Skip to main content

Humanitarian preparedness and response

Humanitarian preparedness and response

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

* Australia’s development efforts are set out in Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is responsible for leading the Australian Government's response to international humanitarian crises. Disasters are increasing in frequency, scale and impact. Since 2005, disasters have killed more than 700,000 people globally and left nearly 23 million homeless.1 The impacts have been greatest in the Indo-Pacific region.

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 response themselves. We do this through building the capacity of the national government and civil society to respond to disasters. 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.

Between July 2016 and June 2017, Australia contributed to humanitarian assistance in 44 countries, including in Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, , Afghanistan and Fiji. During this period, Australia provided total assistance of over $342.3 million, including funds redirected from bilateral programs.

Why we give aid

Humanitarian crises 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 challenges2. 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 – funding requirements rose 430 per cent in the decade to 2013 and continue to escalate.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says Asia and the Pacific is the world's most disaster-prone region. In 2017, more than 66 million people were affected by crises in the region1. This represents 51.3 per cent of people affected worldwide2. During this time, 54 million people were affected by flooding alone, with a further eight million displaced by conflict.Where the impact of a disaster exceeds a country's capacity to respond, Australia stands ready to assist.

How we give aid

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. 3

Australia has a range of response options available when responding to humanitarian crises, in particular in the Indo–Pacific region – where we are expected to lead or play a major role. 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 loses, limits the scale of re-building exercises and allows countries to remain focused on economic and social growth. Australian aid also focuses on helping communities and governments to be better prepared for and respond to natural 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 includes 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 aid program to maximize outcomes. This assessment, and the identification of lessons learned, is informed by findings of evaluations of humanitarian investments commissioned by DFAT or partners. At least two evaluations of humanitarian programming focusing on high priority issues are undertaken each year in accordance with DFAT's Aid Evaluation Policy. These evaluations and management responses are available on the humanitarian 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 Pacific region.

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

  1. Australian personnel deployed to provide humanitarian expertise
  2. lifesaving humanitarian relief supplies
  3. 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 immediate response to Tropical Cyclone Winston, AUSMAT provided emergency medical care for more than 1,700 people in Fiji.

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 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 inTonga, the first deployment of Australian-funded prepositioned supplies was delivered to affected communities within 24 hours.

Australian Red Cross (ARC)

Australia is providing $28.8 million in humanitarian funding over four years (2015-19) under our partnership with Australian Red Cross. This is complemented by additional development funding.

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 189 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.

Our investment in the ARC supports:

  • strengthened disaster preparedness and emergency response capacity of partner governments and national societies in disaster-affected countries, particularly across the Pacific, to enable timely, effective and appropriate responses to disasters
  • building resilience of targeted national societies and communities in the Indo-Pacific to cope with and recover from crises and disasters
  • increased public awareness of international humanitarian law and values, in an effort to reduce violence, conflict, discrimination and stigma.

Australian Humanitarian Partnership

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership (AHP) is a strategic five-year (2017-2021) 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 2017-2021 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

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 Australian specialists to work with governments, multilateral agencies and communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters and conflict.

The 7 year, $82.2 million program enables the rapid mobilisation and deployment of Australian civilian specialists into geographic and thematic areas of priority in line with Australia's humanitarian responsibilities and our national interests.

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 700 Australian 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 responses and these staff provide essential humanitarian support in affected countries. Since November 2013, the CRT has been deployed to Nepal, Vanuatu, Philippines, Solomon Islands, Myanmar, Fiji and Tonga.

Multilateral partners

Australia also responds to humanitarian crises through our multilateral partners. See Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships for more information.



3. As defined by the Principles and Good Practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship to which Australia has been signatory since 2003

Back to top