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Humanitarian Engineering: Ethics, Theory, Practice (IL9HE1)


This module is the first module for all students, it is an introduction to humanitarian engineering looking from ethical, cultural, and practical perspectives. The module will allow students to reflect upon the history and meaning of Humanitarianism and Humanitarian Engineering. Through this module, students will collectively develop a set of humanitarian engineering ethics criteria and critically apply these to specific examples of humanitarian case-studies. Students will consider what humanitarianism involves in terms of human rights and human needs, spanning from ecological to cultural and anthropological. There will also be a day focused on the humanitarian crises and how to build resilience against humanitarian challenges. The final day will be practical, with students exploring their journey towards a career as a Humanitarian Engineer.


This is a five-day intensive module; including lectures, seminars, and workshops.

The main topics covered are:

  • History of Humanitarian Engineering
  • Humanitarian Engineering ethics criteria
  • Human needs and human rights
  • Humanitarian crises. Humanitarianism & sustainable development
  • Practice: working as a Humanitarian Engineer

Students will be assessed by a combination of :

  • Individual presentation on a case study of their choice
  • ‘My career path’ reflective report
  • Written exam
Illustrative syllabus

The module will consist of 5 day-long sessions. The module leader will attend all of each session, to integrate and stimulate the interdisciplinary learning.

History of Humanitarian Engineering

Experts from Engineering, Humanities and Arts, NGOs will join the day by providing lectures on the historical context of Humanitarian Engineering. After reflecting on the meanings of engineering and humanitarianism we will seek to imagine what we, along with others, call humanitarian engineering.

Humanitarian Engineering ethics criteria

This day aims at building a bridge between humanitarianism and engineering ethics for the benefit of both. We will look at how humanitarianism can benefit from appreciating what engineers do and the traditions of engineering ethics. We will reflect on the idea that professional engineering ethics can be enhanced by appreciating the role of humanitarianism in a globalised world, increasingly dependent on advances in science and technology. Despite its popular appeal and international importance, humanitarian ethics is underdeveloped in relation to ethics in general and to professional engineering in particular.

Case studies will be discussed in the lights of “motivation of the humanitarian engineer”, “who benefits and who pays” and “accountability”.

Human needs and human rights

This session will consider what humanitarianism involves in terms of human rights and human needs, spanning from ecological to cultural and anthropological. Humanitarianism typically involves an effort to alleviate human suffering by responding to human needs, but not necessarily on the basis of respect for individual human rights. In this lecture we are going to debate on whether active response to human needs out of compassion for human suffering is seen as more important.

Key questions on the topic will be co-created among students and lecturers. Students will be provoked, questioned and challenged to express arguments on questions such as: What is humanitarianism? Is it limited to the provision of relief to victims of conflict, or does it include broader objectives such as human rights, democracy promotion, development, and peacebuilding?

Humanitarian crises. Humanitarianism & sustainable development

This session will focus on the humanitarian crises and how to build resilience against humanitarian challenges. Experts from Social Sciences will give lectures on the recent UN dialogues, notably the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 (SFDRR) and the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs); building resilience against humanitarian challenges is central to effective global action. The HFA and SFDRR highlight the urgency to build resilience to disasters and to ensure it is embedded within education, training, development plans, policies and procedures at all scales – this will complement, not hinder, sustainable development.

Practice: working as a Humanitarian Engineer

In this session, the journey towards the career path of Humanitarian Engineer will be discussed. Key critical figures from NGOs, Industry, and Organisations will deliver seminars sharing their experience and views on available career pathways. In a theoretical context this session will cover the kind of roles that a Humanitarian Engineer can play in real life, drawing out the moral dimensions of humanitarian work.

Building on the content of this day, students will be asked to prepare a reflective report with the title ‘My career path’ demonstrating that they have engaged in the multi-disciplinary nature of Humanitarian Engineering and seriously thought about their future professional career.

Minor Edit to Summary Section 12/04/18

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Dr Georgia Kremmyda

"Problem-solving and tackling real-life problems are the key skills of the Humanitarian Engineer. The Humanitarian Engineer of the 21st Century should work with anybody anywhere, imagine and make the imagination reality."

Lecturer and Programme Director
Dr Georgia Kremmyda