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.


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 …

Almada AA, Golden CD, Osofsky SA, Myers SS. A case for Planetary Health/Geohealth. GeoHealth [Internet]. 2017;1 (2) :75-78. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Concern has been spreading across scientific disciplines that the pervasive human transformation of Earth's natural systems is an urgent threat to human health. The simultaneous emergence of “GeoHealth” and “Planetary Health” signals recognition that developing a new relationship between humanity and our natural systems is becoming an urgent global health priority—if we are to prevent a backsliding from the past century's great public health gains. Achieving meaningful progress will require collaboration across a broad swath of scientific disciplines as well as with policy makers, natural resource managers, members of faith communities, and movement builders around the world in order to build a rigorous evidence base of scientific understanding as the foundation for more robust policy and resource management decisions that incorporate both environmental and human health outcomes.

Schneider SH, Semenov S, Patwardhan A. Assessing key vulnerabilities and the risk from climate change. In: Parry, M L, Canziani, O F, Palutikof, J P, Van der Linden, P J, Hanson, C E Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press ; 2007. Publisher's Version
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