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, reduce suffering and maintain human dignity during humanitarian crises. It is governed by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Situations requiring humanitarian assistance are frequently complex emergencies, in which disaster, conflict and displacement occur simultaneously. Such complex emergencies have profound effects on the health of affected populations. This unit will enable students to gain an understanding of humanitarian principles and theory, as well as an appreciation of the history of humanitarianism, the role of key actors (including Australia) in global humanitarianism and evaluation and monitoring. Students will build their understanding of the global infrastructure for humanitarian assistance, such as international relief systems, and the application of international humanitarian law, ethics and human rights in humanitarian settings. Students will explore the health-related dimensions of humanitarian assistance, with an emphasis on acute health risks during humanitarian emergencies. Students will conclude the unit by exploring other critical issues including conducting research in humanitarian settings, the importance of local collaboration, the politics of humanitarian assistance, the chronic nature of humanitarian crises as well as humanitarian assistance and sustainable development. 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 humanitarian principles, theory, definitions and law, as well as the history of humanitarianism (GA1, GA2, GA3, GA5)

LO2 - Compare and contrast health-related issues encountered in humanitarian assistance efforts (GA1, GA2, GA5)

LO3 - Evaluate the roles and responsibilities of various actors within the international humanitarian relief system (GA4, GA5, GA8)

LO4 - Critique current issues and debates in humanitarian assistance, particularly as they relate to health and humanitarian assistance in different contexts (GA4, GA6, GA8)

LO5 - Integrate public health methods and approaches with humanitarian crisis interventions, with an emphasis on supporting attainment of humanitarian objectives (GA1, GA2, GA5, GA6)

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

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

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 general principles, theory, definitions
  • Typology
  • History
  • Evaluation and monitoring
  • Role of keys actors in global humanitarianism
  • Australia’s role


Legal frameworks for humanitarian assistance

  • International law, treaties/conventions, customary law, domestic law
  • Refugee law, human rights law, special protections, migration law
  • Challenges in applying international law
  • Ethics


Complex emergencies

  • Characteristics
  • Frameworks
  • Research evidence
  • Importance of local collaboration
  • Health consequences
  • Post-crisis vulnerability



  • The politics of humanitarian assistance 
  • Public trust in humanitarian organisations
  • Chronic humanitarian crises
  • Humanitarian assistance and sustainable development

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale


In multi-mode, this unit is delivered primarily via synchronous face-to-face sessions supported by online learning activities using the LMS. It comprises lectures and tutorials during the semester, using student-centred teaching and an active learning approach, to support students in the exploration of humanitarian assistance and health. Lectures are used to teach essential theory and concepts. This learning is then reinforced through facilitated tutorial activities involving reading, writing, discussion, and problem solving, which provides students with the opportunity to apply lecture content to public health contexts/scenarios and progressively develop their ability to apply the principles of humanitarian assistance to health.

Online mode

In online mode, students acquire essential theoretical knowledge in humanitarian assistance via a series of asynchronous online lessons which include recorded lecture content, online readings, online discussion forums and self-directed learning modules. Students are given the opportunity to attend facilitated synchronous online tutorial classes (virtual classroom via on online platform) to participate in the construction and synthesis of this knowledge with other students to develop higher level skills of analysis and application of law/policy in public health practice. The learning and teaching strategies of this unit are designed to allow students to meet the aims and learning outcomes of the unit, and graduate attributes of the University. Students will be expected to take responsibility for their learning and to engage actively with unit content and learning activities.

Assessment strategy and rationale

Please note: assessment will be equitable for students undertaking either multi-mode or online mode. A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. In order to successfully complete this unit, students need to submit three graded assessment tasks and obtain an aggregate mark of at least 50%.

Assessment task 1 is a written task designed to enable students to acquire advanced knowledge of humanitarian principles, theory, definitions and law.

Assessment task 2 is a written task in which students critically analyse the roles of actors, and the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies.

Assessment task 3 is a written task to deepen students' knowledge by critically analysing an evaluation of a humanitarian response.

All assessment tasks will be submitted electronically.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment 1: Written task.

This enables students to acquire advanced knowledge of humanitarian principles, theory, definitions and law.


LO1, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8

Assessment 2: Written task.

This enables students to critically analyse the roles of actors, and the challenges of providing humanitarian assistance in complex emergencies.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA8

Assessment 3: Written task.

This enables students to assimilate knowledge and deepen their understanding by writing a critical analysis of an evaluation of a humanitarian response.


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4, LO5

GA1, GA2, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8

Representative texts and references

ALNAP. (2016). Evaluation of Humanitarian Action Guide. Retrieved from

Barbelet V. (2018). As local as possible, as international as necessary - Understanding capacity and complementarity in humanitarian action HPG Working Paper Retrieved from

Clarinval C, & Biller-Andorno N. (2014). Challenging Operations: An Ethical Framework to Assist Humanitarian Aid Workers in their Decision-making Processes. PLOS Currents Disasters. Jun 23. Edition 1. Retrieved from

Fouad FM, Sparrow A, Tarakji A, Alameddine M, El-Jardali F, Coutts AP, El Arnaout N, Karroum LB, Jawad M, Roborgh S, Abbara A, Alhalabi F, AlMasri I, & Jabbour S. (2017). Health workers and the weaponisation of health care in Syria: a preliminary inquiry for The Lancet–American University of Beirut Commission on Syria. The Lancet, 390(10111), 2516-2526. Retrieved from

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

Spiegel PB. (2017). The humanitarian system is not just broke, but broken: recommendations for future humanitarian action. The Lancet, S0140-6736(17), 31278-31273.

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

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