are women’.

The Australian Government’s multi-year funding support to the ARC is complemented by supplementary funding in response to sudden onset humanitarian crises. This funding helps to alleviate suffering and support local communities and partner governments to lead their responses. This includes:

  • support to national societies in Ukraine and surrounding countries to respond to people displaced and affected by conflict,
  • over $14 million provided to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, as at January 2022, and
  • support for the Tonga Red Cross Society to help communities and partner governments respond to the volcanic eruption and tsunami in January 2022.

Australian Humanitarian Partnership

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) is a strategic ten-year (2017-2027) partnership between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and Australian NGOs.

The AHP delivers more effective, innovative and collaborative humanitarian assistance by allowing Australia to use the networks and access of Australian NGOs to respond to disasters and protracted crises in our region and beyond.

The program helps to save lives and alleviate suffering by supporting partner countries, local organisations, and communities to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and other humanitarian crises.

Through the AHP's Disaster READY program, $100 million is being invested from 2017-2027 to build the capacity of local organisations across the region to manage disasters more effectively.

DFAT has partnered with six peak Australian NGOs and their consortium partners to deliver on these priorities:

  • CARE Australia
  • Caritas Australia
  • Oxfam Australia
  • Plan International Australia
  • Save the Children Australia
  • World Vision Australia

Australia Assists

Australia Assists is an Australian Government funded program, implemented by RedR Australia that deploys technical specialists to work with governments, multilateral agencies and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and conflict.

The seven year, $84.7 million program enables the mobilisation and deployment of specialists into geographic and thematic areas of priority in line with Australia's humanitarian responsibilities and our national interests.

Australia Assists has been an important mechanism for Australia's scaling up of humanitarian assistance to the Indo-Pacific region in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021 Australia Assists undertook its first clinical deployments in response to COVID-19, with two emergency nurses deployed to an IOM field hospital in Bangladesh, and an Infection, Prevention and Control Technical Advisor deployed to Papua New Guinea. Forty-four specialists, or 40 per cent of the program directly supported COVID-19 preparedness and response (61 per cent Pacific, 25 per cent Asia, 14 percent Middle East, Africa and Europe.

Australia Assists has a stand-by roster of over 750 technical specialists, reflecting the skills and experience required in the multifaceted contexts of preparedness, response, and recovery.

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, consular, policy and technical responses and these staff provide essential humanitarian support in affected countries. The CRT was deployed to Greece in response to the Greek Fires of 2018. Several deployments occurred in 2019 including to the Solomon Islands in response to the Solomon Trader grounding incident, to Hong Kong to assist with civil unrest and demonstrations and to Samoa to accompany AUSMAT to respond to the measles outbreak.

International and Multilateral partners

Australia provides ongoing humanitarian assistance through trusted international and multilateral partners – including the World Food Programme (WFP); International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF); United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA); Our humanitarian partnerships, through their reach, leverage and specialisations, play a vital role in responding to disasters and crises, including in the Indo-Pacific region.

More information: Multilateral Aid Effectiveness

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