#Drought in N. Korea and the N. High Plains #ActOnClimate

I haven’t heard anyone talk much about the impending food crisis in N. Korea. So I will.

The New York Times (Choe Sang-Hun) reported on July 21, 2017:

North Korea is suffering its worst drought in 16 years, a United Nations agency reported on Friday, raising fears of worsening food shortages in the country, where children and other vulnerable groups have been malnourished for years.

North Korea’s production of staple crops for this year, including rice, corn, potatoes and soybeans, has been severely damaged by prolonged dry spells “threatening food security for a large part of its population,” the agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a report prepared in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Center.

Seasonal rainfall in the main cereal-producing regions is below that of 2001, when grain production fell to a record low of two million tons, Vincent Martin, the agency’s representative in North Korea, said in a news release.

Although some rain has fallen this month, it was likely to be too late to allow the normal planting and development of main crops that would be harvested in October and November, the report said.

Because of the drought, the production of early season crops that are harvested in June, including wheat, barley and potatoes, dropped to 310,000 tons, more than 30 percent below last year’s 450,000 tons, it said. The early season harvest usually accounts for 10 percent of the country’s total annual cereal production…

“Increased food imports, commercial or through food aid, would be required during the next three months at the peak of the lean season, ensuring adequate food supply for the most vulnerable, including children and elders,” the agency said in a statement.

North Korea experienced chronic food shortages in the 1990s, when a famine caused by years of bad weather and economic mismanagement forced the country to issue a rare appeal for international help. By some estimates, more than a million people died in the famine.

The country has since allowed more market-oriented activities and encouraged trade with China to increase access to food. Its own food production has also improved in recent years. But humanitarian relief groups still call for donations, warning that shortages remain widespread.

But international donors have become increasingly reluctant to provide humanitarian aid in recent years, as North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons and missiles in defiance of United Nations resolutions. In September, after the North’s fifth nuclear test, South Korea did not offer humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of flood victims in North Korea, saying that the country should divert the money spent on weapons to buy food for its people.

President Park Geun-hye took a hard-line stance on the North, but under President Moon Jae-in, a liberal who took office in May, the South Korean government has indicated it will be readier to consider humanitarian aid.

North Korea has not yet reported any damage from the drought. Instead, its main state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, urged the country on Friday to produce more goods locally, especially raw materials and fuel, to overcome what it called “barbaric” international sanctions pushed by the United States.

The question is how the North Korean leader will react if there is unrest. That’s why the U.S. Congress needs to step up and make sure that food can get to N. Korea.

Here’s an analysis of the potential supply disruptions and political effects from climate crises, like drought, and the intersection of limited supply routes, from Elizabeth Winkler writing for The Washington Post. Global food security, she says,

…depends on trade in just four crops: maize, wheat, rice and soybeans. The first three account for 60 percent of the world’s food energy intake. The fourth, soybeans, is the world’s largest source of animal protein feed, making up 65 percent of global protein feed supply. Their production is concentrated in a handful of exporting countries, including the United States, Brazil and the Black Sea region, from which they are flowing at ever-greater volumes. Between 2000 and 2015, global food trade grew by 127 percent to 2.2 billion metric tons — and growth rates are projected to keep increasing.

There is a flash drought occurring in the northern Great Plains affecting the winter wheat crop there, according to a report from Grist (Eric Holthaus):

It’s peak hurricane season, but the nation’s worst weather disaster right now is raging on the High Plains.

An intense drought has quickly gripped much of the Dakotas and parts of Montana this summer, catching farmers and ranchers off-guard. The multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional,” its highest severity level, matching the intensity of the California drought at its peak.

The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt, with some longtime farmers and ranchers calling it the worst of their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this kind of came-out-of-nowhere drought could become a lot less rare in the future.

“The damage and the destruction is just unimaginable,” Montana resident Sarah Swanson told Grist. “It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

Rainfall across the affected region has been less than half of normal since late April, when this year’s growing season began. In parts of Montana’s Missouri River basin, which is the drought’s epicenter, rainfall has been less than a quarter of normal — which equals the driest growing season in recorded history for some communities.

“It’s devastating,” says Tanja Fransen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s office in Glasgow, Montana. Just six years removed from 2011, one of the region’s wettest years on record, eastern Montana is now enduring one of its driest.

“We’re at the bottom of the barrel,” Fransen says. “For many areas, it’s the worst we’ve seen in 100 years.”

Wheat production worries

The drought already has far-reaching effects. In eastern Montana, America’s current-largest wildfire continues to smolder; the 422-square-mile Lodgepole complex fire is one-third the size of Rhode Island. It’s Montana’s largest fire since 1910.

Across the state, 17 other large fires are also spreading. “We haven’t even hit our normal peak fire season yet,” Fransen says.

Recently, as the climate has warmed and crop suitability has shifted, the Dakotas and Montana have surpassed Kansas as the most important wheat-growing region in the country. The High Plains is now a supplier of staple grain for the entire world. According to recent field surveys, more than half of this year’s harvest may already be lost.

The economic impact of the drought and related fires may exceed $1 billion across the multi-state region by the time the rains return. Donations of hay for beleaguered farmers and ranchers have come in from as far away as West Virginia.

Farmers in the region are also worried because the Trump administration has targeted a key federal crop insurance program for hefty cuts. The governors of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana have all declared states of emergency to speed aid and open some normally protected areas for livestock grazing.

It came out of nowhere

Droughts are often thought of as creeping, slow-motion disasters. They usually don’t grab headlines like hurricane landfalls, even though they represent the costliest weather-related catastrophe worldwide.

But this drought is an anomaly, a “flash drought.” It essentially came from nowhere. It didn’t exist just three months ago.

The frequency of these rapid-onset droughts is expected to increase as the planet warms. A recent study focusing on China found that flash droughts more than doubled in frequency there between 1979 and 2010.

Droughts like these are closely linked to climate change. As temperatures rise, abnormally dry conditions across the western United States are already becoming more common and more intense. And as evaporation rates speed up, rainfall becomes more erratic, and spring snowmelt dries up earlier each year.

Future summers in North Dakota are expected to be even hotter and drier, on par with the present-day weather of south Texas.

In their zeal to pile on the madman in N. Korea Congress needs to be careful not to inadvertently join forces with Climate Change and worsen the situation.

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of U.S. Drought Monitor maps showing the development of flash drought in the N. High Plains this season.