Introduction to Public Health Engineering in Humanitarian Contexts

Eawag-Sandec, EPFL, ICRC Humanitarian Crisis

Target Audience

This course is an introduction – the only requirements are an Internet connection and an interest in the topic. A general background in engineering would help to fully benefit from this course.


The world is facing unprecedented humanitarian needs. Today’s humanitarian crisis tend to be greater in number, often in urban settings, longer in duration and broader in regional impact. They generate human sufferings on a greater scale, disrupt essential services, such as water supply or sanitation and put health of large population at risk. Engineers and technical specialists in water, sanitation, energy, environment, and in other related fields play a vital role to respond to these challenges and growing needs. In the humanitarian sector, they are called the public health engineers and today they are increasingly needed! Why public health engineering matters so much in humanitarian crises? And how its related activities are carrying out in such complex environment? This is what this MOOC is all about!

The EPFL, EAWAG-SANDEC and ICRC have decided to partner to guide you through this introduction to the fascinating field of public health engineering in humanitarian contexts.

Learning Objectives

The course consists of the following modules

1. Public Health Engineering: The first week introduces the topic of public health engineering and see how engineers can have a significant impact to reduce the mortality and morbidity encountered in many humanitarian contexts. In order to do so, engineers should have a good understanding on how infectious diseases are transmitted. This is why you will be introduced to different environmental transmission pathways of diseases and you will see some measures to be taken to prevent the spread of some diseases. Real study case examples will be introduced to support the understanding.

2. Humanitarian contexts: During this week, the humanitarian context in which public health engineering activities take place is presented. We will see how protracted conflicts affect urban essential services, such as water supply and sanitation, resulting in public health issues.

3. Water Supply Systems: The week does a review of water technologies commonly used from the source to the distribution point. We discuss some pros and cons of different water systems that may be encountered in humanitarian contexts.

4.Sanitation: The fourth week does a review of sanitation technologies and excreta management. Case studies illustrate some challenges and practices in humanitarian sector.

5. Waste management & Hygiene promotion: We focus on a type of solid waste that public health engineers often encounter in humanitarian crises: medical waste. Finally, we discuss the critical issue of behavior change and hygiene promotion in humanitarian crises.