Tackling Disadvantage and Building Community Resilience
27 October 2009
By Robert Tickner, CEO, Australian Red Cross, speech delivered to the Planning Institute of Australia, annual Alison Burton Memorial Lecture.
May I begin by thanking the Planning Institute of Australia for inviting me to deliver the Alison Burton memorial lecture to you today. The subject area of my talk is particularly fitting as Alison Burton was someone who was deeply committed to social justice, community engagement and the role of effective planning in improving the quality of life for people who are vulnerable. I am also pleased to see Lauren Nelson a member of our National Board (and Chair of the ACT Divisional Advisory Board) here today and also Kay Hogan who is the Deputy Chair of the Advisory Board.
My presentation will argue that over many years successive governments of all persuasions and at all levels have until now sadly failed to make a coordinated effective and sustainable impact on the entrenched disadvantage which exists in many communities. It also argues that success in this area requires an ongoing and long term focus of resources not only by government but also by the not-for-profit sector which is a key contributor to the building of social capital. This proposition does not to deny the obvious fact that individuals and communities, as well as the private sector have an important role to play, however they can not effect the necessary changes alone.
Australian Red Cross is currently undergoing a process of profound reform and innovation. This reform process is helping to shape an organisational priority focus on both supporting people to overcome social isolation and tackling entrenched locational disadvantage. I also want to talk about that work and the partnerships which underpin it.
I will also reflect on the Australian Red Cross experience in assisting with disaster preparedness and recovery - and building communities. I will address our work with vulnerable people, particularly in the emergency and disaster context and give you some examples from our efforts in helping to build resilience within the communities we engage with. This work that is designed to ensure that they are better prepared for the natural, technological and human caused emergencies that are increasingly affecting those in our region who are least prepared and least able to cope with, and recover from disastrous, large scale, destructive events.
These are not occurrences that governments anywhere on the planet can effectively respond to on their own and I will argue that the not-for-profit sector and in many contexts (particularly but not exclusively in the aftermath of natural disasters)
Red Cross in particular has a critical role to play in mobilizing the "power of humanity" through our volunteers to help respond to these disasters. This is the special role Red Cross plays around the world in its internationally recognized role as an "auxiliary to public authorities" including governments, in the humanitarian field. The term "auxiliary" means that while Red Cross is impartial, neutral and independent of government, international law recognises that we work closely, or in partnership with, government in responding to humanitarian crises.
At the outset I also wish to acknowledge our links to the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA). Your former national CEO, Di Jay, has joined us at Australian Red Cross as our Executive Director for the ACT and Manager Parliamentary & Government Relations. As you would know, Di has brought with her, an extremely high level of experience, leadership and government relations capability to Red Cross and we particularly welcome her commitment to social justice.
Another connection relates to the tremendous work of PIA in the aftermath of 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. As many of you are aware at this time, PIA formed a partnership with the Institute of Town Planning, Sri Lanka. The idea was simple - to bring together Australian and Sri Lankan experience and knowledge in town planning to help alleviate poverty, improve local economic prosperity and support community wellbeing in tsunami-affected parts of Sri Lanka.
The partnership had the objective of ensuring that during the planning phase of new community infrastructure to replace that destroyed by the tsunami, planners did not replicate development which would be susceptible to future disasters.
In April 2006, after a year of planning and discussion Australian Red Cross was pleased to be able to fund the project to the tune of $300,000, sharing the costs of the project's first two years.
By way of quick background Australian Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (the Movement), the largest humanitarian network in the world. The Movement has over 100 million members and volunteers.
The Movement consists of three components: the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) with a focus upon assisting during times of armed conflict; 186 Red Cross/Red Crescent National Societies (such as Australian Red Cross) providing humanitarian services to people within their own countries and internationally; and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (Federation) which co-ordinates the assistance provided by National Societies particularly during times of natural disasters.
The Movement is guided in its work by seven fundamental principles: Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Voluntary Service, Unity and Universality.
In the decades since its establishment in Australia in 1914, Red Cross has pioneered and delivered a range of health and social welfare services both domestically and internationally including the blood service to the people of Australia with the support of over half a million volunteer Red Cross Blood donors.
