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Brett Mason

Autralia’s humanitarian aid to the Philippines


Brett Mason
Brett Mason

By Senator Brett Mason, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Australia has a long and proud tradition of providing international humanitarian assistance.  No matter what Australians think about foreign aid – I know some think that we spend too much, while others think we spend too little – there is one thing everyone agrees on: as a nation we have an obligation and a duty to help others when disasters strike.  We do it willingly, speedily and effectively – and our efforts are always highly regarded and appreciated by those whom we help.

Most recently, this was on show when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines on 8 November 2013.  It was reported as the most powerful typhoon to have made landfall in history.  In some coastal areas its impact was compared to that of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

We now know that more than 12 million people were affected, of whom, nearly 6,000 people were killed and more than 4 million people were displaced – only 2 per cent of them able to be accommodated in evacuation centres.  The economic damage was estimated at approximately US$ 13 billion

As always, the Australian Government responded quickly after the event.

What helped immensely, was the fact that for us the Philippines was not a blank slate; we have spent years supporting and preparing our Philippines friends for disasters such as Haiyan.  Just over the last three years, Australia spent almost $400 million, including on local disaster risk management and disaster preparedness.  We have also supported the Philippines in a number of disasters in the previous 24 months.

This meant that we already had in place, on the ground, arrangements and stores of emergency provisions.  We had two Australian Government disaster experts in Manila, and together with the Philippines Government and our NGO partners we have been monitoring the storm and the need for assistance.

When Haiyan made the landfall, we were ready to respond.

Immediately, the Foreign Minister, my colleague Ms Julie Bishop, released $390,500 of pre-positioned stores through the Philippines Red Cross and United Nations Population Fund.

This was followed by two subsequent commitments of $10million and $30million to respond to the crisis.

Australia’s total contribution to the international response to this calamity was more than $40 million, the fourth highest bilateral donor after the UK, US and Japan. This support included deploying:  1)   emergency response experts including two 37-personnel Australian Medical Assistance Teams· 2)    Australian Defence Force aircraft, ships and personnel to provide relief assistance 3)        emergency relief items, and 4)    funding to UN humanitarian agencies.

It also included $5 million in funding for Australian Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), who are key partners in our international humanitarian efforts. I commend them –you – for your ongoing commitment and contribution.

We know that NGOs are well placed to provide support during disaster responses – you maintain strong on-the-ground presence, you work in local communities, and you have excellent local knowledge.

In the Philippines, it wasn’t any different.  You and your local Philippines counterparts provided vital life-saving assistance – including early medical help and shelter – and for that you have our sincere thanks.

As Minister Bishop emphasised in her speech to ACFID Council last year, this government will support the strongest possible performers, both in Australia and internationally, to make sure our aid is delivered efficiently and effectively.

Today we are here to talk about the timely and effective response to the devastating disaster, to consider the impact to the Philippines, and to understand the next steps in the recovery effort.

The human cost of natural disasters can be quite devastating.  So can the economic cost, both immediately and in longer term, since it seriously undermine and even reverse hard won development gains.

We cannot stop disasters from happening, but when they do happen, through our humanitarian assistance, we can offer a salve to suffering.

We can also continue to prepare communities and build their resilience, so that when the next disaster strikes, they are better able to cope, survive and rebuild.

We can also continue to promote greater stability through economic growth and regional integration, which helps communities to better mitigate and respond to disasters.

As a government, and as a nation, we remains deeply committed to our humanitarian responsibilities.