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Building Data Infrastructure to Understand Climate Change Migration


The aim of this project is to develop a transformative, open-access climate and population health data-monitoring ecosystem in South Asia. More than 700 million people in South Asia have been affected by at least one climate-related disaster in the last decade.

Yet, there is only a vague understanding of how climate change affects who moves, when, and why; how such distress migration in South Asia affects host communities; and the impact that large population fluxes have on access to food, shelter, jobs, and population health.

Understanding these forces requires micro data on individual mobility, health, and related measures. Funding will allow the researchers to develop a prototype open-source data repository of traditional and novel data streams from public and private datasets, and invite interdisciplinary teams of stakeholders — including communities, scientists, and policymakers — to explore and apply the datasets to advance adaptation measures.



Project Lead

Tarun Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Mittal Institute Faculty Director


Team Members

Satchit Balsari, Assistant Professor in Emergency Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Caroline Buckee, Professor of Epidemiology, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Jennifer Leaning, Senior Research Fellow, FXB Center for Health and Human Rights and Professor of Practice, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Rahul Mehrotra, John T. Dunlop Professor in Housing and Urbanization, GSD

Neha B. Joseph, Research Fellow, Lakshmi Mittal Family South Asia Institute at Harvard


In region Collaborators

Mihir Bhatt, director – All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI)


The Mittal Institute was one of just 10 teams selected for Harvard’s Climate Change Solutions Fund (CCSF) award for a new, interdisciplinary initiative focused on South Asia. The project, “Building Data Infrastructure to Understand Climate Change Migration,” will be led by Mittal Institute Faculty Director Tarun Khanna and aims to develop a transformative, open-access climate and population health data-monitoring ecosystem in South Asia. The 10 teams will share $1.3 million in funding to carry out the projects.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this important cross-university initiative, ensuring a greater focus on South Asia here at Harvard,” says Khanna, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at the Harvard Business School. “Climate change is one of the most important existential crises of our time. The Mittal Institute is uniquely positioned to contribute to scholarship that impacts the issue by acting as an intermediary between the vast resources we have here at Harvard and the many organizations and scholars already doing excellent work in the region. We are looking forward to being a platform and connector, bringing together different disciplines and voices who may not normally exchange and collaborate.”

Why do we need to focus on Climate Change?

South Asia is home to nearly two billion people and commonly regarded as “ground zero” for climate change. Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis are expected to be displaced by rising sea levels, and larger numbers in Pakistan and India will find their land no longer arable as temperatures rise. While there are regional and global models of sea level rises, temperature fluctuations, and rainfall changes, there is only a vague understanding of how these changes affect who moves, when, and why and how such distress migration in South Asia affects host communities, including access to food, shelter, jobs, and population health.

The open-access climate and population health data-monitoring ecosystem will “democratize” essential data and be foundational to understanding the impact of the changing climate on the world’s most populous region.

Digitization of data in the public and private sector will finally make it possible to begin monitoring important micro-level local developments. Near ubiquitous mobile phone use, detailed satellite imagery, and increasing digitization of health, city, and economic data in many parts of South Asia make possible high-resolution mapping of hazard exposure, vulnerability, population mobility, density, land-use, economic indicators and health metrics. Attempts to use such data in the past few years have been ad hoc, and sometimes attempted under duress of rapidly unfolding circumstances.


What will the Mittal Institute team focus on?

The Mittal Institute’s interdisciplinary team that will bring the data repository to life includes scholars focused on public health, business, housing, and migration. It is especially important for climate change to work across disciplines. It’s very unlikely given the data and scholarship that any single approach is going to allow us to mitigate climate change or allow us to adapt to it. We need to look for pieces of answers from very diverse settings. We need to bring together people who think differently about the issues, and only then we might be able to have a productive symbiosis.

We have a track record of bringing together diverse perspectives on complicated issues to advance scholarship. . .we have the ability to bring together hundreds of leading organizations, policymakers and academic institutions and thousands of the best scholars at Harvard and in the region to catalyze new ways of thinking about these issues.  – Tarun Khanna, Mittal Institute Faculty Director


The project will undertake a series of remote and in-region workshops throughout 2022 and early 2023, culminating in a conference at Harvard in the spring of 2023 to demonstrate the prototype open-source data repository and map the pathway to the first iteration of shared open access climate and health surveillance data.