Despite this historical record of achievement we have not been resting on our laurels however and no organisation should remain static in the face of a rapidly changing external environment. In recent years, Red Cross has been undergoing a huge internal reform process resulting in a renewed commitment to meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people and communities located in the places where chronic disadvantage is a generational norm. We conducted a year long review of all our services and programs and held a mirror up to all our work. Our conclusion was that many of our services and programs were no longer targeting vulnerable or disadvantaged people, even fewer were doing this in the most effective way and, further, we needed to have a far stronger focus on monitoring and evaluating our work. In other words we had to become much more effective in our work and increasingly apply resources to the areas of greatest need. Emerging from this rigorous process, Red Cross has developed a new direction for our services focussing on seven core priority areas:
- Strengthening emergency services;
- Increasing international aid and development;
- Addressing the impact of migration;
- Championing International Humanitarian Law;
- Addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage;
- Overcoming social exclusion by providing bridges back into the community; and
- Tackling entrenched locational disadvantage.
At this point, I would like to elaborate a little more on the particular focus of our work in addressing issues of locational disadvantage which is the focus of my presentation. Again at the outset I want to make unambiguously clear that Red Cross does not seek to assume responsibility for addressing all the challenges I am about to refer to. But what we are putting up our hands to be is a leading team player, determined to make long term commitments to use our resources and capacity to focus on the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in this country and in our region.
At the heart of the problem of locational disadvantage is a planning issue as many of you are aware. For example, we all know that some outer urban fringes of our capital cities are often places characterised by limited public transport, high numbers of unemployed people and low income earners, without important community infrastructure and job opportunities.
Areas of entrenched locational disadvantage are of course not limited to the outer suburbs. They may be as small as a neighbourhood or as large as a vast region stretching across State and Territory boundaries. The evidence is that such concentrations of disadvantage severely limit life choices and chances; undermine health and wellbeing and too often trap people in intergenerational cycles of vulnerability and disadvantage.
Red Cross acknowledges that there are of course vulnerable people who face various and sometimes multiple sources of disadvantage living all around Australia and in the Asia Pacific region and Red Cross will always be there for people in times of natural disaster wherever they are. In addition, however, there are specific places where disadvantage is geographically concentrated. These are particular localities where problems occur with a much higher rate of incidence than in other communities. Characteristically, the nature and rate of social and economic hardship has too often remained high in these places over decades, and therefore across generations.
We argue that the finite resources of Government and the not-for-profit sector mean that priority should necessarily be given to attacking these entrenched social problems - but sadly this has not always been the case.
Despite decades of unprecedented economic stability and growth, the gap between rich and poor has grown in Australia. The evidence is that in particular, the concentration of poverty in certain neighbourhoods has become more pronounced.
One explanation is the 'channelling effect' of the price of housing, causing lower income households to congregate in neighbourhoods where the cost of living is lower. Other explanations look to the location itself as the cause of disadvantage, where for example employment levels are low because of limited job opportunities, poor transport infrastructure to places with better job prospects, or because of the remoteness of a place. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poverty and disadvantage is clearly impacted by this factor in many areas of the country.
Extensive research from many sources over many years shows that living in disadvantaged areas and neighbourhoods is associated with a number of interconnected factors which cluster together - factors such as:
- poorer outcomes for children, including behaviour outcomes and lower physical health status across life;
- poorer health in adults, including rates of infectious diseases, asthma, smoking, depression and diet, and shorter life span;
- reduced job and educational prospects;
- higher levels of family distress, including family violence;
- greater contact with the criminal law system; and
- lower age on becoming a parent, along with higher rates of single parenthood and divorce.
The term 'locational disadvantage' therefore refers to attributes of people and attributes of place, being areas or neighbourhoods where relative poverty is concentrated, social infrastructure is often poor and people living there experience higher levels of disadvantage than in other locations, across multiple aspects of their lives.
In light of the geographic distribution of concentrated pockets of disadvantage throughout Australia, and in consultation with Professor Tony Vinson who wrote the seminal work on this area, "Dropping off the Edge", Australian Red Cross has committed itself to tackling entrenched locational disadvantage by carefully identifying such areas throughout Australia, and committing to work in these communities for seven to 10 years building on community strengths, developing resilience and enhancing social capital to improve well-being and widen life choices. This commitment to extended time and focus on communities is an acknowledgement that these problems are entrenched and that quick solutions will not be found.
In undertaking this work - including the mobilisation of volunteers to support many of the programs we will develop - we seek to work in partnership with the community, with other not-for-profit organisations and with government. As I repeatedly stress, we will not be doing this on our own and we welcome the increasing focus on, and recognition of the importance of this work by the Commonwealth Government.
