Water, conflict and migration in the Eastern Mediterranean




Selby, J.
Hoffmann, C.


Water, conflict and migration in the Eastern Mediterranean




Government Office for Science UK


This paper examines water–conflict–migration interactions in the Eastern Mediterranean, and specifically in the politically divided territories of Cyprus and Israel-West Bank and Gaza (WBG). Both of these relatively small territories are home to protracted nationalist conflicts, de facto territorial partitions, and stalled peace processes. Both have historically been sites of extensive forced displacement and voluntary in- and outmigration. Both, moreover, face significant water resource and especially scarcity problems, which may in future be exacerbated by climate change. They thus represent ideal and important cases for assessing historical, current and likely future environment–conflict–migration linkages.
Within the existing literatures on ‘environmental security’ and ‘environmental migration’, these linkages are usually analysed by considering the causal pathways leading from environmental changes and stresses to migration, and in turn to conflict (e.g. Myers, 1993; Homer-Dixon, 1994: 22; Suhrke, 1997). This is particularly apparent within recent analyses of the potential security impacts of climate change, where scholarly (IPCC, 2001: 85; Gleditsch et al., 2007; Reuveny, 2007), populist (e.g. Dyer, 2010) and policy-orientated analyses (e.g. Christian Aid, 2007; CSIS/CNAS, 2007) alike have emphasised that migration may play a key linkage role between climate change and conflict. Gleditsch et al. (2007: 4), for instance, suggest two plausible causal pathways from climate change to migration to conflict, one direct and the other indirect (Figure 1); in both models, climate change and attendant environmental stresses are considered the defining causal variable. The Malthusian assumptions informing such thinking have been extensively critiqued as misreading the causes of conflict, migration and environmental change, and as placing undue emphasis on ill-defined environmental ‘scarcities’ and population ‘pressures’ (e.g. Leach and Mearns, 1996; Black, 1998; Peluso and Watts, 2001; Hartmann, 2010). Informed by these and other critical assessments, we provide in this paper a more politically contextual analysis, which proposes a very different model of environment–migration–conflict linkages (illustrated in Figure 2). Our central argument is that within politically contested environments, such as Cyprus or Israel-WBG, the most important causal pathway is not from environmental scarcity to migration to conflict, but instead from conflict to environmental stresses and vulnerabilities, with migration being in part a cause and in part an effect of political and violent contestation. While this ascription of a central causal role to conflict is not a new insight, it nonetheless bears reiteration given the received wisdom within contemporary environmental security and environmental migration discourse.


Selby, J., & Hoffmann, C. (2011). Water, conflict and migration in the Eastern Mediterranean. London: Government Office for Science UK.