North Korea’s Potential Collapse: An Anthropocene Inferno


Tensions are rising with North Korea. Global security articles tell of Russian bombers near Alaska, armadas of air craft carriers somewhere presumably in the Pacific, and satellite imagery of nuclear test sites showing…volleyball games. If conditions deteriorate, watch for upwelling warm water off the coast of Chile too, and how warm the Barents sea is (along with its own armada–of icebergs). Because the ironic cruelties of the Anthropocene will be every part of North Korea’s near future as well. And as North Korea disintegrates, so too does the global relief community.

In the final days of 2015, Oxfam International warned of “unprecedented strain” on the international humanitarian community due to a super El Nino and the Syrian complex emergency.

To use a sports analogy, the international relief community stayed in the playoff picture in North Africa and Eurasia–conducting operations in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and managing hundreds of thousands of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean through Turkey and Libya.

However, add to this the potential unraveling of Yemen as part of the worst humanitarian crisis (including the Horn of Africa nations) since World War II, the potential resurgence of El Nino, and a brave new world of extraordinary Arctic amplification…the global relief community is teetering on the brink of being eliminated from the playoff picture. That is to say, “playoffs” being an ability to even remotely plug the holes of governance and support each of these complex emergencies.

And like any sports team, when eliminated from the playoffs, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and rebuild. Time to abandon the archaic relief operations of the Holocene and at the very least attempt to come to terms with the climate disruption-catalyzed Anthropocene.

But there is no clamoring at the UN or in the NGO community to do this. No tear up of strategic doctrines of NATO or the strategic interests of Russia or China. Perhaps it is only Turkey that has even dabbled with humanitarian power projection as a way to contain the coming disruption beyond sovereign borders.  [Ref: ReliefAnalysis on EurasiaNet]. The global relief community remains very much an anachronism of the late 20th Century “post Cold War era”–a game or two from being eliminated with thousands of crises to go.

North Korea Would Spectacularly End the Holocene Era of Relief Operations

As tensions boil with North Korea, the analysis of what would happens with a regime collapse are clear. There would be a scramble by Great and Regional powers to secure the remaining bits of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, likely involving tense, on-the-ground operations. And the humanitarian situation would be ghastly. North Korea’s population is 24.3M; Syria’s is 22.85M. North Korea would hemorrhage displacement and refugee outflows at least on par Syria. Both complex emergencies would involve the dangerous engagement of Great Powers (Syria=Russia, US; North Korea=China, Russia, US) and Regional Powers (Syria=Turkey, Iran, North Korea=South Korea, Japan) alike.

It is a crude analogy to compare North Korea to Syria, but appropriate for raw scale. Add another massive complex emergency to Eurasia, and the global relief community is spectacularly eliminated from being able to even remotely handle the scale of global disruption. Being able to respond to West Asia (Syria/Iraq), Central Asia (Afghanistan), and the greater Horn of Africa (Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan) simultaneously would be impossible.

Forget even beginning to think about an emerging El Nino or Arctic Amplification-induced weather disruption….

The Cruel Irony of North Korea’s post-Collapse Relief

…Except here is the kicker. North Korea is particularly vulnerable to both El Nino and Arctic Amplification.

The 2015 El Nino was North Korea’s worst drought in a century, an extraordinary stressor on the 70% of the nation’s population, which is food insecure. Crop yields plunged by 20%, and 25,000 children required immediate treatment for malnutrition.

As the Australian Bureau of Meteorology states in its current El Nino Watch, “The pattern of very warm ocean conditions in the far eastern Pacific but neutral conditions overall is unusual. International climate models suggest the steady warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean is likely to continue in the coming months.”

And in terms of Arctic Amplification, according to published research in the journal Nature “severe winters across East Asia are associated with anomalous warmth in the Barents–Kara Sea region” with “regional warming over the Arctic Ocean…accompanied by the local development of an anomalous anticyclone and the downstream development of a mid-latitude trough. The resulting northerly flow of cold air provides favourable conditions for severe winters.”

So in the months ahead, an all-out NGO fracas on the Korean peninsula could be further punctuated by an El Nino-enhanced drought, and in winter, a warm Barents-Kara sea could result in a stuck jet stream and dislodged polar vortex–making winter humanitarian operations an icy humanitarian hell. [Ref ReliefAnalysis on UN Dispatch regarding the challenge of winter operations in Syria.]

