Complex Emergencies and Humanitarian Responses

This course provides students with an interdisciplinary introduction to the processes, events and policy debates shaping responses to war-related humanitarian crises, including emergency interventions in situations of ongoing armed conflict, and post-conflict recovery. Using recent case studies, the course gives insights into the complexity of local realities in afflicted regions and the ways in which knowledge of those realities relates to policy making. It also examines the financial and political constraints under which aid agencies, donors and governments operate. In so doing it explores the divergence between the rhetoric and the reality of providing assistance to the world’s populations that are most acutely in need. 


The objectives specifically include: 

  • To describe and evaluate the main theoretical concepts and policies behind humanitarian aid an interventions. 
  • To demonstrate that common concepts about war and emergency are often misleading. 
  • To gain an understanding of the actions of perpetrators and victims. 
  • To use case studies to show how perceptions shape international responses to a conflict and how this influences the conflict. 
  • To understand the role of war economies. 
  • To analyse the difficulties in peace making. 
  • To illustrate how complex emergencies shape development policies. 
  • To do this by looking in depth at the following key themes: violence, international responses, dilemmas in humanitarian intervention and assistance, information policy and media in conflict, post-conflict development and challenges in peace building. 

At the end of the course and having completed the essential reading and activities students should be able to:

  • Demonstrate how responses to complex emergencies have shaped development in post-conflict societies.  
  • Analyse and explain the dynamics and violence of emergencies and their impact on development. 
  • Critically evaluate external factors, know and understand the international mechanics of conflict interventions. 
  • Use a range of case studies in the analysis of conflict intervention. 
  • Assess what role information plays in an emergency. 
  • Discuss general challenges faced in implementing a peace deal.
  • Rieff, David. A Bed for the Night. (London: Simon and Schuster, 2003) first edition [ISBN 9780743252119]. 
  • Keen, David Complex Emergencies. (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007) first edition [ISBN 9780745640198].

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