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Humanitarian preparedness and response

Humanitarian preparedness and response

2020-21 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$475.7 million

* Australia’s development priorities are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response. Australia’s approach to humanitarian assistance is set out in the Department’s Humanitarian Strategy.

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 people will be in need of humanitarian assistance and protection due to conflict and natural disasters.1

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 development assistance

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

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

How we are helping

DFAT's Humanitarian Strategy provides the framework for Australia's humanitarian action, which 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.

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 leading the response when asked. The type of response will depend on the scale and nature of need and how best we can make a difference 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 disaster risk reduction is the most effective way to reduce the impact of a crisis, save lives and limit the economic costs of a disaster. Risk reduction activities include ensuring buildings are built 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 a flexible capability 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 in response to international disasters. 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. 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 implemented when sending relief items to Vanuatu and Fiji following Tropical Cyclone Harold.

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 providing $50 million in humanitarian funding over five years (2020-24) under our partnership with Australian Red Cross. This is complemented by additional development funding, including disaster response.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement) is one of Australia's most trusted and effective partners in disaster response. The ARC is one of 190 National Societies in the Movement. It acts as an auxiliary to the Australian Government to save lives and alleviate suffering in the face of international emergencies by delivering humanitarian services to vulnerable people in need. The ARC also works to promote and strengthen international humanitarian laws and values.

We are supporting the ARC and the Movement to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 across the Asia-Pacific, meeting community needs through health and water, sanitation and hygiene promotion, addressing the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and strengthening the ability of National Societies to deliver in these areas.

Our investment in the ARC supports:

  • National societies in our region to be more sustainable humanitarian actors and have the trust of their public authorities and communities
  • National societies to deliver effective and inclusive disaster risk management
  • The Movement to influence policy and practice that enhance locally-led, inclusive and accountable humanitarian action.

Australian Humanitarian Partnership

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) is a strategic five-year (2017-2022 ) 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 natural disasters and protracted crises in our region and beyond.

The program helps to save lives, alleviate suffering and enhance human dignity during and in the aftermath of conflict, disasters and other humanitarian crises.

The AHP also has a specific focus on strengthening the ability of local communities and organisations in the Pacific to prepare for and respond to crises. Through the AHP's Disaster READY program, $50 million will be invested from 2017-2022 to build the capacity of local organisations across the region to manage disasters more effectively.

In response to the impacts of COVID-19, AHP partners aim to reach over 2 million people in the Pacific and Timor-Leste with support such as health and hygiene information, access to water and sanitation facilities, alternative livelihood opportunities and improved food security.

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

More information is available on the AHP factsheet [PDF 201 KB].

Australia Assists

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

The 7-year, $80.7 million program enables the rapid 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. By July 2020, 67 per cent of all Australia Assists deployments had COVID-19 preparedness, response or recovery reflected in their job roles.

Australia Assists builds on the strengths of two Australian deployment mechanisms: the Australian Civilian Corps, and the Australian Government's partnership with RedR Australia. It involves 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, Hong Kong to assist with civil unrest and demonstrations, Samoa to accompany AUSMAT to respond to the measles outbreak and to Papua New Guinea to again accompany AUSMAT in the COVID-19 outbreak.

Multilateral partners

Australia provides ongoing humanitarian assistance through trusted multilateral partners - including the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations Children's Fund, and United Nations Population Fund - to save lives and address human suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our UN humanitarian partnerships play a vital role in responding to disasters in the Pacific and Southeast Asia and during COVID-19 established a humanitarian corridor in the Pacific and Timor-Leste to deliver humanitarian supplies and personnel across the region.


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