Should North Korea deteriorate, turn on the TV–the global relief community has just been “officially” eliminated from the playoffs…with an boundless contests to go.







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Eurasia’s Megacity-equivalent Population Explosion Currently Lives in Yemen

Yemen IDP

It’s very possible that over the next decade, Eurasia is going to add an equivalent in population growth exceeding that of an Istanbul or Cairo-sized megacity from a source greatly underestimated by the security and humanitarian community.

That source is Yemen. The country torn apart by civil strife, international conflict including Saudi and UAE air strikes, insurgency, and famine comprises a major component of the United Nation’s “worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.” And according to the World Health Organization, the nation’s entire health system is on the “brink of collapse” with 17 percent of facilities completely nonfunctional.

As poignantly stated by Hassan Boucenine, head of the Doctors Without Borders’ Yemen operation, “the whole population may soon need humanitarian help…How can a country that imports 90% of its food and 100% of its drugs and that can only access a small portion of these not be in trouble?”

The trouble gets worse. Yemen is quickly running out of water. With an explosion to a population of 27 million, a dependence on water-intensive qat production, and a relentless draining of aquifers, “Sanaa could the be the world’s first capital city to ‘run out of water’ as groundwater reserves simply dry up,” according to ThinkProgress.

Currently, of Yemen’s population of 27 million, approximately 2.7 million are internally displaced. 170,000 refugees from its diverse population are fleeing to the Horn of Africa, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, and Oman.

It is a baseline from a humanitarian and security perspective that can be augmented from in future scenarios.


With its health system in a full state of collapse, insurgency ongoing, and water likely to run out, anything less than an exponential projection of potential disruption is unlikely. For the purpose of this analysis, a 10-year lower-bound analysis showing an exponentiation level of 2x (and a conservative assumption of zero population growth) shows 5.4 million internally displaced and 340,000 refugees in approximately 10 years. That’s about 5.8 million displaced, but primarily within the confines of Yemeni borders. The displacement equivalent is about that of Taipei, Taiwan or Johannesburg, South Africa. Destinations for external migrants remains the Horn of Africa, Gulf States (Saudi Arabia, Iran), and perhaps maritime routes to South Asia–Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh.

But let’s turn up the volume on the scenario even more exponential due to abrupt climate disruption. Adding a scenario of a Blue Ocean Event eloquently described by University of Ottowa climatologist Paul Beckwith that involves a 10-year transition to a full open Arctic after the first summer ice free event would accompany a global temperature increase of approximately 3C above baseline. This temperature rise, triggered about a decade after the onset of the first summer event would expand uninhabitable zones in the tropics and Middle East/North Africa.

This would include making pockets of Yemen potentially uninhabitable–a reasonable proxy is the work of the Max Planck institute showing a “business as usual” rise of 5C by the end of the century across much of the Middle East per below:

Yemen heat

Extending the same geographic impact to a more sudden onset Blue Ocean event scenario would plague Yemen with far too many days where wet bulb temperatures would exceed 35C. If water resources do indeed dry up, and the health system remains collapsed, the exponentiation rises further–perhaps over 24.3 million refugees surging north through the Middle East, Turkey, deep into Europe and Asia, far greater than that of New York and trailing only Tokyo for a megacity equivalent. It is assumed that, due to warming in the Middle East and Africa, these migration routes are very likely to turn northward.

Splitting the difference between upper bound and lower bound scenarios still results in 7.4 million external refugees and 7.4 million internally displaced–roughly an Istanbul or Cairo-equivalency of devastating humanitarian and geopolitical impact.

With so much barely on the brink of collapse in Yemen already, the Gulf nation is very likely to not survive a Blue Ocean Event warming scenario. The result for Eurasia is likely to be a megacity-equivalent in Yemeni exodus.

[Kaiser Family Foundation, UN Radio, World Health Organization, ThinkProgress, City Mayors,, The Independent (image)]


Sincere thanks to Jennifer Hynes for the opportunity to be interviewed on a recent episode of Extinction Radio. Catch the full episode and a fantastic video package from Rick Siegenthaler here.