According to a report titled 'Markedly Socially Disadvantaged Localities in Australia' recently released by the Commonwealth Government, "when social disadvantage becomes entrenched within a limited number of localities, a disabling social climate can develop that is more than the sum of individual and household disadvantages and the prospect of increased disadvantage being passed from one generation to the next increases. In such circumstances, where an accumulation of problems makes a serious and sustained impact on the wellbeing of residents of a disadvantaged area, locality-specific measures may be needed to supplement general social policy."
As the report rightly concludes "this web of disadvantage can entrap people within highly disadvantaged communities. Progress in overcoming one limitation, say, unemployment, can be inhibited by related factors - like limited funds, poor health, inadequate training or youth contact with the criminal justice system. This web-like structure of disadvantage restricts attempts to break free of it. And because disadvantageous conditions are often 'bundled' in this way, efforts must be directed to loosening systemic constraints on people's life opportunities if progress is to be achieved."
One example of our determination to work in partnership with local communities to build a better future can be seen in the outer suburbs of Hobart where only recently Red Cross established a presence for the first time. We are so impressed with the community leadership we have found and particularly the leadership of many women in Bridgewater and Gagebrook which are the two largest public housing estates in Tasmania.
We have seen the pride of these local women as they successfully strive to undertake education. This is a great example of community capacity building. One woman told how she had only ever been told that she was hopeless and stupid - as she proudly waved her graduation certificate she announced that she "had shown them how wrong they were and have proved to myself that I can achieve". One graduate told how the fact that she was studying had resulted in her becoming a role model for her two children as they did their homework together. They are great people determined to build a future for themselves and their families.
I understand that the original proposal was to sell 40% of the land in this area on the open market with the remainder to comprise a mixture of public and private rental. As a result of successive Government policies and market forces over the years, significant private sector development did not occur, resulting in a population of almost 9,000 people being left with very few commercial facilities, poor infrastructure and transport, and almost no potential for economic development.
Over the last 30 years the level of reliance on social welfare has grown to be as high as 70%.
In April this year Red Cross opened an office in Bridgewater not only as a base for our engagement and support of this community but also as an indication of our long term commitment.
Following our "New Ways of Working" and using a community development framework, we are committed to work in close partnership with the community, Government State and National and other service providers to enable this community to identify its' aspirations, agree with them on success measures, and support them to achieve meaningful changes that will break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and disadvantage that many people find themselves in through no fault of their own. These are great people who deserve a better future.
The challenges of locational disadvantage are even more prevalent and significant when we look at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For this reason, Australian Red Cross has a priority to focus on working in genuine partnership with Indigenous communities to enhance health and wellbeing, build community capacity, reduce social isolation, enhance resilience, create safer partnerships through working in sustainable and culturally appropriate ways. In this area in particular we are asking to be judged not just on what we say but rather by what we do. I am very proud of the fact that Red Cross now employs some 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in community based programs around the country. This commitment to train and employ local Aboriginal people to help drive and focus our work underpins all that we do in this area.
We are also placing a priority focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in rural and remote communities. A good example of our work here is our engagement in the (APY) Lands in South Australia. The APY Lands consist of more than 103,000 square kilometres in the northwest of South Australia and are home to about 2,500 Aboriginal people with title to this land.
Red Cross has been working on the APY Lands for just over two years. We have focused on building partnerships with the stakeholders on the Lands - including communities themselves, service providers, local council and government agencies.
Some of these partner agencies include Nganampa Health Council, APY Council, Bungala Community Development Employment Program, Homemaker Programs, Department for Families and Communities, Department of Education and Children's Services, community schools and TAFE, with Red Cross having support from APY Lands communities such as Amata, Ernabella, Fregon, Indulkna, Murputja, Pipalyatjara, Watarru and Mimili. Red Cross acknowledges the many years of collective effort of these communities and stakeholders to address the entrenched complex challenges they face.
Our work here to date has involved setting up nutrition programs with the involvement of community members and agencies including Good Start Breakfast Clubs in eight schools across the Lands. We have also delivered our Red Cross Save-A-Mate training to schools and the community.
Red Cross is involved in the Structured Training Employment Program (STEP) with financial support from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The STEP program enables Red Cross to create training and employment opportunities for local Anangu people on the Lands. It provides people with a sustainable job in their local community, for individuals who may not have otherwise have had the opportunity. Red Cross is making its own commitment to sustain these employment opportunities in the long term. The demand for Senior First Aid Training across the Lands is also on the increase and Red Cross has been delivering training to communities and agencies in response.
