NEWAVE PhD 3: Water scarcity and migration in East Africa

Politecnico di Milano

Milan, , IT

Home institution: Politecnico di Milano, Italia
Principal supervisor: Prof. Maria Cristina Rulli
Co-supervisor: Prof. Paolo D’Odorico
Non-academic co-supervisor: Dr. Ward Anseeuw
Application deadline: 24 May 2020
Expected starting date: before 15 October 2020 
Duration: 3 years


Estimations of expected environmental migrants by 2050 range from 25 million to 1 billion (UNU-EHS, 2015). The World Water Development Report 2016, highlights there is a “clear connection between water scarcity, food insecurity, social instability and potentially violent conflicts, which in turn can trigger and intensify migration patterns throughout the world”. Although the knowledge on global environmental change, including climate change, as drivers of migration is increasing, there is a strong information gap in understanding how water resource availability influences migration. With the aim of identifying the role of water (i.e. hydrological extremes) in human migration and understanding possible future migration patterns in 5 countries of east Africa, this project will analyse and assess a) the main drivers of migration through meta-analysis/systematic review; b) water scarcity at fine temporal and space scale in current and future scenario; c) evolution of migration patterns associated to projected changes of water scarcity.

This PhD position will:

  1. Identify the main drivers of migration that underlie the migration behaviour in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda through conducting a meta-analysis/systematic review of migration studies;
  2. Assess and compare the level of water scarcity within the mentioned countries by using a set of carefully selected hydrological indicators;
  3. Compare the evolution of migration behaviour with the evolution of water scarcity to identify possible interrelations and potential impacts of specific hydrological events on migration;
  4. Develop an analytical framework to classify the drivers of migration identified in (1) according to their relation to water scarcity, including a categorization into direct and indirect relations;
  5. Draw conclusions on future scenarios of changing migration patterns based on projected changes in the level of water scarcity.                   

Expected results:

  1. Identification of drivers of migration related to water scarcity (both directly and indirectly) in East Africa;
  2. Assessment of the impact of specific hydrological events on migration that provides knowledge on the response time of migration to changes in the level of water scarcity;
  3. Knowledge on future migration patterns based on the projected evolution of water scarcity levels in the mentioned countries.
About Politecnico di Milano

Politecnico di Milano is a state scientific-technological university established in 1863 which trains engineers, architects and industrial designers. Education is at bachelor, master’s, and PhD level. Currently more than 1,300 professors and researchers work at the University and 41,000 students study in 7 different campuses. Polimi is one of the leading Italian research centres characterized by the combination of theoretical bases of excellence and first-rate research infrastructures providing the capacity for a wide variety of experimental research. Polimi is organized in 12 Departments including all main areas of engineering, architecture and industrial design. In 2015 Polimi achieved the European “HR Excellence in Research” Logo.

We seek
  • Above-average MSc (or equivalent degree) in Environmental Engineering, Agricultural Engineering, Environmental Science, Computer Science, quantitative Social Science. Also profile with a degree in Water Science, Water Resources Management, Agriculture or related fields will be considered.
  • Commitment to academic excellence with a track record of high impact research.
  • Capacity to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Examples of high-quality written work, such as a journal paper or equivalent.
  • Outstanding interpersonal skills to work with multiple stakeholders.
  • Proven skills in executing empirical research in challenging contexts.
  • Proven skills in programming for data analytics (e.g. Python, R, Matlab).
  • A solid background in either hydrology and/or statistics.
Eligibility criteria*
  • You must – at the date of recruitment – have obtained the MSc degree entitling you to embark on a doctorate
  • You must – at the date of recruitment – be within the first four years (full-time equivalent research experience) of your research career and not have a doctoral degree
  • Mobility rule: you must not have resided or carried out your main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the country of the host organisation you are applying for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment date. Compulsory national service and/or short stays such as holidays are not taken into account.

*Please make sure you comply with the eligibility criteria before applying. You need to be able to provide documentation proving your eligibility for recruitment. You can read the full description of eligibility criteria in the Information Note for ITN Fellows.


Prof. Maria Cristina Rulli
Full professor, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Politecnico di Milano

Prof. Paolo D’Odorico
Professor, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management
University of California, Berkeley, United States

Dr. Ward Anseeuw
Senior Technical Specialist
International Land Coalition (ILC), Italy