Deep gratitude is also extended to Carolyn Baker for the opportunity to be interviewed on the New Lifeboat Hour, here.

An honor to be interviewed by such exceptional true humanitarians!



Posted in Asia, Climate Disruption, Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, Food Security, Health, Middle East & North Africa, Uncategorized, War and Conflict | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Nation of Somewhere


With the proposed ban on the US refugee resettlement program from 7 predominantly Muslim becoming a roiling issue, the tensions over “who is America” are simmering. It’s all to easy to be caught up in a frenzy of a polarizing us/them or American/immigrant discourse without finding a common ground of humanity, and turning the mirror on ourselves.

In ReliefAnalysis Episode 9, filmmaker and docuseries creator Ruka Osoba describes her acclaimed humanitarian-theme project, Nation of Somewhere. Osoba, who is Nigerian-American, describes in vivid detail how her project has become a safe and vibrant space for many Americans who comprise the nation’s authentic multiethnic fabric.

Nation of Somewhere is a cross-platform, interactive creative project, with episodes on YouTube, and a strong dialogue on Facebook. In her interview, Osoba describes how the project has provided safe harbor and expression to many followers. It has also opened Pandora’s Box in terms of backlash–but Osoba describes how this is the fuel and inspiration that keeps her going.

On the horizon for Nation of Somewhere is Season 2, and continued engagement in highly visible film festivals. As Osoba continues to build toward these accomplishments in 2017, her work in the broad humanitarian documentary genre is an essential contribution to a country otherwise being driven towards polarization and fracture.


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Violent US Weather Pattern: A Formulaic Signal in the Chaos

It is a violent weather pattern shaping up in the US on January 22, 2017, with an “unseasonably” early tornado/severe weather outbreak in the SE US and an atmospheric river coming onshore in California, resembling an El Nino set-up in a La Nina year.


It is also very telling illustration of the formulaic high level patterning of climate disruption fueled by  Arctic Amplification. Per today’s imagery on Climate Reanalyzer, a striking “vomiting” of Arctic warm air anomalies deep into eastern North America appears to be taking place. The Arctic is sitting at +3.76C over baseline at the time of the event. The polar vortex has now slipped over Alaska, with extreme negative temperature anomalies. The jet stream has dipped far to the south, dragging moisture into California and slowing down over the SE US to allow a 990 mb low pressure system to set-up near the tornado outbreak zone.

Reverse engineering patterns of disruption and humanitarian operations based on degrees Celsius above baseline is a topic I had the privilege of discussing with the amazing Carolyn Baker on the New Lifeboat Hour that will be published this week.


I am very excited to shortly debut Season 2 of the ReliefAnalysis podcast. The articulate and insightful Nigerian-American filmmaker Ruka Osoba will join us to discuss her humanitarian film project, Nation of Somewhere

Hat tip to critical ongoing analysis: Paul Beckwith and Jennifer Hynes.



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The Digital Divide Just Increased Dramatically in the Pacific – at Precisely the Worst Time


American and Australian geologists have confirmed – Antarctica’s Totten Glacier is being consumed from beneath by warm currents of the Southern Ocean. At stake, up to 11.5 feet of Sea Level Rise if a domino-effect melt scenario were to take place across the East Antarctic Ice Sheet.

In the Pacific, Emergency Operations Centers from Tahiti to the Solomon Islands, topographic maps of Totten Glacier may soon become a fixture. Cyclones, rain bombs, disease outbreaks such as Zika, droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis–all part of the Disaster Manager’s complex portfolio in the Pacific Islands–now there is a tactical black swan threat that may tip the scales between resilience and outright retreat and relocation.

And in communicating risk, when vast outer island communities stretch throughout Oceania, Internet and cell phone communication is sparse and limited to the wealthy, while FM radio technology is spotty and often confined to urban areas. The Pacific Islands are not the US, Europe, or East Asia–shortwave radio technology is the common denominator that crosses the digital divide, with international broadcasts reaching inexpensive, rugged receivers and providing critical disaster information.

