Civil Strife and Displacement

Displacement Camp in EritreaWe poorly understand the ways in which multiple complex, coincident, and interacting environmental changes will alter habitability and drive population displacement, but these changes are likely to be associated with large burdens of disease and disability. Little is currently understood about how the combination of climatic disruption, natural hazards (e.g., droughts, heat waves, floods, fires, tropical storms), water scarcity, land degradation, and resulting crop and livestock failures may interact to make parts of the world that currently support large numbers of people uninhabitable. How many people are likely to be displaced? What populations are most vulnerable? And when people are displaced (many of them with very few resources) into areas where they may not be welcome, will civil strife ensue? We know that such displacement is associated with sharp increases in infectious disease outbreaks, malnutrition, and physical and mental trauma. What are the best approaches to managing increasing requirements for population movement with the least conflict and health burden?  These types of questions require urgent focus.

Learning Objectives

  • L1: List the direct and indirect drivers of civil strife and displacement.
  • L2: Analyze the impact of transnational movements on population health.
  • L3: Consider how projected ecosystem changes over the next 50-100 years may impact issues of civil strife and displacement.

 

Myers SS. Planetary health: protecting human health on a rapidly changing planet . The Lancet [Internet]. 2017. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The impact of human activities on our planet's natural systems has been intensifying rapidly in the past several decades, leading to disruption and transformation of most natural systems. These disruptions in the atmosphere, oceans, and across the terrestrial land surface are not only driving species to extinction, they pose serious threats to human health and wellbeing. Characterising and addressing these threats requires a paradigm shift. In a lecture delivered to the Academy of Medical Sciences on Nov 13, 2017, I describe the scale of human impacts on natural systems and the extensive associated health effects across nearly every dimension of human health. I highlight several overarching themes that emerge from planetary health and suggest advances in the way we train, reward, promote, and fund the generation of health scientists who will be tasked with breaking out of their disciplinary silos to address this urgent constellation of health threats. I propose that protecting the health of future generations requires taking better care of Earth's natural systems.

Burrows K, Kinney PL. Exploring the Climate Change, Migration and Conflict Nexus. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2016. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The potential link between climate change, migration, and conflict has been widely discussed and is increasingly viewed by policy makers as a security issue. However, considerable uncertainty remains regarding the role that climate variability and change play among the many drivers of migration and conflict. The overall objective of this paper is to explore the potential pathways linking climate change, migration and increased risk of conflict. We review the existing literature surrounding this issue and break the problem into two components: the links between climate change and migration, and those between migration and conflict. We found a large range of views regarding the importance of climate change as a driver for increasing rates of migration and subsequently of conflict. We argue that future research should focus not only on the climate-migration-conflict pathway but also work to understand the other pathways by which climate variability and change might exacerbate conflict. We conclude by proposing five questions to help guide future research on the link between climate change, migration, and conflict.
Lane K, Charles-Guzman K, Wheeler K, Abid Z, Graber N, Matte T. Health Effects of Coastal Storms and Flooding in Urban Areas: A Review and Vulnerability Assessment . Journal of Environmental and Public Health [Internet]. 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Coastal storms can take a devastating toll on the public's health. Urban areas like New York City (NYC) may be particularly at risk, given their dense population, reliance on transportation, energy infrastructure that is vulnerable to flood damage, and high-rise residential housing, which may be hard-hit by power and utility outages. Climate change will exacerbate these risks in the coming decades. Sea levels are rising due to global warming, which will intensify storm surge. These projections make preparing for the health impacts of storms even more important. We conducted a broad review of the health impacts of US coastal storms to inform climate adaptation planning efforts, with a focus on outcomes relevant to NYC and urban coastal areas, and incorporated some lessons learned from recent experience with Superstorm Sandy. Based on the literature, indicators of health vulnerability were selected and mapped within NYC neighborhoods. Preparing for the broad range of anticipated effects of coastal storms and floods may help reduce the public health burden from these events.

 
Geisler C, Currens B. Impediments to inland resettlement under conditions of accelerated sea level rise. Land Use Policy [Internet]. 2017;66 :322-330. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Global mean sea level rise (GMSLR) stemming from the multiple effects of human-induced climate change has potentially dramatic effects for inland land use planning and habitability. Recent research suggests that GMSLR may endanger the low-elevation coastal zone sooner than expected, reshaping coastal geography, reducing habitable landmass, and seeding significant coastal out-migrations. Our research reviews the barriers to entry in the noncoastal hinterland. Using three organizing clusters (depletion zones, win-lose zones, and no-trespass zones), we identify principal inland impediments to relocation and provide preliminary estimates of their toll on inland resettlement space. We make the case for proactive adaptation strategies extending landward from on global coastlines and illustrate this position with land use planning responses in Florida and China.

Scheffera M. Anticipating societal collapse; Hints from the Stone Age . PNAS [Internet]. 2016;113 (39) :10733–10735. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Few aspects of human history are as mindboggling as the sudden disintegration of advanced societies. It is tempting to seek common patterns or even draw some lessons for modern times from the many ancient cases of societal disintegration. In PNAS, Downey et al. (1) report that universal warning signals of reduced resilience systematically preceded the collapse of Stone Age societies. Might similar indicators of fragility be relevant in modern times? Of course, the nature of human societies has changed entirely. However, there are at times striking parallels between stories of collapse even if they happened in entirely different periods. Consider the abrupt abandonment of the iconic alcove sites in Mesa Verde by the ancestral Puebloan people: the greatest “vanishing act” in prehistoric America (2). Archaeological evidence now reveals that before Pueblo peoples massively migrated in the mid-to-late 1200s, there had actually been a slow build-up of tension (3, 4). Over a century of drought, violence, and political turmoil drove increasing numbers of people into the Mesa Verde region, which was relatively productive for farming, straining carrying capacity as well as cultural traditions and resulting in destabilizing conflicts. Portions of the northern Southwest began to empty out in the first decades of the 13th century and by the mid-1200s even the favored central Mesa Verde region was starting to lose population, well in advance of the “Great Drought” beginning in the late 1270s that seems to have given the final blow. Now, Syria is the scene of a sudden massive exodus, and some aspects of the complex situation do seem to echo the Pueblo story. The Fertile Crescent has likely been experiencing the worst drought in 900 y, making subsistence farming in the countryside extremely challenging and driving millions in Syria to the cities, where tensions increased …

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