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Resilience and support in disasters

Preparing for, responding to and recovering from disasters

The lovely thing about the Let’s Talk program is that it brought people together. We’re all in the same situation and everyone took something home from this event.
— Maureen Duncan, farmer, Lower Anabranch NSW

The Let’s Talk program is an initiative led by Red Cross members to fund and run activities that bring people together in fun and innovative ways, supporting wellbeing and health of farmers and their families. The working dog school workshop at Lower Anabranch was a weekend of fun, connection and learning for the community. Photo: Maureen Duncan

Our teams responded to 51 disasters throughout the year. In August 2018 Australians dug deep for farmers battling severe drought. We raised $11.5 million and it was successfully distributed by our partners.

We continue to pursue the target of helping millions of Australians prepare for emergencies. A number of initiatives have achieved substantial reach, encouraging people to take action continues to be a challenge.

We also designed and began implementing a new operating model for international programs, based on locally-led, humanitarian action. It focuses on shifting power and resources to national Red Cross societies in Asia and the Pacific, to strengthen their resilience and ability to prepare for and respond to humanitarian crises.

Goal: Save lives, build resilient communities and support people in disasters

3 million Australians are equipped to be prepared for and recover from disasters

There has been a four-fold national increase in investment (government, corporate, other) in disaster risk reduction and community resilience

Key partners in 14 Asia-Pacific countries can demonstrate increased capacity to support communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises

Australian Red Cross is responding to disasters and other significant emergencies 100% of the time

Scaling up efforts to equip more Australians for emergencies

We equipped 230,988 Australians to prepare for and recover from emergencies in the past year.

Our Preparedness Week campaign to encourage people to be prepared for disasters that might impact them reached approximately 8 million Australians through a range of broadcast, print and social media. Reaching people isn’t the problem – motivating them to get prepared continues to prove challenging. It hasn’t and won’t stop us from trying.

12.6k downloads of version 2 of the Get Prepared app

Initiatives supporting this work included additional delivery of services focused on preparedness, connecting with other networks to reach more people, broad scale community campaigning and engaging our own Red Cross people more closely in preparedness.

There were 12.6k downloads of the Get Prepared app which we developed with IAG. Further refinements will make it more accessible and implements changes based on user feedback.

Further investment in disaster resilience 

Red Cross continues to be an integral member of the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities. Through our advocacy efforts, along with others from the Roundtable, we have seen an increase in disaster investment by governments, corporates and others, in excess of $100 million.

We have been influential in shaping the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework, through our role on the steering committee. The Framework will guide work in the disaster risk reduction space into the future, and will help us as we advocate for continued increases in investment in disaster risk reduction.

Locally-led humanitarian action

In the past year we successfully began the shift to a new international program operating model, focused on locally-led, inclusive and accountable humanitarian action. Critically, the new model focuses on shifting power and resources to ensure that national Red Cross societies across Asia and the Pacific strengthen their resilience and capacity to prepare for and respond to humanitarian crises. 

Between July and December 2018 Indonesia experienced three major disasters which displaced close to 650,000 people and left millions in need of humanitarian assistance. The response was locally led with Australian Red Cross and others supporting Indonesian Red Cross to respond. 

Indonesian Red Cross quickly mobilised people on the ground and supported the Indonesian government with logistics, coordinating international support and managing camps. International Red Cross and Red Crescent, including Australian Red Cross were able to compliment the capacity of Indonesian Red Cross, facilitating the launch of an appeal and focusing on support roles and operational coordination.

87 aid workers were deployed to provide support in 36 countries

In total we sent 87 aid workers to 36 countries reaching as far as Lebanon, Nigeria and South Sudan. Sixteen aid workers went to Bangladesh where the refugee crisis has been ongoing for more than two years. We have contributed significantly to supporting people from Rakhine State who have fled Myanmar. As well as aid workers, we provided technical support and guidance particularly in humanitarian diplomacy.

We also contributed to the Philippine Red Cross response to the March 2019 measles outbreak, Iranian Red Crescent response to deadly flash flooding and supported Vanuatu Red Cross when a volcano erupted on Ambae island and 11,000 people needed to be evacuated and rehoused.  After Tropical Cyclone Penny hit, we supported Solomon Islands Red Cross, providing health, shelter, and water and sanitation support for 1,250 people in three provinces. 