To date Red Cross has employed six people as part of this Program across the APY Lands, with another two local Anangu people to be recruited in the near future - this initiative has involved working closely in partnership with stakeholders including Bungala Aboriginal Corporation.
Red Cross has established an office in Port Augusta with this team working closely with communities on the APY Lands (as well as in Coober Pedy, Port Augusta itself and surrounding regions). Equally important is a team of highly-dedicated Red Cross volunteers who support our work, together with other individual supporters within communities.
This work in the remote communities of South Australia is just one small aspect of our work in this area and we are also working in extensively in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and in Queensland. Just two months ago we opened a new office in Broome and tomorrow I will be in Tenant Creek to open a new office there.
Our commitment to working in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is made easier by a broader organisational and governance reform process we have been undertaking. After operating for 90 years as a largely, state and territory based organisation, we have sought to streamline and rationalise our operations in order to operate as one Red Cross in Australia. This is not a shift to some centralised model but rather one which will enable us to maximise our local capacity and connectedness with an increasing capacity to effectively organise and mobilise our people.
To carry out this vast work both within Australia and internationally, we rely on generous donors big and small, but we are also grateful for the increasing support shown by governments throughout Australia for our work.
I should also re-emphasise that voluntary service is one of our Fundamental Principles and many of our services are supported and delivered by over 30,000 volunteers. Without volunteers Australian Red Cross could not do its work and if you want to help us make a difference, volunteering for us is a great way to do it.
As I noted earlier, my talk presentation today will also focus on the nexus between tackling disadvantage and building community resilience in the context of addressing the impact of emergencies and disasters.
Let me begin by reminding you of some basic information about disasters - what the world has experienced recently and the challenges that may confront us in our region in the years ahead.
Since 1993 the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Federation has produced an annual World Disasters Report, documenting and analysing events, trends and issues relating to all forms of disaster. According to the most recent edition, there were 585 disasters reported in 2008 that caused 235,736 deaths (attributable disproportionately to Cyclone Nargis in Mynamar and the Sichuan earthquake in China). This rivals the high death rate that resulted from the 2004 Tsunami which killed 241,635 people. The trend that we are currently witnessing is that the number of events that provoke disasters are more frequent, larger in scale and affect many more people. However, the truly encouraging thing is that despite these figures the number of deaths from natural disasters is declining on average each year. This demonstrates the real value of, and success in, achieving greater disaster preparedness and the development of "early warning and early action" systems throughout the region.
Australian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies have been actively involved in responding to all of these crises. The number of people who live in areas vulnerable to disasters is increasing each year within our region. The impact of disasters is greatest on people who are poor and women are worst affected as many of you know.
The Asia Pacific region is particularly prone to disaster. Almost 45% of the 7,191 disaster incidents reported in the decade to 2008 occurred in the region. This tendency was tragically underscored recently when in the space of five days, the region experienced three significant natural disaster events.
First, a Typhoon followed soon after by a Tropical Storm tore through the Philippines, cutting a path through central Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos. This generated significant flooding. Hundreds were killed in all four countries with over 70,000 homes destroyed and 700,000 civilians evacuated to recovery centres.
Second, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Ocean triggered a tsunami resulting in hundreds of deaths and damage impacting on 15,000 people in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga.
Third, two earthquakes occurred in Indonesia, one off the coast of West Sumatra and one in neighbouring Jambi province, resulting in thousands of deaths and the destruction of community infrastructure that caused hardship for over 100,000 Indonesians.
I should remind you that over 60 percent of the world's population resides in the region and 700 million people live on less than a dollar a day.
Low lying coastal nations have been identified as particularly at risk if sea levels keep rising such as the island nation of Tuvalu. In the case of Tuvalu we are speaking of 11,000 people. Imagine the impact on a country like Bangladesh, home to millions, which would have half its main rice producing area inundated by a 1 metre rise in the sea level.
Increases in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters have been linked to climate change and the Federation and Australian Red Cross are very concerned by the humanitarian consequences of this threat.
Closer to home, over the past few years, disasters and emergencies have occurred in Australia that require new, well co-ordinated and planned, logistically robust approaches to risk management and the need for a community response. Some examples of this trend include the impact of periods of extreme heat in South Australia and Victoria earlier this year severely affecting the health of older and unwell Australians. I wonder how many of you are aware that some seventy people are estimated to have died as a result of that heat wave in South Australia alone.
