Humanitarian Policy and Practice

Please note that the Certifcate programmes in Humanitarian Policy and Practice will not be offered in 2014. P&DM will be offering a Postgraduate Diploma and Masters of Management in Humanitarian and Development Management. For further information, please follow the link 


This programme of learning is offered by the Graduate School of Public and Development Management in collaboration with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM) and Medecins Sans Frontieres / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The Certificate in Humanitarian Policy and the Certificate in Humanitarian Practice can be studied as stand-alone courses, or one after the other, with the possibility to convert the two into a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

The Certificates in Humanitarian Policy and Practice are three weeks full-time and will run consecutively over six weeks - dates for 2014 still to be announced.

What are the certificates?

The certificates are intensive professional development programmes run by Wits University’s P&DM, in collaboration with MSF and LSTM. The multi-disciplinary programmes take a regional focus on tackling humanitarian issues across Africa and are designed and taught by experts from leading organisations and academic institutions such as ICRC, UNHCR, Oxfam, MSF, UNAIDS, LSTM and Wits University.

Humanitarian policies and practices have undergone significant transformation in the later part of the 20th century. The economic, social and political context within which emergencies unfold are more complex, producing multi-dimensioned emergency environments, with blurred lines between military and humanitarian and development interventions. New perspective and theories have emerged that seek to link initial response to longer term development and incorporate, amongst others, critical aspects of security, gender, sustainability and protection.

Minimum standards and codes of conduct have emerged alongside the development of international treaties and laws that set out the rights of those impacted by emergencies. Whilst these instruments seek to protect those who find themselves in emergency humanitarian situations, they also cast a spotlight on accountability for those who deliver humanitarian aid. The number and diversity of actors involved in a major emergency response has grown significantly and encompasses organs of state, UN agencies, international and local NGOs and the private sector. While there is tacit acknowledgment that collaboration and coordination is key to effective humanitarian programmes, the growing complexity of actors within the humanitarian arena has made this an increasingly challenging task. The modern humanitarian professional, be she a frontline aid worker or senior level manager has to grapple with and synthesise complexities across different governance and intervention spheres.

The University of the Witwatersrand’s Graduate School of Public and Development Management’s humanitarian and development programmes offers a range of capacity development interventions at the apex of which are two stand-alone competence certificates, which when combined, are designed to equip the 21st century emergency, humanitarian and development worker with the skills and analytical capacity to engage effectively within this challenging sector. 

The Humanitarian Policy Certificate maps and interrogates the contextual, conceptual and institutional frameworks surrounding humanitarianism in the 21st century and analyses the challenges inherent in responding to a rapidly changing and highly political global arena, with a strong focus on the African continent.

The Humanitarian Practice Certificate equips professionals with the skills and appropriate behaviour - incorporating analytical awareness and an appreciation of humanitarian complexities from the previous module - in order to manage and/or carry out effective, smart and accountable humanitarian operations.

By the end of the programme, participants will:

  • understand the policy environment, essential for effective action as individuals and as members of a team.
  • be able to identify and promote standards of good practice policy in humanitarian responses.
  • encourage cooperation and dialogue between governmental, non-governmental, national and international agencies involved in humanitarian action.
  • be able to examine strategies and policy approaches for early warning and prevention of humanitarian crises.
  • create a more effective synergy between emergency humanitarian interventions and programmes promoting sustainable development.
  • address humanitarian priorities in Southern Africa and the wider continent of Africa.


Who are the  certificates designed for?

The programme is designed for practitioners and policy-makers such as NGO workers, government officials, staff of multilateral agencies such as the UN, the media, civil society, donors and persons wishing to enter the humanitarian field.

What are the entry requirements?

University degree or equivalent professional qualification/experience. There is space for approximately 10-15 people from any one organisation, particularly targeting senior staff from across the African region. There will be a maximum of 50 students on the programme.


Johannesburg: University of Witwatersrand, School of Public & Development Management.

All teaching is in English.

Applications for the DHA require proof of English language proficiency with an ‘English as a Foreign Language’ certificate of competence.

