Introduction

From the Syrian refugee crisis to the West Africa Ebola outbreak, humanitarian emergencies have reached unprecedented dimensions and proportions. As need for humanitarian aid grows, how can efforts to alleviate human suffering evolve with it?

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This course from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and HarvardX seeks to prepare learners to recognize and analyze emerging challenges in the humanitarian field. The course explores the ethical and professional principles that guide humanitarian response to conflict and disaster. Participants will learn the legal and historical frameworks that shaped these principles, test their applicability to the challenges faced by humanitarian actors today.

Through four case studies covering the responses to crises in Goma (Zaire), Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Pakistan, participants will engage with Harvard faculty, current practitioners, and one another. These cases introduce major trends affecting the current landscape of humanitarian response – including rapid population displacement, violence against aid workers, and civil-military engagement. Thoughtfully engaging with this course will prepare participants to be informed and aware humanitarian practitioners, scholars, policy-makers, and global citizens.

What you'll learn:

  • Legal and historical frameworks shaping the professionalization of the humanitarian field
  • An applied understanding of the principles guiding humanitarian response and the tensions that arise when operationalizing these principles in modern crises
  • How to recognize and adapt to major trends affecting the scope and implementation of humanitarian work

Meet The Author

Jennifer Leaning

Jennifer Leaning

Director, François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University

Jennifer Leaning teaches courses at Harvard on humanitarian response to war and disaster, human rights in peace and war, and environment and forced migration in the context of climate change.

From 2005-2009, Dr. Leaning founded and co-directed the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. As Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, she is a faculty member in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Her research, writing, and policy interests focus on issues of public health and international law in response to war and disaster, early warning for mass atrocities, and problems of human security in the context of forced migration and conflict. Dr. Leaning has field experience in assessment of issues of public health, human rights, and international humanitarian law in a range of crisis situations (including Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Kosovo, the Middle East, Pakistan, former Soviet Union, Somalia, the Chad-Darfur border, and the African Great Lakes area). She has published widely on these topics and submitted reports and policy briefings to US and UN agencies, the International Criminal Court, and major NGOs.

She has served on the boards of Physicians for Human Rights, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Oxfam America and currently is a member of the Global Health Advisory Committee for the Open Society Foundations, the Steering Committee of the Global Action Against Mass Atrocity Crimes, the Board of Directors of the Humane Society of the United States and the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of the Massachusetts Region. She was editor of the international journal, Medicine and Global Survival, from 1994-2001, and serves on several journal editorial boards as well as the Board of Syndics at Harvard University Press.

Michael VanRooyen

Michael VanRooyen

Director, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative; Professor, Harvard Medical School; Professor, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University

Michael VanRooyen is the Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) at Harvard University and the Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Dr. VanRooyen has worked as an emergency physician with numerous relief organizations in over thirty countries affected by war and disaster, including Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Iraq, North Korea, Darfur-Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has worked in the field as a relief expert with several non-governmental organizations, and has been a policy advisor to several UN organizations and is a member of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Health Cluster. He also serves on the Board of Overseers for the International Rescue Committee. He has testified before Congress and at numerous UN briefings on policy issues related to Iraq, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and served on a National Academies/GAO review of mortality in Darfur.

Domestically, Dr. VanRooyen worked with the American Red Cross to provide relief assistance at the site of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th, 2001. He also helped to coordinate the American Red Cross public health response to Hurricane Katrina, and has worked as a physician with the US Secret Service, NASA and with the US Public Health Service with the Navajo and Apache tribes in Arizona and New Mexico, respectively.

Dr. VanRooyen is a Professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, where he teaches courses on humanitarian operations in war and disaster. In 2012, he founded the Humanitarian Academy at Harvard, an educational program to advance humanitarian professionalism.

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