We propose to investigate trends in land use in the Caucasus between 1984 and 2019 and focus specifically on the change in agriculture from rain-fed to irrigation, forest fragmentation because of overharvesting and natural causes, and changes in open surface water. We will examine the implications of these changes in terms of their impact on the vulnerability of the population (social system) to re-emergence of vector-borne diseases such as P. vivax Malaria. We will apply quantitative and qualitative analysis to investigate political instability as a predictor for the re-emergence of Malaria. Our research area will cover and focus specifically on Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. We are collaborating with Dr. Ani Melkonyan who is a native Armenian. Dr. Melkonyan is an environmental (agricultural) economist currently working at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany. She has committed to act as the liaison between the research team and other collaborators (stakeholders from science and politics) in Armenia and Georgia. This project proposes an innovative new method that combines spatial and temporal analysis to improve predictive modeling in disease ecology and international health. The three countries of the Caucasus are very relevant for this study because their stark socioeconomic and political differences provide excellent comparison opportunities. All three regions have experienced cycles of instability and conflict since 1990. The overall objective is to apply remotely sensed data for the development of suitability maps for malaria in the Caucasus. Once these maps are created, the goal is to distinguish and isolate the effects of political instability, which include the cessation of malaria prevention, from the land use and land cover impact on malaria transmission by creating precise timelines of each country’s post-Soviet historical trajectory. Institutional failures under unstable governments during periods of conflict could undermine or interrupt public health work so that disease vectors proliferate.
This research is based on a solid set of remote sensing methods, which will be expanded by the incorporation of SAR imagery. The development of error surfaces by comparing multiple data streams will present a significant new development. Research questions: 1) How have the cropland areas and cropland intensity (irrigation and crop rotations) changed since the late 1980s to create expanded niches for malarial mosquitoes? 2) How did the collapse of the USSR and the regeneration of unstable successor states in the 1990s differentially affect forest fragmentation and P. vivax niche expansion across the region? 3) Can future malaria risk in the Caucasus and other politically or environmentally unstable regions be predicted by combining remotely sensed imagery with social/historical analysis of political corruption, agricultural development, and resource extraction?