Geopolitics

Take 5: Alarming Droughts Around The World

Droughts international
Droughts international
Patrick Randall

With the state of California now in its fourth year of what is classified as a "mega-drought," Governor Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency and Hollywood stars are getting shamed over their abundant water consumption.

But there are less notable corners of the earth going dry as well, as droughts are increasing in number and in strength worldwide. Though many factors can contribute to any one drought, most scientists blame the effects of global warming for dry seasons growing longer in many parts of the world, as the Global Drought Information System shows.

Here are five current drought-affected areas from around the world:

CALIFORNIA

A combination of lack of rain, climate change, high-pressure systems over the Pacific Ocean and fewer clouds have devastated crops and caused water shortages throughout the Golden State. While Texas was recently struggling with floods, Californians were asked to cut their consumption, leaving swimming pools and golf courses unusable and Hollywood's greenest lawns turning yellow.

U.S. lawmakers granted California a $687 million drought-assistance package last year designed to provide water to communities and upgrade distribution systems and treatment plants. But more than half the sum â€" at least $340 million â€" remains unspent.

Although state officials have defended the slow pace as a way to ensure money is being well-spent, Gov. Jerry Brown has stressed urgency. MyNewsLa quoted him as saying that the state could face "fires, disease and all sorts of things we don't ordinarily have to deal with" in the next 10 to 20 years if action isn't taken soon.

A day later, he appeared more reassuring when he said the state could overcome the drought by using technology and adapting to a "more elegant" way of living. He compared the situation to a spaceship: "In a spaceship you reuse everything," he said. "Well, we're in space and we have to find a way to reuse, and with enough science and enough funding we'll get it done."

Forbes explains that more nuclear power could be a solution for the state and its almost 40 million residents, because it uses no fresh water and can even produce more through desalination. It's a solution that some businesses, such as car washes, which are booming with the household water restrictions, might prefer go ignored.

Front pages: The Desert Sun, The Orange County Register, The Sacramento Bee, USA Today, The San Francisco Chronicle

BRAZIL

In Brazil, the states of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais are enduring their worst drought in 80 years. Water cutoffs began in February, after the rain season fell short. President Dilma Rousseff's government has taken a series of measures to limit the drought's impact.

Near the city of Belo Horizonte, record rainfalls were reported in May, more than three times the average. "But it's not a lot of rain," meteorologist Heriberto dos Anjos told Estado de Minas. In the southern part of the state, last year's drought seems to have affected coffee plants, with beans appearing smaller than usual, threatening to force prices up.

In São Paulo, there has been discussion about rationing water. But the state’s Gov. Geraldo Alckmin recently ruled it out. Financial newspaper Valor reports that plans to build a system that can transfer water from one reservoir to another are running late and won't be completed until 2017.



Australia

Although Australia's "Millenium drought," which lasted from 1995 to 2012, is officially over, regions such as New South Wales have seen hardly any rain in up to three years. The country's latest drought statement reports that rain was insufficient in parts of Western Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, but also in major parts of the country's north. But other regions such as Tasmania and Pilbara received above average rainfalls.

The drought is believed to have become more severe following the 2010 and 2012 "La Niña," the phenomenon thought to be responsible for increased precipitation there. Its counterpart, the infamous El Niño, is likely to intensify until (the Australian) spring and will cause reduced rainfall.

Website TakePart explains that Australians drastically changed their consumption habits during the previous drought. Melbourne residents, for instance, managed to conserve the precious element by buying "$2,000 rainwater tanks" instead of building a "$6 billion desalination plant."

MADAGASCAR

In cruel irony, Madagascar underwent both a disastrous drought in the south and deadly floods in the north earlier this year. The floods left at least 45 people dead and some 75,000 displaced in and around the capital, as rivers burst their banks.

Meanwhile, a severe drought last year left more than 200,000 people on the brink of starvation, as Vice News reports. Although food shortages are a recurring problem in southern Madagascar, the drought, combined with tropical storms and a lack of financial aid, has left crops devastated. The United Nations has described the situation as an "acute food crisis."

According to AllAfrica, 4 million people â€" 28% of the rural households â€" are now suffering from lack of food. Since the drought, almost half the population eat just one meal a day, compared to about 13% before January, a World Food Program official told Le Monde.

TAIWAN

Recent rain has relieved parts of Taiwan in what the BBC has described as the country's "worst drought in 67 years." The Taiwanese Water Resources Agency announced it was lifting water rationing in many areas across the island, The China Times reported.

Water consumption limits affected 1 million households. In the north, a rotating system where water supplies were cut off entirely for two days every week was created in several cities.

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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