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This subject explores emergency relief in crisis situations, including both ‘natural’ disasters and armed conflict (or combinations thereof). We will discuss the causes and dynamics of different kinds of disasters, including droughts, earthquakes, floods, cyclones. Central to such disasters is the question of vulnerability and resilience: contrary to what international media images tend to suggest, the first response to disaster is always local, and the resilience of the people affected is determining for longer-term outcomes. But international responses can of course play a major role. The main emphasis in this subject lies with humanitarian aid, but understanding such crisis relief aid requires us to also think about other interventions that take place before, after or in parallel. Alongside the prevalent principles, policies, and guidelines, we will explore the everyday life of humanitarian work. We will explore the challenges and dilemmas of humanitarian aid: how it gets entangled with local political economies; how it gets embroiled in dynamics of conflict; how it can in fact become part of the problem. The unintended effects of aid can be as significant as the intended ones. These discussions then culminate into a simulation exercise premised on the post-Cyclone Nargis response in Myanmar – a country which was at the time facing a complex humanitarian emergency resulting from decades of armed conflict and oppressive military rule. In the final session, we will zoom out again. Once we step away from the crisis mode that tends to characterise emergency response, it becomes obvious that disasters are not at all exceptional: the occur all over the place and they often recur. They are a normal part of human life and with the impact of development and climate change, human exposure to disasters is only increasing. Instead of trying to tame nature, shouldn't we be thinking about "living with risk" and if so, how can that be done?
Intended learning outcomes
This subject provides a specialized contribution to the first mentioned learning objective of the Development Studies Degree, namely to understand current practice and thinking about development.
More specifically, the learning objectives of this subject are as follows. On successful completion of this subject, students should:
- be able to understand the policy trends and debates in the humanitarian sector;
- have a concrete sense of what crises situations may look like in practice;
- understand causes of contemporary emergencies and the need to understand these against more a structural background of resilience and vulnerability;
- be able to engage with contemporary critiques of humanitarian practice and underlying questions of evidence; and
- be able to take well-argued position in these debates in verbal discussions and an authoritatively written essay.
On completion of this subject students should have:
- the ability to analyze crises situations, their causes and dynamics and think through possible interventions;
- the ability to shift perspective between academic and policy perspectives and to treat the knowledge, language and workings of both realms at their own merit, and identify tensions and connections between them; and
- the ability to construct coherent and convincing arguments about development interventions.
Last updated: 5 July 2021