Comment: Australia is leading humanitarian reform with disaster relief

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop surveys the damage caused by Cyclone Winston at the Penang Sangam primary school in the Fijian village of Rakiraki on March 14. Source: AAP

We need to rethink how we best support disaster-prone nations, especially in resilience and risk mitigation investments, writes Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

It is estimated that a staggering 60 million people have been forced from their homes due to war and natural disasters around the globe – the highest number since records began, far outstripping those displaced during WWII.

Increasing amounts of funding are being poured into humanitarian responses each year, yet the unmet need of affected people continues to grow. The international community must find ways to prepare for and manage multiple humanitarian crises more effectively. 

This is why UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called for a World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), to take place in Istanbul this May. It is an unprecedented opportunity for nations, humanitarian agencies, civil society, the private sector and affected communities to come together to find ways to improve how to resource and deliver life-saving assistance and relief to those in need.

As one of the leading providers of humanitarian assistance in the world’s most disaster prone region – the Asia Pacific – Australia is well placed to champion much-needed reform in how we prepare for, respond to and recover from natural disasters.

Two of the largest cyclones in recorded history tore through our region in the past year. Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston wrought a path of destruction across Fiji, leaving 40 per cent of the population needing some form of assistance.


What we learnt from these events is that the targeted investment in preparedness can greatly reduce the impact on communities. It was evident that investment in effective early warning systems meant the death and injury toll, despite the devastation, was below that experienced in previous events.

Fiji’s response to Cyclone Winston demonstrated that a capable national government and institutions, supported by regional partners, is able to effectively manage and respond to large disasters.

By supporting investments in local preparedness and disaster risk reduction activities, nations can receive returns many times that investment – in the reduced number of lives lost and less damage to a nation’s economic infrastructure.

At the WHS, Australia will propose a Pacific commitment of governments, civil society and business that defines how we will work together to better plan for, respond to and mitigate the impact of disasters.

Australia will urge other major donors and humanitarian agencies to rethink how they can best support disaster-prone nations, especially in resilience and risk mitigation investments.

We are delivering practical initiatives to foster innovation and harness the capability of the private sector to find new ways to strengthen communities and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian responses.


Recently I announced the winners of our Pacific Humanitarian Innovation Challenge – to identify innovative ideas that will better assist Pacific communities cope with natural disasters. One exciting new idea is a low-cost Australian designed and built unmanned aerial system to help responders gather data to provide targeted emergency relief.

Women often best understand the needs of their communities, and reform must place women at the centre of humanitarian responses.

The Australian Government is developing new civil society partnership arrangements that increase our ability to deliver effective capacity building to local organisations in the Pacific.

Success at the WHS in Istanbul will have many guises – for disaster prone developing nations, it must include an explicit recognition that the global humanitarian system and its agencies, exist to support nations and their citizens to determine their own fate. 

This means sufficient effective investment in capacity building of local institutions and risk mitigation measures to ensure these nations can remain in control of their futures, no matter what disaster may befall them.

Julie Bishop is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Liberal Leader and Member for Curtin in Western Australia.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch