Neural Networks for Object Recognition and Disaster Planning

Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) are neural networks that can process images and identify objects within them. Although these methods of machine learning have been around for a long time, it was only within the past 10 years that the error of image classification was reduced to 15%, leading many companies and researchers to adopt these methods for data collection and image processing. Read more ›

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Flooding from all directions: How compound flooding threatens urban areas in Oceania

What is Compound Flooding?

When it comes to flooding in Oceania, the conversation is often dominated by the danger of sea level rise, as this has become one of the defining characteristics of climate change in the region. However, flooding can occur through other mechanisms, which when excluded from resiliency planning, can exacerbate the threat in urban areas. The three principal mechanisms of flooding are coastal, fluvial and pluvial which are defined as the following:

Coastal Flooding: Inundation of land areas from the combination of sea level rise, storm surge, and tides

Fluvial Flooding: More commonly known as river flooding, this occurs when water extends over the typical boundaries of rivers, lakes, streams, and dams caused by increased rainfall upstream

Pluvial Flooding: Extreme rainfall can cause water to pool in any location (ex. Flash Floods) and is independent of being located near an existing body of water

Together, these three methods of flooding interact and compound on each other thus increasing the severity of a flooding event when occurring simultaneously. Lately, this effect has been getting more attention and is being analyzed specifically in the context of extreme weather events in the United States. However, the complexity at which these flooding mechanisms converge in coastal areas is difficult to model and forecast, therefore it is left out of the majority of preventative planning. This makes it incredibly dangerous in urban settings, as storm water infrastructure is not built to withstand the proper capacity, causing failures in areas that were thought to be resilient and protected. With 68% of the population residing in coastal urban areas in Oceania, it can be particularly dangerous for citizens. Read more ›

Great Power Relations with Oceania Nations

Under the assumption that the current trajectory toward irreversible climate change will continue, this post examines the most likely populations that will move and the pre-existing connections they have to other, larger nations.

*An important note: this post does not examine intra-regional migration, but rather discusses the role of larger powers in the migration of these populations. *

The Pacific Community’s World Fish website developed an interactive map of the island-nations within Oceania and the percentage of each population that lives within 1 kilometer, 5 kilometers, and 10 kilometers of the coast. Under this algorithm, we have determined which islands have more than 80% of their population within 1 kilometer of the coast; these nations are considered the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and the most likely populations to move as a result of rising sea levels.

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Making sense out of billions of dollars: the FY21 Budget

The Fiscal Year 2021 budget recently released by the White House has captured the attention of Pacific watchers. The Trump administration’s goal to “frustrate Chinese efforts to shape the Indo-Pacific in its image” as part of their larger desire to re-calibrate from the global war on terror to “focusing on great power competition” To this end, $1.5 billion is poised to be allocated to “ensuring that the region remains free, open, and independent of malign Chinese influence”.

What Does a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’ Actually Mean?

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy

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Pandemics & Informal Work in Developing Countries

With the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic, proactive social distancing is finally kicking in. Public gatherings are being discouraged and immediate travel bans from countries with higher rates of infections are containing further spread. Meanwhile, increased hoarding of facemasks, hand-sanitizers, toilet paper, and soap are adding to and increasing public concern.

For organizations and economies that have and can afford to implement flexible working hours, canceling non-essential air travel, and copious amounts of hand sanitizer are effective ways of pre-emptively dealing with the looming threat of COVID-19. For the first time in 34 years, Austin will not be hosting its annual South by Southwest festival, costing the city approximately $355 million in lost revenue. Not restricted to cities, international events too are being postponed.  Formula One has said that its upcoming Grand Prix in Bahrain will be closed to spectators, while the Chinese Grand Prix, which had been scheduled for April, was postponed. Universities too have moved classes online, allowing students to finish the remaining semester remotely.

Preemptive action and social distancing are key to containing spread and limiting future infections. But what about developing countries that have inadequate health infrastructure? What about countless informal workers in those economies for whom social distancing translates to the loss of livelihood? In the absence of social safety nets, what happens to informal workers who do not have the luxury of working from home?

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Defining populations at risk and where they may migrate

Migration from and within the Oceania region is likely to occur as a result of climate change and related extreme weather events. Thus, it is necessary to ascertain which populations are most at risk of forced displacement due to inhospitable living conditions and to where they are likely to relocate. To identify who may migrate a combination of population density, distance from coast, and elevation needs to be considered. However, while these variables are effective in showing populations at risk from rising sea levels and extreme weather events, they downplay the risk to populations due to other consequences of climate change. These risks include, but are not limited to, depleted fish stocks due to ocean acidification, changes to precipitation patterns that affect agriculture, and salinization of fresh-water stocks. These lesser-known consequences of climate change may have as significant an impact on forced migration from Oceania as sea levels rise but are much more difficult to estimate. Furthermore, data are not available for all these variables, limiting the accuracy of estimates on migration.