Unfortunately in January 2017, the digital divide is about to expand greatly, as Radio Australia will cease its Pacific shortwave transmission. As Alexandra Wake brilliantly details in the Huffington Post,  the shutdown of Australian shortwave broadcasting has extraordinary implications for impeding Pacific disaster management operations–look no further than cyclone Pam’s impact on Vanuatu in 2015 when international broadcasting played no less than a heroic role in saving lives.

Radio New Zealand International’s shortwave service now alone has a pivotal responsibility in one of the globe’s most vulnerable regions for Abrupt Climate Disruption. It is now a lone voice to many outer islands and rural areas across Oceania that will be increasingly pressured by rain bombs, droughts, and cyclones. In the past two weeks, two bad events have transpired for the Pacific: with Totten glacier’s rapid melting, the prospect of catastrophic risk is growing; with the shutdown of Radio Australia’s shortwave service, the digital divide to address all disasters just got much wider.

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Hurricane Matthew and Haiti’s Devastating October Hurricanes – Exporing a Potential New Correlation


As of October 2, 2016, Hurricane Matthew is poised to impact the vulnerable and disaster-prone nation of Haiti, targeting the island nation with the most dangerous north-east quadrant of its 140 mile-per-hour Category 4 winds. October hurricanes, when they have occurred in Haiti over the past decade, have caused tremendous disaster impacts. In October of 2012, Haiti’s agricultural sector was decimated by Hurricane Sandy. In October 2007, Hurricane Noel was the second wettest tropical cyclone on record in Haiti causing massive flooding and mudslides.

2012, 2007, and 2016. Sound familiar? These years also represent the very worst years of peak Arctic sea ice melt extent in terms of area in square kilometers at peak melt point. Is it possible that there could be a potential teleconnection between the worst-of-the worst of Arctic sea ice melt years and Haiti’s October Hurricanes?

To explore this hypothesis, ReliefAnalysis analyzed a period of record of 12 years of peak Arctic melt seasons with data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center to confirm Arctic sea ice minimum melt extent since 2005. The results were then sorted into clusters of Severity Categories to include “Worst” representing the 2012/2007/2016 minimums, “Strong,” “Medium,” and “Less Severe” to determine a spectrum of values within this spectrum of accelerating sea ice loss.


From there, 21 named storms that have affected since Haiti were analyzed in chronological order, with primary data from the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and Weather Underground. Key data elements were Haiti impact date, Cyclone name, maximum Category on the Saffir-Simpson Scale,  and “Number Affected” – a proxy for impact given that damage and fatality figures for Haiti have some historical data challenges. Then, these 21 named storms were cross referenced against the key elements of Arctic sea ice patterns…did the storm occur after peak Arctic Melt Season for that year–which also occurs about half way through the most active peak of the Atlantic Hurricane Season. In addition, did that particular storm occur in a “Worst,” “Strong,” “Medium,” or “Least Severe” sea ice loss category. Any storms that occurred after peak melt season are highlighted in yellow.

Haiti Hurricane Impacts.JPG

The period of record chosen was intentional. Haiti has a very long, and devastating history of hurricane impacts. The 12 year period of record is short enough that it can represent some granularity and separation with our recent experience with Arctic amplification and allow for some nuanced sea ice extent categories. (Sea ice extent was chosen as the variable;, had thickness data been available, 2016 may well have been the “Worst” year.) Expanding the record too far would simply have clustered the last decade of the sea ice loss spiral into a less useful composite category. At the same time, the record was expanded to include the hyperactive 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season, when the storm naming convention used Greek letters well into December, and before sea ice extent began to plunge below 5 million square kilometers consistently.

The numbers show us that looking at “Number Affected” being greater than 100,000 people as a proxy for major hurricane impact, only Noel and Sandy had tremendous impacts, and occurred post-peak melt season (in fact in October). Noel (2007) and Sandy (2012), fell in the “Worst” category of recent Arctic sea ice loss years.

2010’s Tropical Storm Matthew and Hurricane Tomas occurred during a very dangerous Atlantic Hurricane Season with hundreds of thousands displaced in the wake of the Port-au-Prince Earthquake. Their significant but relatively less severe impacts occurred post-peak melt season and were in the “Strong” category of sea ice loss. Hurricane Ike, in 2008, had a very significant impact on Haiti, but occurred pre-melt season peak and in the heart of the Atlantic Hurricane Season’s active window.

