Climate Shocks and Humanitarian Crises

Which Countries Are Most at Risk?

A woman and her child in a drought-stricken region of Somaliland, April 2016. Feisal Omar / Reuters

Wildfires in the western United States and hurricanes on the East Coast captured media attention this summer and fall. But throughout 2018, weather events also had devastating humanitarian consequences in developing countries, from immense floods in the Indian state of Kerala to an intense drought in Afghanistan that affected millions.

Over the past decade, academics and policymakers have vigorously debated the question of whether climate change poses a security threat, with particular emphasis on whether it causes internal conflict. Connections are complex, leaving policymakers to talk about climate change vaguely as a “threat multiplier” when combined with other forces. But saying that climate change is a threat multiplier isn’t all that helpful unless we know something about the characteristics that make countries more likely to experience instability.

In fact, several risk factors make some countries more vulnerable than others to the consequences of climate change. Three stand out in particular: a high level of dependence on agriculture, a recent history of conflict, and discriminatory political institutions. Research suggests that in countries that display some or all of these risk factors, climate extremes are especially likely to lead to disastrous outcomes, including violence, food crises, and the large-scale displacement of populations.

We have used these factors to identify the countries that are most at risk from climate-related instability and humanitarian crises in the coming years. In doing so, we hope to provide an early warning to policymakers about where climate impacts are likely to prove most destabilizing in the short term, and where efforts to minimize their effects are most needed.


The map below displays the countries we consider to be at major risk of climate-driven instability. A sizeable number of countries—20, in total—combine the first two risk factors, agricultural dependence and a recent history of conflict. Countries facing these two risk factors are shown in orange. A further nine countries (Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Yemen)

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