Penn senior takes up worldwide challenge of climate-change refugees
By Julie McWilliams
The news is filled with stories of natural disasters, hurricanes, tornados, floods and fires, many often attributed to climate change. News crews, however, move on to the next story and don't follow up on the people displaced in the aftermaths. Where do they go? How are their needs met? Who is tracking their resettlement?
At the University of Pennsylvania, senior Hani Warith is.
A political science major and student fellow at Penn's Perry World House, Warith is working with a team of PWH student fellows throughout the academic year to construct a website showing how cities deal with an influx of climate change refugees.
“Houston, for instance, has a history of welcoming people displaced by storms such as Katrina,” he says. “We're looking at how such cities develop services and population-management strategies in order to best welcome climate refugees.”
Warith says his team hopes their website will lead policy makers to a better awareness of the challenges that rise from urban refugee and migration flows created by climate change and will offer insight into handling those challenges.
Perry World House has helped this happen. Established in 2016, PWH has its undergraduate student fellows participate in a policy project yearly, says Michael Horowitz, a political science professor, PWH associate director and leader of the student fellow program.
"These are team-based activities, where student fellows work together to diagnose problems and lay out potential solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges," he says.
"PWH also gives students unparalleled access to direct interaction with faculty and distinguished visitors, along with unique opportunities and activities oriented around global affairs," says Horowitz.
Global affairs are not a new experience for Warith, who as a 13-year-old witnessed the 2011 Arab Spring political uprisings in Cairo that brought down the three-decade rule of Hosni Mubarak.
Born in Ottawa to an Egyptian father and a Portuguese mother, Warith says his father moved the family back to Cairo that year, exposing him to unprecedented history-in-the-making.
“I was on Tahrir Square the day that Mubarak was deposed,” says Warith, adding that he spent the rest of his formative years in that environment.
Living in a tumultuous political context put him on a path to study global political policy at Penn.
When Perry World House opened, Warith found a home for his political passions. From the first PWH lecture, he became excited about a center for global policy on campus, becoming a PWH student fellow as a junior, participating in a year of weekly seminars and developing a policy project report on urban labor integration of refugees. It was also through PWH that Warith got an internship last summer at a human rights organization in New York City and a grant to help him with his living expenses.
“It was a fantastic experience.” he says.
"Hani is a talented student," says Horowitz. "I am consistently impressed by his commitment and creativity. His team is not just writing a research report; they are creating a website that will map the issue and describe potentially actionable ideas.
"Our hope is that their website, like those for the other World House policy projects, will help the research conducted by the student fellows reach far beyond Penn to influence policymakers and practitioners around the world," he says.
Perry World House Student Fellows is a deep-engagement program for undergraduates interested in global affairs, currently numbering 30 from Penn’s four undergraduate schools, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Nursing and Wharton. Warith's colleagues on his policy-project team include international relations majors Mathilde Beniflah and Elizabeth Peartree as well as economics majors Alex Kaplan and Madiha Samadi.
Horowitz has provided lots of guidance for their project, Warith says, adding that the team also has been paired with two PWH Postdoctoral Fellows, Irit Katz and Julie Gamble.
“They both come from hugely different backgrounds, so it’s great to have their expertise,” he says.
Says Katz, "As an architect specializing in the study of spaces of displacement, migration and refuge, I am supporting Hani and his group in identifying what problems they would like to address about climate-change refugees, specifically in urban areas, so they can define the attitudes and methods they will use to approach the subject and can reflect on the information they need and how to gather it.
"We will work together on the design of the website so it will communicate the subject and the policy recommendations in the best possible way to the relevant people, including policy makers, professionals and researchers."
Gamble, an urban planner with research interests in urban infrastructure, activism and transportation justice, says, "Hani is a thoughtful and engaged student who is passionate about the work and will contribute to future policy trends on urbanization and migration. As we've helped Hani and his team develop their research project on climate change and refugees, they've shown exceptional curiosity."
Still in their research stage, the team members are hoping for a February launch.
After that will come Commencement. Warith is applying to doctoral programs on comparative politics at universities across the Northeast and in California with the goal of seeking an academic position and/or a role in a public-policy think tank.
“My experience with Perry World House has meant that I could pursue a rigorous and unique educational experience with a strong practical underpinning,” says Warith.