This unit explores the history of humanitarian assistance and the role of different actors within the system. The continuum from prevention and risk reduction to humanitarian response and the transition to development is examined in the context of natural disasters, complex emergencies and post-conflict settings. Mechanisms and tools for co-ordination, partnership, accountability and minimum standards in humanitarian response are investigated and critiqued. The potential roles, scope of practice and responsibilities of the government, organizations and civil society, within the international humanitarian system are addressed. The principles and ethics that inform practice in the field underpin the teaching in this unit.

Unit details

Study level:
Credit points:
Unit code:

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to:
  1. Critically review the characteristics of humanitarian assistance endeavours;  
  2. Analyse contemporary challenges in humanitarian response in different contexts and extrapolate solutions to inform future practice;  
  3. Interpret statements of ethics, human rights and codes of conduct in the field of humanitarian response and hypothesise their practical impact;  
  4. Advocate for the use of specific theoretical and practical tools to inform humanitarian assistance; and  
  5. Apply the Disaster Management Cycle to a range of humanitarian assistance scenarios.  


Assessment type Description Grade
Essay Essay on ethics and human rights in humanitarian assistance (3000 words) 40%
Assignment Written assignment on disaster risk management (3000 words) 40%
Other Debate on dilemmas in humanitarian assistance (1000 words) 20%
Total word equivalence of combined assessment tasks is approximately 6000 - 7000 words.

Required reading

Essays in Humanitarian Action
Slim,H. (2012)
Oxford Institute of Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict

Where to next?

As part of a course

This unit is studied as part of the following courses. Refer to the course page for information on how to apply for the course.

VU takes care to ensure the accuracy of this unit information, but reserves the right to change or withdraw courses offered at any time. Please check that unit information is current with the Student Contact Centre.