Looking deeper into Haiti’s deeper hurricane history, post melt-season peak devastating Haiti hurricanes do occur, and significantly so. Here are six examples between 1935-2004–a 69 year period of record averaging a return frequency of 11.5 years:

  • Hurricane Jeanne impacted Haiti on September 17, 2004 and claimed 3,000 lives.
  • Hurricane Flora made a Category 4 impact on Haiti October 3, 1963 and caused 8,000 fatalities.
  • An unnamed storm in 1935 claimed over 2,000 lives during a mid-October impact.
  • Hurricane Hazel impacted Haiti as a Category 3 storm in mid-October 1954, claiming 1,000 lives.
  • Hurricane Gordon’s November 1994 impact claimed 1,000 lives.
  • In 1998, Hurricane Georges caused a major agricultural disaster and also claimed 400 lives, while making an impact on September 21.


Haiti has a long history of devastating hurricane impacts. From 1935-2004, six such disasters occurred after the peak melt Arctic sea ice loss, before our current era of increasing Arctic amplification. These events occurred on average once every 11.5 years.

Since 2005 (a much shorter period of record of 12 years), we have been 3 for 3 in terms correlating years of very significant sea ice loss, to a strong October Haiti hurricane impacts–with Matthew’s current approach included. The return frequency for this smaller period of record is once every 4 years.

Of course, this is not a meteorological analysis by any means–merely an overlay of patterns and humanitarian impacts. But certainly a humanitarian trend worth continuing to evaluate in future years as Arctic amplification continues.


Programming Note: I have had the honor of finishing up the audio of a discussion with Brad Baldilla, a prominent activist in the Asian American and Filipino American community who is very involved in Business Process Outsourcing–one of the increasingly prominent trends in globalization and international labor markets. The implications are significant, and I look forward to sharing to kick off the fall series of ReliefAnalysis podcasts shortly.

Posted in Climate Disruption, Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, Food Security, Latin America, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Global Linchpin: Brazil’s Tenuous Water Supply Chains


If the Earth’s entire fresh water supply were parceled out into drinking glasses, one out of every five of those glasses would be Brazilian in origin. Yet despite being the steward of20% of the Earth’s freshwater supply, Brazil is “very thirsty” according to a new World Bank report.

Poor water supply infrastructures are creating major geographic disparities–with a disproportional impact on impoverished areas and populations. Explosive urbanization is creating water shortages in areas such as San Paolo, and the World Bank predicts that shortages throughout the country may increase significantly in the coming years and decades.

The pressures on Brazil’s tenuous water supply chain are increasing. The demands of being the world’s second largest food exporter, responsible for 10% of the global corn supply, have locked up over 70% of the water supply in irrigation. Industries such as raw mineral extraction such as aluminum are creating polluting feedback loops and contaminating the water cycle. 60% of the country’s energy origininates from hydropower. And population growth symbolizzed the rise of gargantuan megacities like Rio create an exponential complexity in the types of water supply infrastructure that must be developed to quench the thirst.

Then there is the precious Amazon Basin, which is facing severe deforestation and threatens to relinquish its status as a net global carbon sink. Compound this with the fires, floods, and droughts wrought by climate change, and an anvil of multiple stressors is dropping on an already sickly water supply system.

For the entire global community, the well being of one fifth of the planet’s freshwater and a major contributor to global food security dependens on how Brazil’s water supply chains can handle unprecedented stress going forward.

[Image: Record low San Paolo water reserves in 2014 via telesurtv]


Programming Note: I’m looking forward to sharing a new lineup of fall podcasts with you in the coming months! Next week, I hope to announce who our September guest will be.

The ReliefAnalysis site will have new components coming too–with sections on “The Geography of Disruption” and “Humanitarian Evolution” being developed which are becoming the core of the ReliefAnalysis vision and mission.

A new detailed blogroll is under development as well. David Korn, who has coached me with his extremely effective and transformational heuristical style, is featured in the beta version of this page. David’s superb strategic and tactical advice results in processes that deliver tangible and measurable tactical outcomes; they have been vital to the relaunch of ReliefAnalysis. Check out his site and/or contact me  anytime for more. Soon to follow on the detailed blogroll page, the great guests in Episodes 1-8, key cross-post partners, and more.





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