Politics & Policy

Natural Disasters, Forced Migration, and Conflict: The Importance of Government Policy ResponsesAbstract

Mitchell, S.McLaughlin; Pizzi, E.


Understanding the connections between environmental change, migration, and conflict is urgent as natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity. Countries that experience natural disasters face greater risks for intrastate conflicts, especially for rapid-onset disasters. Migration is one response to these environmental changes. Existing literature suggests that environmental migration can cause violent conflict as migrants lose livelihoods, move to new areas, or compete over scarce resources. However, the path through which migration leads to conflict—and the policy responses that either fuel conflict or promote stability—is not well understood. Some countries develop adequate proactive (e.g., infrastructure) and reactive post-disaster (e.g., reconstruction) policies to mitigate grievances and conflict risks from forced migration. Other countries fail to respond adequately to disasters, opening the door for insurgent groups to garner support. We argue that we must analyze government policies related to relocation programs, restrictions on movement, and post-disaster reconstruction to identify trigger situations where disasters and migration are most likely to produce violence.