Skip to main content Accessibility help

Public Health and Mental Health Implications of Environmentally Induced Forced Migration

  • James M. Shultz (a1), Andreas Rechkemmer (a2), Abha Rai (a3) and Katherine T. McManus (a4)


Climate change is increasingly forcing population displacement, better described by the phrase environmentally induced forced migration. Rising global temperatures, rising sea levels, increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, and progressive depletion of life-sustaining resources are among the drivers that stimulate population mobility. Projections forecast that current trends will rapidly accelerate. This will lead to an estimated 200 million climate migrants by the year 2050 and create dangerous tipping points for public health and security.

Among the public health consequences of climate change, environmentally induced forced migration is one of the harshest and most harmful outcomes, always involving a multiplicity of profound resource and social losses and frequently exposing migrants to trauma and violence. Therefore, one particular aspect of forced migration, the effects of population displacement on mental health and psychosocial functioning, deserves dedicated focus. Multiple case examples are provided to elucidate this theme. (Disaster Med Public Health Preparedness. 2019;13:116–122)


Corresponding author

Correspondence and reprint requests to James M. Shultz, Center for Disaster & Extreme Event Preparedness, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Miami FL 33136 (e-mail:


Hide All
1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report, Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Geneva, Switzerland: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; 2014.
2. Rockström, J, Schellnhuber, HJ, Hoskins, B, et al. The world’s biggest gamble. Earths Future. 2016;4(10):465-470.
3. US Global Change Research Program. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Washington, DC: US Global Change Research Program; 2016.
4. Watts, N, Adger, WN, Agnolucci, P, et al. Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health. Lancet. 2015;386(10006):1861-1914.
5. Rechkemmer, A, O’Connor, A, Rai, A, et al. A complex social-ecological disaster: environmentally induced forced migration. Disaster Health. 2016;3(4):112-120.
6. United Nations. World Migration Report 2008: Managing Labour Mobility in the Evolving Global Economy. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Migration; 2008.
7. Myers, N. Environmental Refugees in a Globally Warmed World. BioScience. 1993;43(11):752-761.
8. Fernández, MJ. Refugees, Climate Change and International Law. Oxford, UK: Oxford Department of International Development, University of Oxford; 2015.
9. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2015. Geneva, Switzerland: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; 2015.
10. Warner, K, Martin, S. Climate change, migration and development. In: Omelaniuk I, ed. Global Perspectives on Migration and Development, GFMD Puerto Vallarta and Beyond (Global Migration Issues). New York: Springer Publishing; 2012:153-172.
11. Shultz, JM, Cohen, MA, Hermosilla, S, et al. Disaster risk reduction and sustainable development for small island developing states. Disaster Health. 2016;3(1):32-44.
12. Ziegler, HM. Dasymetric High Resolution Population Distribution Estimates for Improved Decision Making, With a Case Study of Sea-Level Rise Vulnerability in Boca Raton, Florida. Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University; 2016.
13. Brown, O. Migration & Environment. Geneva, Switzerland: International Organization for Migration; 2008:64.
14. Myers, N. Environmental Refugees: An Emergent Security Issue. Paper presented at: 13th Economic Forum; 2005; Prague.
15. Gemenne, F. Environmental Changes and Migration Flows, Normative Frameworks and Policy Responses. Belgium/France: Université de Liège/Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris; 2009.
16. Bilak, A C-FG, Ginnetti, J, Rushing, EJ, et al. GRID 2016: Global Report on Internal Displacement. Geneva, Switzerland: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre; 2016.
17. Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2009: Confronting Climate Change. Washington, DC: 2009.
18. Elasha, BO, Elhassan, NG, Ahmed, H, Zakieldin, S. Sustainable Livelihood Approach for Assessing Community Resilience to Climate Change: Case Studies From Sudan. Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change Working Paper No. 17; August, 2005.
19. Singh, S, Mushtaq, U, Holm-Hansen, C, et al. The importance of climate change to health. Lancet. 2011;378(9785):29-30.
20. Giannini, A, Biasutti, M, Verstraete, MM. A climate model-based review of drought in the Sahel: desertification, the re-greening and climate change. Glob Planet Chang. 2008;64(3-4):119-128.
21. Scheffran, J, Ide, T, Schilling, J. Violent climate or climate of violence? Concepts and relations with focus on Kenya and Sudan. Int J Hum Rights. 2014;18(3):369-390.
22. United Nations Environment Programme. Sudan: Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment. Nairobi, Kenya: United Nations Environment Programme; 2007.
23. Vervaeck, A. Very Strong Earthquake on the Ambrym Coast, Vanuatu - Eruption at Ambrym Volcano.
24. Butler, CD, Bowles, DC, McIver, L, et al. Mental health, cognition, and the challenge of climate change. In: Butler CD, ed. Climate Change and Global Health. Wallingford, UK: CAB eBooks; 2014:251-259.
25. McIver, L, Kim, R, Woodward, A, et al. Health impacts of climate change in Pacific island countries: a regional assessment of vulnerabilities and adaptation priorities. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124(11):1707-1714.
26. Shultz, JM, Ceballos, AM, Espinel, Z, et al. Internal displacement in Colombia: fifteen distinguishing features. Disaster Health. 2014;2(1):13-24.
27. Shultz, JM, Garfin, DR, Espinel, Z, et al. Internally displaced “victims of armed conflict” in Colombia: the trajectory and trauma signature of forced migration. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014;16(10):475.
28. Ley de víctimas y restitución de tierras y sus decretos reglamentarios: LEY 1448 de 2011 [national law, Government of Colombia]. Bogotá, Colombia: Ministerio del Interior; 2011.
29. Timmermann, A, Oberhuber, J, Bacher, A, et al. Increased El Niño frequency in a climate model forced by future greenhouse warming. Nature. 1999;398(6729):694-697.
30. Hoyos, N, Escobar, J, Restrepo, J, et al. Impact of the 2010–2011 La Niña phenomenon in Colombia, South America: the human toll of an extreme weather event. Appl Geogr. 2013;39:16-25.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed