Climate Research Initiative

Climate & Population Displacement

Climate & Population Displacement

ECRI Point of Contact: Lisa Thompson (School of Nursing)

Faculty Collaborators: Jessica Fairley (School of Medicine), Uriel Kitron (Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Environmental Sciences), Becca Philipsborn (School of Medicine), Rachel Hall-Clifford (Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Sociology), Laura Modly (School of Nursing) ​

Climate change is increasingly driving the movement of individuals and families worldwide, both between and within national borders, with an estimate 20 million people forced to migrate yearly due to climate change. Climate change welds influence on lives and livelihoods through extreme weather and climate shocks such as flooding and extreme heat as well as through chronic stressors like drought. These shocks and stressors cause injury and direct health harms, but also influence health indirectly through loss of housing and income, changing patterns of infections, and food and water insecurity. 

Climate-sensitive health exposure risks, such as heat and infectious diseases, affect migrants not only within their country of origin, but also along the journey and upon resettlement. Some of these climate-sensitive diseases and health outcomes may be unfamiliar to physicians in the United States, leading to undetected acute and chronic health challenges. While movement can be a form of climate adaptation, climate-driven health risks persist in destination communities, and planning for climate displacement and migration is an essential component of local and regional climate adaptation and resilience. Rapid movement of individuals can overburden local infrastructure, including health delivery infrastructure. The Southeast is especially vulnerable to climate change. Climate refugees and displaced individuals are at higher risk of negative health impacts from climate change, due to lack of social protections, challenges accessing healthcare, and poor socioeconomic conditions. 

The goal of this project is to characterize migration and displacement to the Southeast United States due to climate change, delineated climate-associated health risks for displaced and migrant individuals in the Southeast United States and identify health-systems level adaptive strategies to safeguard public health and healthcare delivery. Projects implemented under this effort will enhance understanding of risks of climate-health sequelae in immigrant and displaced individuals—particularly as related to food insecurity and infectious diseases – and prepare communities and healthcare systems for these burgeoning health crises.