Course content

I. Certificate in Humanitarian Policy

Module 1: Humanitarian Practice and Development

This module analyses historic and current humanitarian theories and perspectives, as a basis for building a critical policy perspective on the political economy of humanitarian assistance. It interrogates the relevance of specific humanitarian principles in the context of the politicization of aid, shrinking humanitarian space and an emergency-development divide. Building on an examination of theories, perspectives and emerging developments within the humanitarian space, participants will develop an understanding of the factors that will shape humanitarian action in the future and will be able to conceptualize and shape appropriate policy responses.

Module 2: Emergency Response and Sustainability in Africa

This module critically examines humanitarian responses in Africa, the unique challenges faced and the complexities embodied in historic and unfolding interventions. It incorporates an examination of instruments and mechanisms for protection and interrogates the current security-development nexus, particularly in relation to conflict resolution, reconstruction, and the blurring military-humanitarian lines. Drawing from the challenges and interventions, participants will be able to shape, negotiate and design broad strategic emergency response interventions.  

Module 3: Humanitarian Policy and the Institutional Environment

This module explores the relevance, impact and influence of multilateral instruments and institutions on national and local level humanitarian, disaster or emergency action. It incorporates an examination of the relevance and challenges embodied in humanitarian, displacement and refugee laws and related instruments. It explores the institutional, coordinative, accountability and communication challenges that emerge within a crisis situation. Participants will be able to ensure that laws and codes are upheld at the local level and hence ensure accountability and responsible action within the response space, as well as takinginto account international influences that shape humanitarian action.

On completion of all the requirements, participants will be able to:

  • Analyse the political, social and economic context of humanitarian emergencies
  • Explain the principles of international humanitarian law, humanitarian ethics and human rights
  • Describe recommended approaches to the analysis of humanitarian interventions
  • Critically review recommended standards of good practice
  • Discuss the issues involved in processes leading to sustainable development
  • Demonstrate an understanding of, and aptitude for, teamwork

II. Certificate in humanitarian practice

Module 1: Priorities in Emergency Management

This module focuses on practical planning and management of the operational process in emergencies, recognising the importance of establishing priorities based on the actual needs of those affected. Emphasis is placed on leadership and management for humanitarian action, including project management, communications, financial and human resources management and monitoring and evaluation. Finally, the module covers an essential overview of public health in the context of mass displacement and inadequate health services.

Module 2: Specialist elective

Participants choose one of the following modules running in parallel:

Module 2 (a) Health Management in Emergencies

This module introduces participants to evidence based practice approaches to dealing with Health in emergencies. In a complex humanitarian environment an array of health issues need to be dealt with, applying both a development and disaster lens. This includes topics such as disease and vector control, environmental health and hygiene promotion, HIV/AIDS and TB in emergencies, reproductive health, cold chain and vaccination team management, the role of nutrition, sexual violence, and trauma and mental health in emergencies.

Module 2 (b) Water, Sanitation and Logistics Managment in Emergencies

In view of the continuum from disaster to development, technical responses need to not just respond to immediate needs, but also be cognisant of the post‐disaster context which requires sustainable responses. In order to do this the module develops students’ knowledge on a range of technical interventions for emergency, post‐disaster and developmental contexts. It takes a practical look at water purification, storage and distribution, hygiene, sanitation and environmental management, logistics and supply chain, aid distribution management and the various levels of sustainability of technical strategies.

Module 3: Applied Humanitarian Operations Management

In this module, participants take part in an intensive simulation allowing them to practically apply the knowledge and skills gained through previous modules and to appraise their behaviour in a high-stress environment. A full debriefing will ensure capitalisation of experiences collective and individual.

On completion of all the requirements, participants will be able to:

  • Analyse the strategies required to plan and manage humanitarian emergencies
  • Apply minimum standards in planning and managing humanitarian emergencies
  • Critically review recommended standards of good practice
  • Respond to emergencies with specialist knowledge of health/or technical procedures of humanitarian action
  • Demonstrate an understanding of, and aptitude for, teamwork

How do I apply or find out more?

Ms Thandiwe Rose Maditse


Tel: 27 (011) 717 3505

Postal Address: PO Box 601, WITS, 2050

Physical Address: 2 St Davids Place, Donald Gordon Building, Parktown

You can also download the application form HERE.



Read HERE what past participants of the course are doing since completing the programme.