For Refugee Week 2023, we are spotlighting the work of two University of Edinburgh Earth Fellows who have been undertaking research on understanding the impacts of climate change on refugees and displaced people (with the UN High Commission for Refugees) and working with the One Health Field Network to support Syrian farming communities.

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Advanced Earth Fellows Rebecca Grant and Martín del Valle Menéndez worked with the UNHCR to develop a survey and an analytical framework for enhancing our understanding of the impacts of climate change on refugees and displaced people.

The project began as a collaboration between the Edinburgh Earth Initiative and the UNHCR, focused on supporting Turkish and Syrian academics and farmers who had to flee their countries due to crises in their homelands. Last year, this involved working on a questionnaire to understand the effect of climate change on Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan – a questionnaire that the UNHCR develops twice a year to assess the overall health of the refugees across the dimensions of Food Security, Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH), Health, Energy and Shelter, and Livelihoods and Income. The literature review found that despite increasing research into the impacts of climate change more broadly, there remains a significant gap in research into the effects of climate change in humanitarian contexts.

Martín del Valle Menéndez has also been involved in the One Health Field Network. Launched in 2019 by the University of Edinburgh’s Professor Lisa Boden, the One Health Field Network brings together people and teams to increase food system resilience and support both short and long-term sustainable development in fragile and complex contexts.

The key question they ask is – how can we turn the development question into an academic question? Although One Health’s approaches tend to parse the food security aspect, they are gradually expanding to include a more holistic approach to health. Further, their aim to support Syrian academics goes beyond the conventional agronomic approach and explores how intangible cultural heritage can influence food security. This stems from the imperative that the need to practise and stay in touch with one’s culture is felt even more deeply when displaced. As an example of this, Martin told us about the workshop they held with Syrian farmers, helping them disseminate their cultural heritage of field songs related to food and agriculture – songs that are regarded with reverence as they marked their first encounter with food – and by extension – their livelihood.

The workshop was facilitated by Syrian academics and cultural management professionals, while artists were given charge of music and production. At present, a project to explore the aesthetics of food security is being developed with the same partners. A few months ago, Martín and other One Health Field Network members travelled to Türkiye to discuss with the Syrian partners how intangible cultural heritage can be approached to better understand climate change impacts in humanitarian contexts.

Refugee Week

Refugee Week is a UK-wide festival celebrating the contributions, creativity, and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary, taking place 19 – 25 June 2023. Find out more about what’s happening at the University of Edinburgh.

Climate and Health

Climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity, with many impacts on human health. As part of our current campaign, we’re highlighting some of the vital, interdisciplinary research underway here at The University of Edinburgh that addresses the complex, intersecting drivers of climate and health globally. Explore further on our dedicated climate and health page.