Cuts to foreign aid could jeopardise disaster preparedness gains since Boxing Day tsunami, Oxfam

Emergencies, General, Humanitarian Advocacy, Media Releases, News article written on the 22 Dec 2014

Disaster risk reduction work carried out since the Boxing Day Tsunami would save thousands of lives if the waves hit again today, but the Australian Government’s cuts to foreign aid pose a risk to future work on disaster preparation in our region.

The tsunami on Boxing Day 10 years ago was unprecedented, hitting 14 countries, killing an estimated 230,000 people and leaving 1.7 million homeless. The disaster taught hard lessons about the need for more effective early warning and evacuation systems, ongoing emergency education and the need for disaster-proof buildings.

Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said Australia had played a strong role in the implementation of disaster risk reduction measures in affected countries, funding NGOs and governments to carry out disaster risk reduction programs. But given the scale of the government’s recently announced $3.7 billion aid cuts, on top of $7.6 billion cut from the aid budget in May, there was a risk that Australia’s significant post-tsunami investment in disaster risk reduction work would be curtailed, she said.

“The Tsunami taught us important lessons about how to be better prepared for natural disasters of this scale, but there is still much work to do, and many governments in developing countries cannot fund these efforts alone,” Dr Szoke said.

“It would be a tragedy to see life-saving disaster risk reduction work side-lined because of the Government’s callous cuts to foreign aid.”

Her comments came after an Oxfam report The Indian Ocean Tsunami, 10 Years On revealed the depth of Australia’s generous spirit in response to the tsunami. The report found Australians had helped make the disaster the highest ever privately funded emergency response in history.

Of the estimated US $13.5 billion raised by the international community, up to 40 per cent was donated by individuals, trusts, foundations and business.

Globally, Oxfam raised US$294 million (AUD$338.14 million) for the tsunami relief effort, with more than 90 per cent from private donors. Australians raised $27 million for Oxfam Australia, or 7 per cent of the funds for Oxfam’s response -– making it the fourth most generous country in terms of fundraising, following the UK (54 per cent), the US (11 per cent) and the Netherlands (10 per cent).

Oxfam was able to respond in seven countries – Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia, making it Oxfam’s biggest emergency response ever. The international agency provided emergency water, food and shelter, and were able to continue to improve affected communities’ livelihoods over a five-year period.

In the first 6 months of the response to the disaster, the Australian public had donated $330 million to Australian NGOs and the Australian Government had given $68 million, and pledged a further $1 billion in grants and concessional loans for long term recovery.

“Australia has historically been an extremely generous country and never more so than in the weeks and months following the widespread destruction of the Boxing Day Tsunami,” Dr Szoke said.

“Then Prime Minister, John Howard said at the time that the response demonstrated that Australia had a “good heart” and would always respond to a deserving cause in a “very generous fashion”.

“But that “good heart” is not beating as strongly within the current government, with cuts to foreign aid threatening to curb our capacity to give humanitarian assistance,” Dr Szoke said.

“The government must reverse its decision to slash a further $3.7 billion from the Australian aid program and enact legislation to protect the aid budget from future cuts to protect this important characteristic of our national psyche.”

For interviews or a copy of the report, please contact Angus Hohenboken on 0428 367 318 or