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Course E101: Human Rights in Humanitarian Action and Disaster Relief (Foundation Course)

3 September-14 October 2014 (E10114) | Register for this course (opens in new window)
Instructor: Gretchen Alther
Course brochure PDF (PDF)

Humanitarian response, guided by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence, seeks to provide life-saving support and timely recovery for those affected by natural and man-made crises. Today, the global humanitarian sector continues to grow alongside the number of disasters and vulnerable people around the world. Humanitarian actors at all levels of response are faced with complex situations that require prompt, principled, and people-centred action. 

This e-learning course introduces staff members of local, national, and international humanitarian organisations, as well as those with a general interest in humanitarian action, to the underlying principles of humanitarianism and the realities and challenges of the sector. The course reviews the structure of the humanitarian system and examines crosscutting themes through which course participants can identify and understand vulnerabilities of people affected by disaster. Participants will learn about many of practical aspects of humanitarian work and the unique conditions of working in humanitarian crises. The course will also review some of the critical and emerging challenges facing the humanitarian sector. Participants completing the course will have gained a basic overview of the global humanitarian sector from a rights-based perspective.

This certificate course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, discussion, webinars, a written assignment and quizzes, and is offered over a six-week period. The course is based on a participatory, active learning approach, with an emphasis on critical reflection and peer-to-peer learning. Participants will complete the required readings, prepare interim and final assignments, and participate in group discussions. Case studies will be used to enable interactive learning and activities. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Participation. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: Humanitarianism: overview of humanitarianism; human rights, legal frameworks, and guiding principles; cycles and characteristics of natural and man-made disasters
Week 2: Humanitarian Action: rights-based approaches to disaster response and recovery; aid coordination and sectored assistance
Week 3: Sectors and Cross-cutting Themes: age, gender, environment, HIV/AIDS, mental health and social wellbeing, persons with disabilities
Week 4: Disaster Risk Reduction: mitigation, preparedness, resilience, and the intersection with "Development"
Week 5: Effective Humanitarian Response: needs assessments; project planning and management; leadership, teamwork, and communications 
Week 6: Humanitarian Challenges: safety and security; accountability and transparency; climate change; urbanization; water scarcity
About the instructor

Gretchen Alther is a development specialist focused on the recovery of marginalised communities after humanitarian crises. She has designed and managed programs to support disaster relief, conflict zone aid, health, and community resilience projects in Myanmar, Pakistan, Nepal, Guatemala, Gaza, Colombia, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the United States. Most recently, Ms. Alther has been a Fellow at the East West Center in Honolulu, where she explored the role of experiential education in developing effective leadership. She currently facilitates sustainability leadership programs around the world. From 2006-2012, Gretchen was Senior Associate for Rights in Humanitarian Crises at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC). Before joining the UUSC she worked for the Centre for Development and Population Activities, including as Acting Country Director in Nepal, and served as an advisor for the American Friends Service Committee's Peace and Economic Security Program. She holds a B.A. in Latin American Studies and Natural Resource Management from Texas A&M University, an MA in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University and a postgraduate certificate from the East-West Center. She is also an instructor for the Gender and Humanitarian Action e-learning course.

Who should apply

The course is intended for staff of inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations, humanitarian practitioners and other professionals who want to gain basic knowledge about human rights in humanitarian response. Participants should have a good written command of English --the working language of the course-- and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants. The maximum number of course participants is 25.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215.

Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal and bank/wire transfer. Bulk rates are available.


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HREA Disaster Relief and Humanitarian Aid Training Programme 2014-2015 acrobat (PDF)

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