Complementing our response work, our influencing agenda used evidence based research to make an enormous contribution to how the broader humanitarian system needs to change to better meet people’s needs now and in the future. 

Responding when disasters hit home

Red Cross emergency teams responded to 51 activations in Australia, including bushfires, floods and cyclones across six states and territories – up from 48 last year – supporting 64,763 people in the process. 

In the space of 31 days last August, Australians generously gave $11.5 million to support drought-affected farmers and their families. The appeal may be over, but Red Cross has continued to work with farming communities, delivering drought-specific recovery programs. One of these is Let’s Talk, which brings rural communities together to stay connected and support each other. Let’s Talk has supported events like sheepdog schools, ‘pamper days’, charity bike rides, trade and social media workshops and family fun days.

$11.5m donated and distributed in grants to 7,452 drought-affected applicants

When a monsoonal low brought heavy rainfall and flooding to North Queensland our trained staff and volunteers played an important role in the coordination and management of evacuation centres and recovery hubs, assisting 48,602 people. Red Cross also provided telephone outreach in partnership with the Queensland Government through more than 10,000 telephone calls to affected people. In all, 431 personnel were deployed during 65 days of activation.

Tropical Cyclone Trevor led to the largest mass evacuation in the Northern Territory since Cyclone Tracy in 1974, with approximately 2,500 people evacuated from the Groote Eylandt and Borroloola areas. In partnership with NT Government, Red Cross managed three evacuation centres in Darwin and Katherine, which remained open for nine days. Over 2,340 people were assisted by 119 Red Cross staff and volunteers.

In the course of the year we also trained 3,282 people from external agencies in the humanitarian aspects of preparedness, response and recovery.

The past year also saw the successful launch of our Collective Trauma Guidelines. The guidelines support governments, organisations and communities responding to particularly high profile tragedies that impact large numbers of people, including those not directly impacted, such as the attacks on mosques in Christchurch and the murder of young Melbourne woman Courtney Herron.

What we learned

Looking back on projects and partnerships

As we transitioned to new ways of working, several of our programs underwent evaluations including our 2015-2019 Partnership Agreement with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The evaluation found that thanks to the partnership with Red Cross, people in Australia can better see what the Australian Aid program achieves. And, because we are part of the Red Cross Red Crescent network, we, and through us DFAT, can do more, including:

  • contribute to local disaster risk management through our National Red Cross Society partners, promoting community-based disaster preparedness and first response capabilities
  • engage together in high-level dialogues on regional and global policy issues, to improve good practice in the region and contribute to shaping the humanitarian reform agenda including making action more locally-led
  • promote innovation through pilot projects that can be then be easily rolled out elsewhere
  • provide a unique perspective and expertise on vulnerability and protection issues, including inclusive disaster risk management.

The partnership with DFAT supported our work with National Red Cross societies in the region.

An evaluation of the Community Based Health and First Aid Project with Fiji Red Cross, found it was strongly aligned with the broader Fiji health agenda and the strategic priorities of Fiji Red Cross. Community needs were prioritised through Integrated Vulnerability Capacity Assessment and individual Community Action Plans were developed. We found that low cost and volunteer run activities are key to the success of the project. Capacity building of volunteers and branch staff, with team members advising they can now implement further project activities at a local level.

In Tonga we worked with the local Red Cross on the Disaster Management Project. The end of project evaluation found that progress had been made towards the goal “to reduce impact of emergencies on communities in Tonga”.

When Cyclone Gita hit Tonga, Red Cross was successfully able to make assessments and distribute supplies within days. Having prepositioned stocks, effective communication lines and trained staff who were following standard operating procedure was key to this success. 

The project in Tonga saw an improvement in awareness of how to prepare and respond to emergencies in at least 20 of the country’s 155 communities, with community emergency management committees set up. However, improved awareness did not lead to enough action being taken at a household level to be prepared.

When the volcano erupted, mud came down the mountain. My mum took hold of my arm and we ran. Follow [the dog] ran with us.
— Deejay, survivor of the Ambae volcano eruption in Vanuatu

Deejay and his family barely escaped with their lives when a volcano-triggered mudslide buried their village in Vanuatu. Now they’re starting life over with some practical help from Vanuatu Red Cross. Photo: Australian Red Cross/Dilini Perera