Humanitarian engineering is the application of appropriate technology to directly improve the lives of marginalized communities. In other words, it is using engineering methodologies in research and design in a context of constraints - typically resource limitations, but also influences of climate, culture and isolation. It may also apply to disaster relief.
Its targeted audience, marginalized and underserved, is a strong contrast to conventional engineering, industry and business - hence the phrase "Design for the Other 90%" used in Paul Polak's work.
Training for humanitarian engineering may incorporate a thorough study of the principles of development, as well as introductions to economics, microfinance and sociology, as well as rigorous engineering basics. In specific contexts it is important to understand the history, politics and language.
In the context disaster relief, these factors are less important than the ability to solve problems quickly and effectively with only what is available, and the ability to coordinate a project and manage logistics in a stressed environment.
NGOs such as AIDG and IDE focus on applying humanitarian engineering through appropriate technology and business. Others, such as Practical Action and Appropedia, focus on providing essential knowledge resources to those engaged in humanitarian engineering work.
Some universities now focus on Humanitarian Engineering.