Disasters, Violence, and Migration (DMV) Lab

Principal Investigators: Sara Mitchell and Elise Pizzi

Department of Political Science, University of Iowa

Welcome to the Disasters, Violence, and Migration (DMV) Lab Webpage! Meet our research team!

Natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and droughts have become more frequent in recent decades and threaten to displace as many as one billion people by 2050. Research connecting climate shocks, disasters, and civil conflicts reaches divergent conclusions about the conditions under which environmental shocks lead to political violence. Our NSF funded project explains these disparate findings by examining how government policy responses intervene in the disaster-conflict relationship. We develop a typology of government policy responses, including relocation of affected individuals, restrictions on movement, reconstruction of damaged areas, and regulations of third-party disaster relief. We theorize that political violence occurs more often when governments 1) restrict movement of disaster affected populations, 2) restrict third party actor aid efforts, 3) give aid unequally to politically favored areas, 4) rely on decentralized disaster management strategies; and 5) when pre-disaster remittances are small.

Our lab is working on the creation of a new dataset on government responses to disasters, focusing on geophysical, meteorological, hydrological, and climatological disasters for each country (1900-present). Using the disaster as the unit of analysis, we compile UN OCHA reports, news stories, and policy reports to generate post-disaster chronologies (3+ years) for each event. We code a variety of variables (e.g., disaster policy type, timing, scope, scale, actors, third-party restrictions). We will use this information to evaluate how government disaster responses influence the relationship between disasters, migration, and political violence.

Call for Research Assistants

If you are interested in working for the DMV Lab (credit or pay options) in the 2024-2025 academic year, please click here.

Current Research Papers

Mitchell & Pizzi: "Patterns of Government Disaster Policy Response in Peru": Applies coding scheme developed by our lab to capture disaster policy responses in Peru (e.g., relocation, reconstruction, restrictions on movements/outside aid).

Mitchell, Pizzi, Millerd, & Choi: "Does Government Response to Natural Disasters Explain Violence? The Case of the Sendero Luminoso and Conflict in Peru": Examines how government disaster responses in Peru influence the chances for armed conflict at the administrative 2 level from 1989-2020.

Binici, Choi, Mitchell, Pizzi: "A Text Analysis of News Media Framing of Government Response to the 2023 Türkiye-Syria Earthquake."


Mitchell, Sara McLaughlin and Elise Pizzi. 2021. Natural Disasters, Forced Migration, and Conflict: The Importance of Government Policy Responses." International Studies Review 23(3): 580-604.