Complex emergencies and humanitarian responses DV3162

An interdisciplinary introduction to the processes, events and policy debates shaping responses to war-related humanitarian crises, including emergency interventions amid ongoing armed conflict, and post-conflict recovery.

Using recent case studies, this course reveals the complexity of local realities in afflicted regions and how this determines policy making. It also examines the financial and political constraints under which aid agencies, donors and governments operate. Overall, it explores the contrast between rhetoric and reality of providing assistance to those most in need.

Topics covered

Defining emergencies

  • Common perceptions of emergency and development
  • Rethinking war, famine, natural disaster and displacement.

Politics of information:

  • Influencing an emergency through information
  • Flows of information within the ‘humanitarian system’
  • War reporting, and information stereotypes

Behind the violence:

  • The rationality of violence
  • The psychology of perpetrators and victims
  • Women and violence
  • Analysing ‘ethnic violence’

Keeping the war going:

  • War economies, e.g. the international arms trade
  • The aid business, and impact of aid and humanitarian assistance
  • The dilemma of humanitarian intervention.

Making peace:

  • Peace processes
  • The plight of refugees and internally displaced persons
  • Principles of refugee protection
  • Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants.

From emergency to development:

  • Reconstruction and re-programming of aid-flows from emergency to development approaches.
  • Best practice guidelines

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate how responses to complex emergencies have shaped development in post-conflict societies.
  • Analyse and explain the dynamics and violence of emergencies and their impact on development.
  • Know and understand the international mechanics of conflict interventions.
  • Use a range of case studies in the analysis of conflict intervention.
  • Assess the role of information in an emergency.
  • Discuss general challenges faced in implementing a peace deal.


Unseen written exam (3 hrs).

Essential reading

  • David Rieff, A Bed for the Night. London: Vintage.
  • David Keen, Complex Emergencies. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.