As we all know weather patterns create frequent and intense cyclone events in the north, and bushfire events in the south, storms on the eastern seaboard, intense flash flooding and long periods of drought in many parts of the country.
At this point, let me say something about the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, which were the greatest peacetime disaster that Australia has experienced.
It is one thing to articulate our commitment to mobilising the power of humanity but quite another thing to actually deliver on this commitment but that is exactly what we did in the aftermath of the Victorian fires. There was not one part of our organisation which was not mobilised to respond including: our Emergency services, our fundraising and communication resources, our service delivery arm, finance, IT and HR. Our task was made harder by virtue of our response to the floods in Queensland at the same time, and the extreme heatwave in South Australia I have referred to.
A total of more than 1,000 Red Cross volunteers and staff initially worked in over 20 relief centres during and immediately after the Saturday of the fires. Relief Centres were then replaced by Recovery Centres and Community Service Hubs. Red Cross continued to have a strong presence at these centres, contributing to the ongoing support of those directly affected, particularly through outreach visits to the most vulnerable.
The National Registration and Inquiry System (NRIS) operated by the Red Cross, under the direction of Victoria Police, took over 22,000 registrations from people in the affected areas, and 21,000 inquiries from people wanting to know about the safety of family and friends. This was achieved through registrations at relief centres, by telephone or email and supported by the establishment of the State Inquiry Centre phone line for families and friends to inquire about the safety of loved ones.
During the peak time of operations Red Cross had the support of three supplementary State Inquiry Centre's and an external corporate call centre, in addition to the main centre in the Victorian Red Cross offices.
Personal support teams worked in evacuation and relief centres and undertook initial outreach visits in some of the affected areas. One aspect of the personal support program was the provision of the Red Cross 'Coping with a Major Personal Crisis,' booklet to those affected. Catering teams provided food, and First Aid teams administered treatment for fire fighters and communities in all affected areas.
More than 10,000 members of the public called to offer their assistance as volunteers. The majority of these were spontaneous volunteers - that is, those who previously had no affiliation with Red Cross and therefore had not been recruited or trained by our organisation. We also had many current Red Cross volunteers contacting us to let us know that they were available to assist. Managing spontaneous volunteers during and immediately after disasters presents special challenges as you can imagine.
Finally I should remind you that Red Cross in partnership with the Australian and Victorian Governments conducted the public appeal to help those affected by the fires and almost 400 million dollars has been raised. Every cent of that will be distributed to individuals and communities affected by the fires with the distribution being guided by an independent panel initially chaired by former Victorian Governor John Landy and now by former Deputy Premier Pat McNamara who was Deputy Premier of Victoria during the Kennett Government.
We have seen time and time again in Australia and around the world that in the aftermath of natural disasters people in the community are drawn to work and give their services to the Red Cross Emblem which they associate with impartial and neutral humanitarian relief. This is one of the reasons why Red Cross, which is impartial, neutral and independent of government is also described in international law as an Auxiliary to Government. This means as I have explained that in times of natural disasters and in response to major social catastrophes, Red Cross works in partnership with government to help mobilise the civilian population as I have explained.
The major difference between the Victorian Bushfires and the numerous other events that Red Cross has responded to within Australia, was of course the number of deaths involved and the devastating long lasting impacts on so many local communities. Our hearts go out to the thousands of people affected by the fires and the family and friends of the 173 people who lost their lives. There will not be and could never be an overnight recovery from this loss and for many the loss will be permanent. We need to extend our compassion and support to these people on an ongoing basis.
I would like at this point to commend the rebuilding work of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA), lead by Christine Nixon, to oversee and coordinate the largest recovery and rebuilding program Victoria has ever faced. The Authority is currently working with communities, businesses, charities, local councils and other government departments to help rebuild communities affected by the bushfires.
Each affected community has different needs and the priority of the Authority has been to help regions, towns and individuals to rebuild and recover in a way that is safe, timely, efficient, cost effective and respectful of those different needs.
As the rebuilding process gains momentum, the Authority will continue to consult and work with people to ensure they can move forward and rebuild their lives and townships. This deeply embedded, community focused approach to rebuilding will be very familiar to those of you from PIA who were involved in the work in Sri Lanka and other places rebuilding after disasters.
