Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Human Security and Humanitarian Response:Increasing Effectiveness and Accountability (DEVL 1802S)

Lead Instructor: Adam C. Levine, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine

Faculty Lecturers: Robert Blair, David Bouslough, Selim Suner, Nina Tannenwald, David Pollaty, Pooja Agrawal, Jennifer Coates, Jamie Rowen, Sarah Tobin

Location: Wilson Hall 305   Time: Thursdays 4:00pm-6:30pm


Both “natural” disasters and political unrest pose significant threats to human security. Separately or in tandem, they turn citizens into refugees and displaced people, stretch government capacity, and, increasingly, spark chronic disorder, instability or conflict. What are the implications of these increasingly complex emergencies for the future of humanitarian action? How can the global humanitarian system, developed largely to meet the needs of 19th and 20th century Europe, be expanded and improved to meet the diverse challenges of the 21st century? Based within the Development Studies program at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, this seminar course will convene an interdisciplinary group of faculty to help students explore the underlying political, social, and environmental factors that affect human security before, during, and after humanitarian emergencies.

The course will cover a diverse range of topics including the role of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), UN agencies, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), local governments, and military actors in humanitarian response; the economic and political impacts of humanitarian aid; the evidence base for humanitarian interventions; the challenges of post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation; and the intersections between human rights and humanitarianism. The course will include guest lecturers from across Brown University, bringing together academic departments to foster interdisciplinary learning. The course will also feature many innovative teaching methods, including case-based discussions, hands-on simulations, and the opportunity to collaborate on international research projects with participants from the Brown International Advances Research Institutes (BIARI).


The class will be organized as weekly seminars taught by an interdisciplinary team of Brown University faculty, with a select group of outside guest speakers with expertise in specific topics. Each session will include both a lecture and a group discussion component during which students will be expected to be actively engaged as part of their grade. Students will be expected to complete about 30-40 pages of reading per class and hand in a one-page response to the readings each week.

In addition, the course will include three separate SPHERE simulations testing their knowledge with regards to the minimum standards for humanitarian relief, and an Ethical Review Board Simulation, which will require them to think critically about the ethical aspects of research in humanitarian crises. Students will also have the option to participate as volunteers in a full-scale, simulated humanitarian emergency, providing the closest possible experience to working in a humanitarian context without actually travelling to an insecure setting.

Finally, students will also be expected to develop an individual research topic for this course. They will be required to submit a concept paper at the mid-term of the course (5 pages) outlining their research question(s) and a final academic research paper (15 pages) at the end of the course.


Seminar Attendance and Participation:               10%

Daily Reading Response:                                  10%

SPHERE Table Top Simulation:                         20%

Ethical Review Board Simulation:                       10%

Research Concept Paper:                                  20%

Final Research Paper:                                        30%


 Jan 26  History and Principles of Humanitarian Response - Case Study: Libya  - Adam Levine, Brown University

Feb 2  Law and Politics of Humanitarian Emergencies - Nina Tannenwald, Brown University / Organization/Financing of the Humanitarian System  Adam Levine, Brown University 

Feb 9 Domestic Disaster Management and Preparedness - Case Study: New York (9-11) - Selim Suner, Brown University                                   

Feb 16  Health Action and Outbreak Control in Emergencies  SPHERE Simulation - Adam Levine, Brown University 

Feb 23  Ebola Case Study: Ethical/Personal Considerations - Adam Levine, Brown University 

Mar 2 Food Security and Nutrition in Emergencies SPHERE Simulation - Jennifer Coates, Tufts University 

Mar 9 Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Shelter in Emergencies SPHERE Simulation -  Adam Levine, Brown University 

Mar 16 Civil – Military Coordination in Disaster Response - David Pollaty, Naval War College Case Study: Syrian Refugee Crisis - Sarah Tobin, Brown University

Concept Papers Due

Mar 23  Cultural Competency in Humanitarian Response - Case Study: American Samoa - David Bouslough, Brown University

Mar 30  Spring Recess – No Classes

Apr 6  Post-Conflict Reconstruction & Reconciliation Case Study: South Sudan - Robert Blair, Brown University & Rashmi Sharma, Brown University 

Apr 13  Transitional Justice: Tribunals and Truth Commissions Case Study: Colombia  - Jamie Rowen, UMass Amherst

Apr 20  Needs Assessment, Monitoring, and Evaluation SPHERE Simulation - Pooja Agrawal, Yale University

Apr 27  Research in Humanitarian Response Ethical Review Board Simulation - Adam Levine, Brown University

May 4   So You Want to be a Humanitarian? What’s Next? - Adam Levine, Brown University

May 11 Final Papers Due


Reading List

Jan 26

A History of the Humanitarian System: Western origins and foundations

 Reference: All In Diary

 Feb 2

ICRC What is International Humanitarian Law?

The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and Non- Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Disaster Relief

ALNAP State of the Humanitarian System, Part 3 and 4

Regime Change for Humanitarian Aid: How to Make Relief More Accountable

A Blueprint For Professionalizing Humanitarian Assistance

Reference: UN OCHA Global Humanitarian Review 2016

Feb 9

Disaster Risk Reduction: Mitigation and preparedness in development and emergency programming*

Required: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 6

Feb 16

Epidemics after Natural Disasters

Reference: SPHERE Handbook: Minimum standards in health action

Reference: WHO Communicable Disease Control in Emergencies, Chapters 3 & 4

Feb 23

HPN: The Ebola Crisis in West Africa*

Required: page 15 (A bottom-up approach to the Ebola response) page 20 (The Ebola emergency: perspectives on information management and mapping response) page 26 (Organisational risk management in high-risk programmes: the non-medical response to the Ebola outbreak) and page 30 (Research in crises: examples from the Ebola outbreak)

Dispatch from Liberia (Huffington Post Blogs)

Patterns of trust and compliance in the fight against Ebola

Required: Executive Summery 

Will Ebola change the game? Ten essential reforms before the next pandemic

Required: Executive Summery

Mar 2

Food Security and Its Implications for Political Stability: A Humanitarian Perspective

Reference: SPHERE Handbook: Minimum standards in food security and nutrition

Reference: Coping Strategies Index Field Manual

Mar 9

The Sphere Project: Next Steps in Moving Toward a Rights-Based Approach to Humanitarian Assistance

Reference: SPHERE Handbook: Minimum standards in Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion

Reference: SPHERE Handbook: Minimum Standards in Shelter, Settlement and Non-Food Items

Mar 16

Trends and challenges in humanitarian civil–military coordination: A review of the literature

Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2015-2016: In Response to the Syria Crisis

Mar 23

Cultural Competency in Disaster Response: A Review of Current Concepts, Policies, and Practice*

Required: Read the executive summary and page 11

Apr 6

Autonomous Recovery and International Intervention in Comparative Perspective

Optional: Neotrusteeship and the Problem of Weak States

Apr 13

Transitional Justice Genealogy

Optional: The Truth About Truth Commissions

Apr 20

Interpreting and using mortality data in humanitarian emergencies

Analyzing Qualitative Data

Crowdsourcing Information in Crisis Affected Haiti

Optional Reference: ICRC Guidelines for Emergency Needs Assessment

Apr 27 

Optimal Evidence in Difficult Settings: Improving Health Interventions and Decision Making in Disasters

Ethical Codes in Humanitarian Emergencies: From Practice to Research?

Academics are from Mars, Humanitarians are from Venus: Finding Common Ground to Improve Research during Humanitarian Emergencies