MSc International Disaster Management / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Emergency Humanitarian Assistance (blended)

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI71060
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Full year
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Emergency Humanitarian Assistance is a complex and fascinating area, constantly evolving and challenged in different ways with each location and crisis. With a multitude of factors impacting upon the size, scale and form of the response, we will explore the core elements of a response and consider how to manage some of the challenges.

Drawing on contributions from experts in the field, both academic and practitioner, this unit will delve into the operational practicalities of providing humanitarian assistance, and consider some of the political, cultural, economic, social and ethical challenges which exist and need to be navigated.


Upon completion of the subject, students will:

  • Have critical insight into the diversity of political, economic, social and health factors that can influence the provision of emergency assistance
  • Develop a holistic understanding of complex range of issues that require assistance in an emergency response
  • Understand the possibilities and limitations of providing emergency humanitarian assistance
  • Be able to critically analyse approaches to the provision of emergency humanitarian assistance


Indicative syllabus:

Week 1: Disaster Cycles and Needs Assessment

Week 2: Coordination systems & Financing a response 

Week 3: Security and logistics

Week 4: Food & Nutrition / WASH

Week 5: Health care systems and Outbreak management

Week 6: Ethics and Scaling a response

Week 7: Care needs for Women and Children

Week 8: Mental Health and Psychological First Aid

Teaching and learning methods

Online pre-recorded lectures and discussion board activities provide students with current information on emergency humanitarian assistance and stimulate and challenge them to consider their personal perspectives and read further about the practicalities of delivering assistance in a crisis.

Lectures are offered as multimedia presentations to widen perspectives and to stimulate thinking. A range of audio-visual material, including videos and podcasts, are used to facilitate and stimulate interaction between the presented material and with each other to explore their personal experiences and opinions. By being asynchronous, students are able to study at their own pace to maximise learning. 

The Online discussion board provides a platform for students to work together to achieve the learning outcomes through reflection, knowledge exchange and experience-sharing among peers. Students are expected to contribute to the discussion forums by responding to questions, providing new information, describing relevant experience or sharing opinions about the topic, and discussing the topic with the support of literature. Students are encouraged to challenge each other in a constructive way, so as to promote intellectual stimulation. 

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Increase understanding and broaden knowledge on the humanitarian space, particularly regarding the environmental, political, logistical, cultural, security, human, economic and health challenges

2. Define the roles and understand the dynamics and need for integration of the multiple agencies and organisations involved in emergency humanitarian response.

3. Recognise the challenges in decision making surrounding low resource settings.

4. Demonstrate broad understanding of the impact of water and sanitation requirements in humanitarian emergencies

5. Increase awareness of the psychological and social consequences of humanitarian emergencies

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Adjust and critically reflect on decision making processes according to context (low resource, political instability)

2. Improve application of ethical thinking and decision making

3. Evaluate evidence from the humanitarian space

4. Synthesise and apply flows of information from multiple sources

Practical skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Improve ability to work cohesively as a team across professions and cultures

2. Undertake extensive self-directed learning and group tasks to achieve shared outcome

3. Improve communication and diplomacy skills across multiple languages and cultures

4. Deploy teamwork skills to achieve timely outcomes in challenging environments

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

1. Undertake time efficient self-directed learning and group tasks and organise multi-professional and cultural teams of individuals

2. Problem solve in complex contexts

3. Demonstrate leadership and management skills

4. Demonstrate skills in negotiating in challenging situation

Recommended reading

Bollettino, V. (2008). ‘Understanding the security management practices of humanitarian organizations’ Disasters, 32 (2), pp. 263-279.

Bradt, D. A. & Drummond, C. M. (2002). ‘Rapid epidemiological assessment of health status in displaced populations—an evolution toward standardized minimum essential data sets’ Prehospital and disaster medicine, 17 (4), pp. 178-185.

Buchanan-Smith, M. & Scriven, K. (2011). Leadership in action: Leading effectively in humanitarian operations. Available at:

Hick, J. L., et al. (2014). ‘Surge capacity principles: Care of the critically ill and injured during pandemics and disasters: Chest consensus statement’ Chest, 146 (4), pp. e1S-e16S.

Mollica, R. F., et al. (2004). ‘Mental health in complex emergencies’ The Lancet, 364 (9450), pp. 2058-2067.

Nolz, P. C., Doerner, K. F. & Hartl, R. F. (2010). ‘Water distribution in disaster relief’ International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, 40 (8/9), pp. 693-708.

Nour, N. N. (2011). ‘Maternal health considerations during disaster relief’ Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology, 4 (1), p. 22.

SPHERE_Project (2018). Sphere handbook. Available at:

UNHCR (1997). Wfp/unhcr guidelines for estimating: Food and nutritional needs in emergencies. Available at:


Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 131

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Darren Walter Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Please note that these units are intensive 8-week short courses, predominately independent-study, with no face-to-face learning

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