Perhaps there are some important lessons for Governments in Australia about how things can be pushed ahead with good strong administrative leadership and the allocation of strong authority to a leaders like Christine Nixon and Peter Cosgrove who led so ably in the aftermath of Cyclone Larry. Perhaps this is a model to help drive the provision of infrastructure in remote Aboriginal communities provided the communities are given the meaningful role which is so necessary every step of the way.
There are three main drivers for the involvement of Red Cross in emergency preparedness activities: our international charter to reduce the impact of emergencies on the most vulnerable, our existing provision of services to those people affected by emergencies and our existing provision of services to vulnerable members of our community
Within Australia there has been a strong focus by government agencies at national, state territory and local government levels on reducing risk through disaster mitigation. Hazard warnings and early warning systems are the responsibility of hazard management agencies in each state and territory. The Australian government, through the recently announced Disaster Resilient Australia program, is committed to improving resilience at a household and local level.
The promotion of household resilience has become a key component of emergency management in Australia in the past decade. Awareness programs dealing with specific hazard survival, e.g., bushfire, cyclone, have been implemented in each state and territory.
This begs the question, what does a resilient community look like? From the perspective of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, resilient communities are able to adapt to, withstand and recover from external and internal shocks that make them vulnerable. People should feel safe and free from conflict and feel socially connected and included in community life. A key generator of this notion of social connection is the ability of community members to have a voice and influence in decision making and have access to the information they need to improve their own health and wellbeing.
Let me share with you some of the latest thinking on disaster preparedness and the role of community resilience in disaster preparedness. It is now acknowledged by the experts who focus on methods to prevent the loss of human life in the emergency context, that local communities have a central role in early warning and early action, information dissemination and appropriate response to a disaster event.
According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a people-centred approach to early warning focuses on how individuals and communities can understand the threats to their own survival and wellbeing, share that awareness with others and take actions to avoid or reduce disaster. The risk of disaster is partly caused by external hazards such as fire, earthquake, cyclone, surprise disease epidemic, Tsunami or floods that are difficult or impossible to stop. However, communities know that disasters are also about people being vulnerable, not being in the right place at the right time with adequate forms of protection.
People-centred early warning suggests that rather than being vulnerable, people can be capable, resilient and able to protect themselves. Three basic requirements are that individuals and institutions have knowledge about what constitutes a threat, that they are able to communicate a change in threat levels or circumstances and that they are in a position to respond to those threats.
Community-based risk and resilience assessment is the beginning of a process whereby local people take the lead in building their capacity to manage their own disaster risk reduction and early warning processes.
Not only can local communities assist in the actual transmission of messages and warnings at the time of an event, such as volunteers going from house to house or spreading warnings via local radio broadcasts, but they can also feed information back to the warning providers about how they understand the warnings and how they might be made more actionable or comprehensible. They must feel knowledgeable about the appropriate actions to take for different sorts of warnings. They must believe that by taking the prescribed actions, they will protect their lives or livelihoods. In some situations, authorities may have to force communities to respond, for example, mandatory evacuations, but these can breed resentment if not based on prior understanding as the International Red Cross and Red Crescent global reports have emphasised.
Red Cross' contribution to disaster risk reduction in Australia can be seen as threefold, contributing in partnerships to developing disaster resilient households, providing strategic advice to national and state level disaster mitigation committees, and increasing the capacity and capability of the organisation, and through them, the community to respond to emergencies.
The Emergency REDiPlan project is Red Cross' contribution to building household resilience within Australia. It is a community project that provides households with information in a variety of formats to prepare for and recover from emergencies. The aim is to help individuals to prepare their households particularly those members of the community who are most vulnerable to the impact of emergencies. The project has a particular focus on increasing resilience among the vulnerable and as such is rolling out community education programs and emergency early action resources targeting the whole community including people living with disabilities, the elderly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and culturally and linguistically diverse communities. With the aim of engaging local communities in a meaningful way, volunteer RediPlan educators will be trained over the next year to deliver the message of the program in their own community settings and among their own people.
The project has been made possible through the generous support of the First National Foundation and was launched by the Federal Attorney-General, Hon Robert McClelland, MP in October last year.
Another example of our focus on household resilience is our work in South Australia in response to the severe heatwave experienced in January and February this year which I have already referred to and which is estimated to have caused 70 predominately frail people to die according to South Australian Government estimates. To assist vulnerable people cope, Red Cross expanded its Telecross service to call thousands of people at risk of illness to check on their health, safety and welfare.
