Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Unit rationale, description and aim

Humanitarian assistance is intended to 'save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during and after man-made crises and disasters caused by natural hazards, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for when such situations occur'. It is governed by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. In 2016, it was estimated that over 164 million people living in 47 countries were in need of humanitarian assistance. Over a quarter of these people were in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Situations requiring humanitarian assistance are frequently complex emergencies, in which disaster, conflict and refugee displacement occur simultaneously. Such complex emergencies have profound effects of health. This unit will enable students to gain an understanding of humanitarian principles, theory and definitions, as well as an appreciation of the history of humanitarianism and significant events that have shaped modern humanitarian effort. Student will build their understanding of the global infrastructure for humanitarian assistance, such as international relief systems, roles and responsibilities of relevant actors (government and non-government) and the principles of international humanitarian law. Students will explore the health-related dimensions of humanitarian assistance, with emphasis on prevention and management of acute health risks during a humanitarian emergency. Students will conclude the unit by exploring other critical issues of humanitarian assistance, including relief operations, planning and needs assessment, disaster resilience and risk reduction, security issues, the humanitarian workforce, relationship to long-term development and emergent humanitarian needs. The aim of the unit is to give students a deep understanding of the continuing relevance of humanitarian assistance to public health.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Demonstrate advanced knowledge of keyhumanitarian principles, theory, definitions and law (GA 1, 2, 3, 5)  

LO2 - Critically describehealth-related problems encountered in humanitarian assistance efforts (GA 1, 2, 5)  

LO3 - Analyse the roles and responsibilities of various actors within the international humanitarian relief system (GA 4, 5, 8)  

LO4 - Critique current issues and debates in humanitarian assistance, particularly as they relate to health and humanitarian assistance in different contexts (GA 4, 6, 8)  

LO5 - Integrate public health methods and approaches with humanitarian crisis interventions, with an emphasis on supporting attainment of humanitarian objectives (GA 1, 2, 5, 6) 

LO6 - Critically reflect on learnings about humanitarian assistance and health and identify opportunities for applying this in current practice (GA: 4, 8) 

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 


Humanitarianism and humanitarian assistance  

  • Humanitarian principles, theory, definitions and context  
  • History of humanitarianism: significant events in the evolution of modern humanitarian assistance  
  • Global humanitarian relief system; roles/responsibilities of key actors  
  • Forms of humanitarian assistance: aid types, logistic and other support, security/military intervention  


Legal frameworks for humanitarian assistance  

  • Key international legal frameworks relevant to humanitarian action  
  • Underpinning concepts: international law and treaties/conventions, customary law, obligations, incorporation into Australian domestic law  
  • Associated legal frameworks, processes and situations: refugee law, human rights law, special protections and roles (e.g. peace-keeping), domestic migration law  


Assistance and relief operations  

  • Types, phases and contexts of humanitarian crises and responses  
  • Relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction: overview of humanitarian crisis principles  
  • Risk identification and needs assessment: use of evidence and field data to inform responses based on multiple factors (e.g. political, cultural, social, demographic, logistic, geographic, security)  
  • Management and logistics of responses/interventions: collaboration, community aspects and recipient viewpoints and preferences  
  • Program management in the humanitarian assistance context: special considerations  
  • Health issues in humanitarian crises: types of hazards to health and their effects (e.g. natural, biological, technological, societal); disruption to health systems and services; health impacts of disruption to critical infrastructure (e.g. water); post-crisis exposure or vulnerability (e.g. infestation, population displacement)  
  • Disaster resilience and risk reduction: long-term strategies for prevention of crises or reduction of risk 


Current issues in humanitarian assistance  

  • Humanitarianism as a profession: workforce issues, personal risk, safety and security issues for humanitarian workers; resilience and stress/trauma management for humanitarian workers  
  • Confidence in humanitarian organisations: neutrality and impartiality; probity, fraud and disclosure; the humanitarian “industry” and costs of generating donation income  
  • Emergent issues: slow-motion humanitarian crises (e.g. climate change and population displacement)  
  • Politics of humanitarian assistance: national contributions to “foreign aid”, humanitarian aid as foreign policy, recipient “dependency” on humanitarian assistance  
  • Humanitarian assistance and sustainable development: long-term approaches to reduce need for humanitarian assistance, or to meet ongoing need after a crisis (e.g. damage mitigation)  

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

PUBH641 is offered in either mixed mode or online. In mixed mode, activities will involve face-to-face sessions on campus (e.g. lectures, seminars) employing a range of teaching and learning strategies and supplemented with online content (e.g. readings) via the ACU Learning Environment Online (LEO). In online mode, unit materials will be made available via LEO (e.g. recorded on-campus lecture content) with other content such as readings, discussion forums and self-directed learning modules. Students studying this unit in online mode will also participate in virtual classroom sessions similar to those delivered on campus  

Assessment strategy and rationale

A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. For PUBH641, assessments will consider both theoretical and practical aspects relating humanitarian assistance and health at local and global levels.  

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment 1  

Short answer written task which will enable students to acquire advanced knowledge of humanitarian principles, evaluate the roles of actors, and critique current controversies of humanitarian assistance 


LO 1, LO2, LO3,   

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8  

Assessment 2  

Written task which will enable students to assimilate knowledge and deepen their understanding by writing a critical analysis of an evaluation of a humanitarian response.   


LO 1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5  

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8  

Assessment 3  

Learning reflection 

Written task will enable students to apply their knowledge by writing personal reflections of new concepts learned  


LO4, LO6  

GA4, GA6, GA8  

Representative texts and references

Barnett M & Weiss T (2008) (2nd edition). Humanitarianism in question: Power, politics and ethics. New York, Cornell: University Press.  


Kennedy, D. (2004) The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press  


Munslow, B., & O'Dempsey, T. (2010). From War on Terror to War on Weather? Rethinking humanitarianism in a new era of chronic emergencies. Third World Quarterly, 31:8, 1223-1235, Retrieved from 


Munslow, B., & O'Dempsey, T. (2010) Globalisation and Climate Change in Asia: the urban  

health impact, Third World Quarterly, 31:8, 1339-1356, Retrieved from  



O'Keefe, M. (2010) Chronic Crises in the Arc of Insecurity: a case study of Karamoja, Third World Quarterly, 31:8, 1271-1295, DOI: 10.1080/01436597.2010.542968  


Pacific Humanitarian Team (2013) Emergency Preparedness & Response Plan (EPREP): A guide to inter-agency humanitarian action in the Pacific. OCHA Regional Office for the Pacific. Retrieved from  



World Health Organisation (WHO).(2008) Managing WHO Humanitarian Response in the Field. Retrieved from 

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