The Australian Defence Force has a long and proud history of delivering Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) on behalf of the Nation.  Australia’s regional and global contributions have saved many lives and alleviated much human suffering. The Indo-Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone areas of the world. Climate change, rising populations, growing urbanisation and refugee flows will increase the severity and frequency of natural disasters and the continuing requirement to provide humanitarian support to at risk populations.

Regional Support

The recently announced strategic objectives for the ADF are to shape, deter and respond.  HADR plays an important role in shaping our region where Australia’s prompt and generous support has helped build trust and cement constructive relationships with our neighbours, friends and allies.  Two examples are the earthquakes and tsunamis off Vanimo in Papua New Guinea in 1998 and Banda Aceh in Indonesia in 2004.  The ADF was able to react quickly and provide extended large-scale support, which was greatly appreciated and in the case of Indonesia, so soon after East Timor, helped reshape the relationship.

The need for HADR has steadily increased.  Last year (2020), two Category five cyclones impacted the region. Cyclone Harold in April caused extensive damage in the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, and Tonga. Australia gave considerable aid in response, although the involvement of the ADF was unusually constrained due to worries over spreading COVID-19. In December 2020, Cyclone Yasa impacted Fiji, causing further significant damage. The ADF responded with initial relief packages delivered by C-17 aircraft followed by a deployment of 700 personnel, an amphibious ship and some helicopters for almost a month.

Overlapping Disasters

As well as demand for HADR into the region and beyond, there is an increasing demand and expectation that the ADF will provide aid to the civil power within Australia.  In recent years the ADF has routinely provided support in time of floods, bushfires, pandemics and cyclones.  It is notable that in this era of overlapping disasters that in the week the ADF deployment to Fiji returned, some 700-800 ADF personnel, several helicopters and an uncrewed air vehicle system had been deployed to undertake flood relief in New South Wales. At the same time, some 1000 ADF personnel were also deployed around Australia supporting Operation COVID-19 Assist. Simultaneously, C-17 and C-130J aircraft were delivering COVID vaccines, syringes, medical supplies and medical storage refrigerators to PNG.

Please click here to read the full “A balancing act: Humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and the ADF” article published in WA Defence Review Annual Publication 2021-2022 (pp 32-33), written by Griffith Asia Institute Visiting Fellow, Dr Peter Layton and Professor Peter Leahy AC, Director, National Security Institute, University of Canberra.