Red Cross worked closely with the Department for Families and Communities to contact their vulnerable clients. Volunteers made more than 15,000 calls during the ten-day emergency period to check on the welfare of elderly, frail or housebound people and to provide practical advice and information on coping with the heat.
More than 500 volunteers were activated across South Australia, including regular Telecross volunteers and staff from the public service. As well as providing information, volunteer callers came across a range of urgent needs and difficult personal situations where Red Cross was able to help people directly or arrange for follow-up.
Australian Red Cross in South Australia has now committed to playing an even more pro-active role in working with those who are most vulnerable to heat waves by developing practical preparedness, adaption and service response measures in collaboration with government and other agencies. Our new Telecross REDi service, launched two weeks ago with the support of the South Australian Government and in collaboration with other agencies, will support people by pre-registering those at risk to extreme weather and regularly calling them during heat waves and other extreme weather events.
During extreme weather events like heat waves, Red Cross volunteers will call pre-registered clients up to three times a day to check on their wellbeing. Trained volunteers will determine how the client is coping and provide practical advice about how to keep safe during extreme weather conditions.
If a call goes unanswered, an emergency procedure is activated to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the client. Telecross REDi will provide additional peace of mind for clients and their families and carers, who are assured that their loved ones are contacted regularly during extreme weather events.
Telecross REDi will be activated by the South Australian Department for Families and Communities, when an extreme weather event is declared under the State Emergency Management Plan. We think this is a good model for other parts of Australia and will be encouraging other Governments to emulate this South Australian initiative.
Let me now turn to some examples from our International operations.
The recent tragic events in the Pacific have underlined the success of our community resilience and capacity building partnership with the National Red Cross Societies of the Pacific. Our disaster preparedness work in Samoa and Tonga over the past few years meant that when disaster struck, these National Societies were prepared with pre-positioned stocks ready for immediate relief distribution. Local community volunteers were also pre trained to lead evacuation procedures, first aid and immediate response needs.
As in our other international work, our approach has been to undertake projects in partnership with the local Red Cross and Red Crescent national societies as far as possible. As in Australia our work in the region is focussed on building the capacity of local communities and not just some fly in fly out response led by well intentioned outsiders. The Pacific Disaster Management Partnership is an Australian Red Cross partnership with 11 Pacific nations designed to work with local communities to raise awareness, build early-warning systems and provide for particularly vulnerable individuals and groups such as the elderly.
A key focus of the Partnership has been to resource and strengthen these national Red Cross societies so that they are better able to recruit, train and retain the volunteers who are essential to assisting individuals, communities and families in times of crisis. The reality is that a number of the Pacific nations do not have strong governments, so effective disaster preparedness and response demands a far more substantial role by civil society than in countries like Australia.
The success of the response of the Samoan and Tongan Red Cross societies to the devastating Tsunami of a few weeks ago can I believe be attributed to the partnership work on disaster preparedness in which we have played an important role.
By way of example further example Australian Red Cross has played a partnership, support and resourcing role in the development of an initiative of the Indonesian Red Cross known as the SATGANA volunteer response teams. Responding to the emergencies as diverse as the Bali bombings, the Sumatra flash floods and the earthquakes a few weeks ago, these rapid response teams have been specifically formed and developed to participate in disaster response and recovery process in the geographical region within which the event occurs.
Each team has a minimum of 30 trained volunteers, headed by a commandant and a number of deputies. Volunteers within the team are selected and grouped by function including search and rescue, evacuation and first aid, tracing and messaging, and health services, sanitation and fresh water.
Australian Red Cross has worked closely with Indonesian Red Cross in building this elite corps of volunteers, providing expertise, training and advice over many years. There are now over 2000 SATGANA volunteers deployed across Indonesia.
In conclusion, I hope that I have imparted to you the importance we place as an organisation on building communities and building resilience among the people and communities most vulnerable to disasters and emergencies. We believe that communities themselves are the architects of their own relief and recovery in the face of the destructive events that appear to be occurring with more frequency and with more impact in our region. That coupled with our renewed focus on working for marginalised and disadvantaged people in this country sets out an ambitious humanitarian objective that we are going to focus on for the long term.
It is an honour to lead an organisation that helps mobilises the power of humanity to build a better word. It is a simple formula people helping people in time of crisis and not just in natural disasters and I hope all of you will give us your ongoing support in our work.
Thank you again for allowing me to speak to you today.