Australia’s humanitarian support Part I: Australians in Action

On World Humanitarian Day, we pause to consider the millions of civilians around the world whose lives have been caught up in conflict or disasters.  We also pay tribute to the brave humanitarian workers who have risked or lost their lives providing assistance and protection to those in need.

Australia is playing a critical role in helping partners prepare for, respond to and recover from disaster, conflict and instability globally. We are committed to responding to humanitarian crises around the world, including in the Asia-Pacific, one of the world’s most disaster prone regions.

This photo essay has three parts. The first highlights everyday Australians, doing extraordinary things to help those in need around the world. The second focuses on local people, who are often the best placed to help their own communities in times of crises.  The third looks at Australia’s assistance to help some of the more than 68 million people across the world now displaced due to instability and conflict.

All of these images highlight Australia’s efforts to work with and restore hope to the world’s most vulnerable.


These images highlight the work of everyday Australians doing extraordinary things to help those in need around the world. These Australians represent the best of us. They are the most visible aspect of Australia’s humanitarian contribution. Through Australian Government support, Australia deploys health teams, Australia Assists technical specialists, urban search and rescue and Australian Defence Force personnel, and even electrical lines people to help local communities when they need it most.

Produced by DFAT/Linda Roche with additional footage supplied by Essential Energy, Fire and Emergency NZ and Ceriaco De Castro


Tropical Cyclone Gita made landfall in Tonga on 12 February 2018, causing severe damage on the main island of Tongatapu. Over 4,500 people were displaced, with almost 4,000 homes damaged and more than 800 destroyed. Over 80 per cent of homes in Tongatapu were without power. In response to a request from the Tongan government for assistance, the Australian Government partnered with Australian electrical utilities to deploy 20 electrical line technicians to help reconnect power to homes, government services and businesses on Tongatapu. Working with local Tongan technicians, the teams helped restore power to over 90% of affected premises in less than five weeks – less than half the time originally estimated without assistance. In this video, some of the Australian technicians talk about their experiences.

Credit: Australian Federal Police, July 2018
Credit: Australian Federal Police, July 2018
Credit: Michael Costa/DFAT, July 2018


Australia played a key role in supporting Thai authorities during the rescue of the Wild Boars soccer team from the Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai. Dr Richard Harris, Craig Challen and a team of experienced cave divers from the Australian Federal Police and Australian Defence Force joined counterparts from China, the United Kingdom and the United States to free the trapped boys. The rescue operation was a remarkable demonstration of international cooperation. Dr Harris celebrates its success with Mr Challen. The operation was also supported by members of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Crisis Response Team.

Credit: LSIS Jake Badior/Department of Defence, October 2017.


The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Craig Kentwell works alongside Australian Defence Force personnel and a local helper to unload Australian aid supplies in Luganville, Vanuatu. The Australian Government supported the Vanuatu Government with its humanitarian response and recovery efforts following the evacuation of Ambae after a surge in volcanic activity on the island in September 2017.

Humanitarian emergency supplies including tarpaulins, tents, water containers, solar lights and kitchen kits were distributed to approximately 7,000 affected people. The Australian Defence Force plays a pivotal role in humanitarian response efforts in Australia’s near region in the Pacific, providing transport, logistics and personnel. Australia maintains the largest humanitarian supplies warehouse in the southern hemisphere in Brisbane, with the capacity to support 55,000 people.

Credit: Max Greenstein/RedR Australia, February 2018.


Tristan Turner – Australia Assists deployee with the World Food Programme – discusses a new 28 metre low-water bridge over the Bakkhali River in Cox’s Bazar, in South-Eastern Bangladesh. The bridge provides access to closer food distribution points, removing the need for women and children to walk several kilometres with 25 kilogram allocations of rice, lentils and cooking oil.

Tristan worked with host community labourers as well as Rohingya refugees to build the bridge, which has enabled the provision of life-saving assistance to 100,000 people on the other side of the river. Australia has deployed 36 Australia Assists specialists in response to the Rohingya crisis.

Credit: Ana (Longo) Kolokihakaufisi/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, March 2018.


Tropical Cyclone Gita made landfall in Tonga in February 2018, causing severe damage on the main island of Tongatapu. The cyclone destroyed over 800 homes and damaged a further 4,000, causing the evacuation of over 4,500 people and leaving more than 80 per cent of homes without power. Through a new partnership with Australian electrical utilities, Australia sent 20 power line workers to Tonga. These skilled technicians played a critical role in restoring power to more than 90 per cent of affected premises. Without their assistance Tongan authorities estimated a three month timeframe for restoring power nationwide. Working together, Australian and Tongan technicians restored power to communities within five weeks.

Credit: CPL Jesse Kane/Department of Defence, July 2018.


In July 2018, a dam in Attapeu province in the south of Lao PDR collapsed after sustained monsoonal rains. The collapse caused flash flooding affecting 16,000 people, submerging roads, and causing extensive damage to schools, hospitals and agricultural land. Australia was the first to respond to the Lao PDR government’s request for assistance. Three Australian Defence Force C-17 flights were dispatched to Pakse with Australian emergency relief supplies including tents, bed nets, cooking utensils as well as hygiene, dignity and clean birthing kits.

Credit: Michael Costa/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, March 2018.
Credit: Michael Costa/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, March 2018.


In February 2018 a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea’s Highlands Region, impacting approximately 270,000 people. As part of Australia’s post-earthquake assistance, a 15-member Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) was deployed to Mendi Hospital in Southern Highlands Province in March 2018, where they provided treatment to over 1000 patients.

Nurse Kath McDermott holds one of the five babies the AUSMAT team helped deliver during their deployment and AUSMAT clinicians wave goodbye to a mother and child they treated. Patients are transported by an Oil Search helicopter primarily used to deliver emergency relief supplies. AUSMAT consists of multi-disciplinary health teams including doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters and allied health staff such as radiographers and pharmacists. Teams are deployed with the support of the Australian aid program.

Credit: Linda Roche/Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, August 2017.


Search and rescue dogs are efficient at locating victims trapped under rubble and helping rescue teams decide where to focus recovery efforts. If NSW Urban Search and Rescue Taskforce member Ree – pictured with her handler Senior Constable Mark Camilleri at NSW Fire and Rescue’s training facility in Ingleburn – detects a person in the rubble, she alerts her handler with a series of barks, and is rewarded with a play of her favourite chew toy. Australia maintains two Disaster Assistance Response Teams, housed within the NSW and QLD fire services. The NSW team partners with the NSW Police K-9 unit. Both teams undergo UN classification every five years to ensure they adhere to the highest international standards for search and rescue. They are available to deploy internationally at short notice, most recently following the devastating fires in Greece.

Videography credit: Hiba Judeh/RedR Australia. Editing credit: Mike Amos/RedR Australia.


The Australia Assists program is deploying highly trained technical specialists around the world to help countries prepare for and recover from disaster, conflict and instability. In Jordan’s Za’atari refugee camp, Australian deployees are helping to provide essential services, including clean water, power, protection and livelihood support to around 80,000 Syrian refugees, particularly vulnerable women and children. In this video, deployees talk about their experiences and the impact of their roles. UN Representatives provide another perspective, including outlining the valuable contribution made by Australian technical specialists.

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