Defining at-risk populations

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Perspectives on Chinese and American HADR in the Indo-Pacific Region

With nearly sixty percent of total disaster-related deaths — more than two million since 1970 — the Indo-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world. This number should not come as a surprise considering the region’s massive population, the number of people living at or near coastal areas, and the number of developing nations in the Indo-Pacific. Worse yet, the region is becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate-related disasters bolstering growing concern about other threats such as rising sea levels, fishery depletion, and water salination. We needn’t look far for examples: In 2015 and 2016 Cyclones Pam and Winston — the two strongest storms ever recorded in the South Pacific — battered Oceania, a subset of the larger Indo-Pacific comprised of small island developing states (SIDS). More recently, Australia’s intense bushfires provided a reminder that climate change affects more than just small, poor island nations. 

Source: Perth USAsia Centre

The Indo-Pacific’s susceptibility to severe natural and climate disasters makes the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) all the more important. International HADR efforts are essential to providing immediate relief to poor, isolated, and/or developing nations in the wake of disasters. 

This post strives to outline American HADR in the Indo-Pacific, compare US efforts with China’s growing HADR role, and assess the implications for American and Chinese HADR efforts in the region; in assessing each of these topics, I will extend the conversation to consider the implications for Oceania given the threats facing the low-lying atoll and isolated SIDS in that region. In doing so, this post relies greatly on past work by our partners at the Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance, particularly Adrian Duaine and researcher Taylor Tielke.

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Room to Step-Up: Australia’s Bid to Maintain Influence in Oceania (2/2)

Australia’s preeminent role in the Pacific may be subject to change. While many think the looming threat to Australian leadership is increased Chinese interest in the region, the greater threat may very well be Australia’s response, or lack thereof, to regional climate threats.

This article series explores Australia’s partnership with the Pacific, the effect of China’s increased presence in Oceania, and the need for Australia to meaningfully re-engage its neighbors. This article discusses the two factors commonly thought to threaten Australia’s influence – China’s increasing regional presence and Australia’s failure to support necessary climate reforms.

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Does the ‘Kiwi Dream’ still exist for Pasifika Peoples?

Members of Auckland’s Tongan Older Persons Group. Pacific Islanders make up approximately 20% of the city’s population. Photograph: Eleanor Ainge Roy

Much like in the United States, the concept of the “Kiwi Dream” was born out of the idea that a growing economy and strong work ethic could provide a platform for social and economic mobility, regardless of one’s background. For many Kiwis, this dream manifested itself in the idea of working a middle-class job, owning a home, a car, and having several children. But New Zealand is now finding itself at a crossroads with respect to population growth, immigration, and long-term livability. Home ownership in many of New Zealand’s urban centers is becoming more and more out of reach for local residents, contributing to sky-high rents and lower levels of home ownership across the country. Last year, Auckland tied Toronto as the world’s sixth least affordable city, with houses costing on average ten times the median income. Christchurch and Wellington, New Zealand’s second and third largest housing markets, are also ranked as “severely unaffordable” by Demographia International’s Annual Housing Affordability Survey.

This year, New Zealand is expected to hit the major population milestone of 5 million people. While New Zealand ranks 126th worldwide in population (between Central African Republic and Mauritania), the country’s population growth has occurred at a much faster rate than ever before witnessed. The lion’s share of this growth is the result of increased immigration, primarily from China, India, and the Philippines. New Zealand now has one of the highest net migration rates of any OECD country. Kiwis with Pacific heritage (excluding Māori) are also expected to experience record population growth, topping 650,000 this year. With the country experiencing major growing pains as it reaches a new population milestone, one must wonder how Pacific Islander (henceforth referred to as Pasifika) populations are faring under these changing circumstances.

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How Prepared is the Kingdom of Tonga? 

The Kingdom of Tonga, situated along the South Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire,” is exceptionally vulnerable to natural disasters including earthquakes, cyclones, floods, and volcanic eruptions.  

So much so that the 2018 WorldRiskIndex ranked Tonga as the second most disaster-prone country of the 172 covered by the Index. Additionnally, given the social vulnerabilities that island nations in the South Pacific are facing, the Index reckoned that Tonga cannot break free “without external support.”

Should a natural disaster occur, how prepared is Tonga? In order for us to assess Tonga’s disaster risk preparedness, we have sought to answer four questions. 

  1. Does Tonga have a DRR strategy in place? 
  2. Has it been proactively reporting on the Hyogo and Sendai frameworks?
  3. What is the status of implementation? 
  4. What are the biggest barriers to implementation?

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