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Showing the power of humanity in the face of disaster

Jack helped his dad Swampy to apply for Red Cross grants shortly after their home in Cobargo, NSW, burnt down. Swampy and the family are living on their land while they rebuild slowly. Photo: Aysha Leo

On 1 July 2019, Australian Red Cross established the Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund (DRR Fund) with the intent to be there as soon as an emergency strikes to support communities affected.

This summer the bushfire season started early with fires in July 2019 across Queensland and Northern New South Wales. By Christmas every state was affected. This catastrophic season saw bushfires destroy homes, decimate land, threaten lives and livelihoods, devastate local economies, and badly impact communities.

In January, Red Cross management agreed to utilise the DRR Fund solely for this specific disaster. The first bushfire grants were paid on 6 January, and we were soon providing more than a million dollars a day in grants to those impacted.

Finally, the fires ceased in March 2020. By then, more than 3,300 Red Cross emergency response volunteers and staff had supported communities.

The outpouring of support both within Australia and from around the globe was enormous. We are grateful to every single person, community group and company who showed compassion and gave generously.

The DRR Fund was closed to donations on 17 April 2020. The balance of the DRR Fund is being used to support people and communities impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires, with grant applications open until 31 December 2020.

While the road to recovery will be long, we committed to be there to support recovering communities for as long as it takes.

What your support made possible

  • $227M funds raised
  • 49,718 people supported through 37 fires across five states and territories
  • 3,351 volunteers and staff gave 60,257 hours in 176 evacuation, relief and recovery centres
  • 560,000 new donors
  • We registered 64,570 people through the Register.Find.Reunite service
  • We established a recovery footprint in 47 local government areas
  • $200k of interest on funds was earned and added to the funds available

Six months (as at 30 June 2020) into our grants and recovery program $133M had been disbursed or spent including:

  • $118.658M paid in grants to 4,380 people to meet immediate needs, make repairs, cover out-of-pocket funeral or hospital costs, or re-establish a safe place to live
  • $5M for emergency response, including relief centres and evacuations
  • $848k for our 3-year community recovery program
  • $8M on admin support costs (less than 4c per donated dollar)

While the remaining funds had not yet been spent, they have been allocated and will be used to further support bushfire impacted people and communities:

  • $33.867M in grants during July and August
  • $23M for distribution to people as they continue to come forward
  • $21M for emerging and unmet needs over the coming months
  • $17M is powering long-term recovery programs in 47 local government areas with governance, appropriate financial systems and proper controls to enable adequate delivery of funds

Grant applications

Applications for all bushfire financial assistance grants have been extended to 31 December 2020. We continue to encourage people to come forward. On average, it takes 3 to 5 days to process a grant application and make payment, if applicants provide the documentation needed to confirm their eligibility. Read more about what it takes to pay a grant.

Bushfire response admin support costs

These are the necessary costs of managing a fund of this size and distributing money as quickly and efficiently as possible. They include the set-up of a dedicated grant payments team, fraud prevention, data security, and the fundraising systems that made it possible to raise money. They are under 4¢ of each dollar donated to the Disaster Recovery and Relief Fund. We have been able to keep admin support costs low thanks to incredible in-kind support from corporate partners, who helped us set up call centres, detect fraud and so much more.

The triple impact of drought, fire, and pandemic

Even before fires started burning last year, many Australians had endured the devastating impacts of one of the most severe droughts on record. The fires burned from September 2019 to March 2020. On 11 March, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic and the first of many restrictions took effect.  

Suddenly one of the strongest predictors of positive recovery in the aftermath of disaster – social ties and community connections – was out of reach for those who had been impacted by the bushfires. Our teams rapidly adapted our door-to-door and community-based support work to phone and online. But it meant we couldn’t go searching for people in isolated areas as we normally would. We couldn’t get in touch with people who live off the grid. And we didn’t have contact lists for everyone who was affected. So we sought them out in every way we could – with messages on radio, social media, local newspapers. We distributed postcards and tapped into community networks. We ran virtual community forums and webinars. And, as soon as restrictions allowed, our teams were in communities, setting up local recovery events, and talking to people about their challenges and how we can best help.

The road to recovery

Our bushfire recovery program will run for at least three years. Tailored to the needs of each community, it includes psychosocial support to help people through their trauma; together with training, resources and connections to help communities lead their own recovery.

People on the ground

Our staff and volunteers live in affected communities. Some were impacted by the fires themselves. They listen and reach out to their neighbours. Through their conversations, they understand individual pain points and wider community trends, and help resolve or advocate for people’s most pressing needs.

Outreach and 1-1 support

In the early stages of recovery, people often tell us they don’t know where to start. The range of services available to them can be confusing, or overwhelming, or they’re not sure how best to represent themselves and their needs. Our outreach activities have helped more than 5,000 people to access the right support.

Events and community healing

We facilitate and fund local events that allow members of the community to come together to share their experiences and to find strength in solidarity. The power of these local events can’t be understated. For each event, we aim to provide Red Cross representatives, trained in psychosocial first aid, to facilitate an environment where people feel safe to talk and connect with each other.

Community advocacy

We act as a bridge between community, government and service providers, working to influence the availability of information and services to better meet community needs.

Training and skills development

Our aim is to resource each community to lead its own recovery. Since February, we’ve run 33 training sessions with 387 people from local government and communities. Our training modules include Psychological First Aid, Support the Supporter, Recovery Basics, Self-Care and Managing Stress, Communicating in Recovery, and Harnessing Goodwill. We also link people with mentors, psychologists and other experts. We also hosted 10 webinars, with 1,091 people attending.

Disaster Recovery Mentors

We’re supporting local community leaders through our Disaster Recovery Advisors and Mentors Australia program, designed to help communities be agents of their own recovery by drawing on the advice and support of someone who’s been there before. We have 25 mentors available.

The need for change

Red Cross made a voluntary submission to the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements, as well as federal and state/territory reviews, outlining several areas where change is needed to improve outcomes for people affected by disasters. Recommendations include:

  • Acting on climate change
  • Sharing data to make it easier for people to access support
  • Recognising and learning from the voices of First Nations peoples
  • Amplifying the efforts of communities themselves
  • Embedding recovery further into emergency management
  • Developing national standards for emergency response and recovery

Those who endured this bushfire season have shown the power of humanity in the face of disaster. Their courage, fortitude and kindness will never be forgotten. We are proud to stand with them and we will continue to do so.

Read more

Hope from the ashes – hear from people who received grants »

Bushfire report: 3 months on6 months on | 9 months on »

Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund financial statement »