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Relief in sight? How well prepared is Australia to respond to a crisis in our region?

Dan KellyMr Dan Kelly

Strategic Operations Director - Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs, World Vision International


Biography:

Dan has been engaged in international relief and development for the past 25 years. He currently oversees WVI’s global disaster management strategies and mechanisms, including WVI’s Global Rapid Response Team, the Global Pre-positioning & Resource Network, and the Emergency Preparedness & Response Fund. His role has particular focus on large scale, multi-country humanitarian emergencies. Dan joined World Vision Australia in 1995 as Manager of its Emergency Relief Unit. He then became WV’s East Africa Relief Coordinator, based in Nairobi Kenya, providing disaster management oversight for ten countries in the sub-region.

Dan has a Master of Professional Studies degree in International Agriculture & Rural Development from Cornell University, USA where he focused on the engagement of NGOs in community-based relief and development programs. He also has a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Rural Technology from the University of Queensland in Australia.

Full paper - (80 kb pdf - download Adobe Acrobat)

Humanitarian & Emergency Affairs Report - (398 kb pdf)


Summary:

The Asia Pacific region is one of the most disaster prone areas on our globe, with a wide diversity in the frequency, scale, complexity and scope of humanitarian crises. Whilst disasters such as flooding, hurricanes, civil conflict, earthquakes and tsumani have been a feature of the regional hazardscape in recent decades, a 2004 selective review (1) of global trends, but with relevance to the Asia Pacific region, identified additional factors that will seriously exacerbate community vulnerabilities in the next ten years - environmental factors including global warming, urbanisation, migration and HIV/AIDS. While most disasters in the region are of natural causes, a significant number are also man-made, with this diversity being exacerbated by many risk-prone locations being of high population density.

What should Australia be doing now to ensure adequate and appropriate preparations are made in the face of such a deteriorating hazardscape? To answer such a question, it is instructive to look back at recent experience in a range of humanitarian contexts. Especially since the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, significant work has been done by all sectors of the humanitarian community to improve its ability to prepare for, and respond more effectively to future disasters. The Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) is one example of endeavors to learn from past successes and weaknesses. Many organisations including World Vision (WV) have institutionalised rigous learning processes to identify weaknesses in their capacities and capabilities, as well as emerging better practices. A 2007 WVI publication (2) undertook a comprehensive review of findings and trends arising from almost one decade of humanitarian action by WVI, and subsequently presented 32 recommendations which, when implemented, will significantly enhance the impact of WVI’s humanitarian action. These recommendations clustered around five key themes : protection, participation, partnership, professionalisation and planning.

Therefore, on what do we focus to be better prepared in our region? From a non-government organisation (NGO) perspective, should this be upon enhancing disaster preparedness and response mechanisms, including professionalisation of relief staff, prepositioning relief supplies and equipment, and securing sufficient financial resources to launch credible disaster responses? While such endeavours are important and necessary, experience suggests that of themselves, these will prove to be inadequate. If Australia is to be as effective as it could in the next crisis, more comprehensive engagement will be required of all sections of the humanitarian community.

A growing recognition within the humanitarian community is emerging that much greater analysis and understanding of disaster contexts and their resident communities is needed if disaster management in all its aspects is to have profound and lasting impacts on the resilience of communities to ‘shocks’ that will invariably affect vulnerable communities. Superficial understandings of the complex dynamic in vulnerable communities (social, physical, economic, infrastructure and political) will lead us to engage largely in a service delivery mode, resulting in many of the specific vulnerabilities being unaddressed and perpetuating. Analysis of emerging and existing disaster contexts indicate that application of a “disaster risk reduction” (DRR) frame applied at community and national levels not only lays a more conducive foundation to disaster management, but also results in greater positive impact in communities from a resource allocation perspective as compared to traditional ‘reactive’, event-focused disaster responses. Serious investment in disaster-prone communities in our region, using DDR frames and principles needs to occur if the worst impacts of disasters are to be averted in vulnerable communities.

Another aspect of Australia’s readiness for the next crisis relates to the positioning in and leveraging of the increasingly globalised humanitarian environment by all Australian humanitarian entities. Aid agencies, individually and collectively are under increasing scrutiny to demonstrate performance, timeliness in their actions, quality and impact in their programs, and accountability to both those they are resourced by and those that they seek to assist. Good intentions are no longer good enough! Consequently, an extensive range of initiatives has been launched, especially in the past 5 years, to bring improvement in the outcomes of humanitarian action by all sections of the humanitarian community – government, UN community, NGOs and multilaterals, as well as academia and the corporate sector – to bring about greater cohesion of action, professionalisation of staff, strategic analysis and coverage of gaps in humanitarian response mechanisms, cross-sector partnerships, industry protocols and standards in many aspects of humanitarian endeavor, including accountability to beneficiaries, principles of good donorship, minimum standards in technical sectors, principles of partnership, protocols to promote transparency, and others. While many NGOs are finding the diverse regime of these initiatives to be almost overwhelming in their call for change and resources, most recognise the value and importance of these initiatives to their future effectiveness and relevance.

With projected hazardscapes in the region on a deteriorating trajectory, a reluctance by the humanitarian community in Australia to “think globally and act locally” will not only find Australia wanting in its efforts to be ready for the next crisis in the region, but will also deny itself and the region the opportunity of leveraging global resources and strategies that will make the difference between high quality, high impact and timely responses, and those that are medicore. In this globalised context then, Australia must find its place at the table in relevant and value-adding roles. Australia has demonstrated comparative advantages that can be brought to bear in even greater measure to achieve this. Proximity to the region, a tradition of assisting those that are affected by calamity, a nation known for its generosity, a cadre of highly skilled professionals, a strong economy with the capacity to give in even greater measure, an established position on the world stage (politically and economically) and a “can do” attitude. All of these position Australia well to leverage and mobilise resources, capacity and determination to ensure that its humanitarian community, along with its regional neighbours, are ready for the next crisis.

1: Ambiguity & Change : Humanitarian NGOs Prepare for the Future. August 2004. Peter Walker and Larry Minear, Tufts University, USA.
2: Poised for a Breakthrough?: A review of significant findings and trends in humanitarian action. April 2007. H-Learn, Humanitarian & Emergency affairs, World Vision International.


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