By Peter Walton
Extreme weather events and their catastrophic consequences are happening more often both in Australia and in our region. (ABC Wide Bay: Brad Marsellos)
There may have been division in politics in recent times but there’s one thing that unites us when there’s a crisis: Australians want to dig in and help.
It has been fantastic to see Australians and politicians of all persuasions united to tackle the drought as an urgent priority. It is one of the worst droughts on record.
Yet there have been a few suggesting we should only be helping farmers instead of providing foreign aid. Why should a choice be made between who “should” suffer more?
Posts and memes like these have been shared across Facebook and Twitter over the past few weeks.
Let’s call it straight. We have more than the means to support Australian farmers while investing in the development of neighbouring countries, including in times of tragic disasters.
There are decisions to be made, but targeting some of the most vulnerable does us all an injustice.
We must remember that Australians enjoy one of the highest average incomes of all countries on Earth.
Australia is the only country in the developed world to have enjoyed non-stop economic growth for the past 27 years and this wealth is reflected in the generosity of many Australians.
We like to lend a hand in times of crisis, whether it’s helping our neighbours in Australia or a little further afield in our region.
This generosity is related to the age-old sense of a fair go in a land where bushfires, floods, cyclones and drought happen all too often.
And extreme weather events and their catastrophic consequences are happening more often both in Australia and in our region.
In recent years, some of the world’s biggest ever cyclones have struck our neighbours in Fiji, Vanuatu and the Philippines.
Records keep tumbling on extreme disasters here and abroad.
We need to invest much more in being really well prepared and taking early action.
Available funds need to be used to best effect.
The cost is greater if we don’t support our neighbours
In recent years some big cyclones have struck in places like the Philippines. (AP: Aaron Favila)
Studies show that every dollar spent on reducing risks saves up to $8 in the cost of disaster response.
Yet only $1.50 of every 10 “disaster dollars” worldwide is spent on risk reduction. This is as true in Australia as it is in the rest of the world.
There has been a shift in the right direction in recent years, though we need to invest much more in preventing loss of life in drought, bushfires, floods and other disasters, both here in Australia and across the Asia-Pacific region.
It’s refreshing to see that more Australians donated to charity from March 2017-February 2018 than the previous year, according to this year’s NAB Charitable Giving Index. On average, we donate around $350 each, confirming we are a generous bunch.
While 32 per cent of all public donations went towards international humanitarian aid last year, this has fallen from two out of five (39 per cent) in 2010.
Australia’s overall commitment to foreign aid has also reduced in recent decades and is now at its lowest level since the early 1950s.
Yet, to think that cutting aid actually benefits Australia is short-sighted and misaligned with the interconnected world in which we live, work, and trade.
There is a cost to aid, but there is also a substantial cost if we don’t support our neighbours and those in need.
We have a duty not to turn a blind eye
Australia provides Indonesia with more than $300 million in overseas aid each year, with a focus on improving the economic partnership between the two countries.
The aid helps to tackle inequality, maintain social stability, counter violent extremism and includes technical advice such as on infrastructure and economic development.
The strong relationship with Indonesia reaps big rewards for Australia and for Australian farmers, with agricultural trade alone worth close to $3 billion every year.
More than 560 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured when earthquakes struck Lombok. (Reuters: Antara Foto)
Recently we have seen destructive and tragic earthquakes in Lombok, Indonesia.
More than 560 people lost their lives and thousands more were injured.
The country’s emergency and humanitarian services have been stretched to the limit.
Yet response agencies in Indonesia and other neighbours across our region are better equipped than ever before to prevent death and misery when big disasters strike.
Aid has played a significant role in being better prepared and disaster costs would have been much higher — both monetary and lost lives — if we had not invested wisely.
We have a duty — an ethical responsibility — to not turn a blind eye to suffering wherever it may be found.
We must continue to lend a hand to those doing it tough in Australia and our neighbours overseas.
It makes good sense and provides a positive return for all of us.
Peter Walton is the international director at Australian Red Cross.