The Issue



Humanitarian practice and paradigms

A question commonly asked by the public is:

"What is it that agencies and practitioners actually do in emergencies and how have these practices developed?"

Over time, humanitarian practice has been built on a combination of research and action, giving rise to a field of knowledge that represents the best and most appropriate responses to the particular challenges of a range of disaster situations. This unique field of knowledge is informed by a variety of disciplines: anthropology, history, development studies, economics, child development, psychology, nutrition, medicine, engineering, geography and international law, among many others. 

In recent years, this combination of disciplines has given rise to a new branch of learning increasingly referred to as Humanitarian or Disaster studies. As part of a broader trend of professionalization, humanitarians are becoming increasingly specialized while also retaining a healthy command of a breadth of disciplines.

The humanitarian enterprise has developed standards, principles, codes of conduct and practices to guide humanitarians and their organizations through the difficult moral, technical and political landscapes that characterize today’s disasters.  These are embodied in a large range of guidelines, tools, training programs, academic degrees and field techniques or ‘field-craft’ that agencies, governments and academics have developed to guide risk management strategies and related interventions.

Some of the key subjects covered by these kinds of studies can be grouped under the following themes:

  • Evolution of emergency responses and lessons learnt by country case studies
  • Early warning, preparedness and disaster mitigation
  • Food security, livelihoods and ‘famine issues’
  • Protection, humanitarian law and human rights in emergencies
  • Coordination and the international architecture of humanitarian response
  • Peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction
  • Military/Civilan interactions
  • Gender issues in emergencies
  • Children and youth in emergencies
  • Common conceptual frameworks, tools and methodologies

For more information please contact:

Asim Rehman, Regional Emergency Specialist, UNICEF Regional Office for CEE/CIS.
Telephone: (+4122) 909 5651

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