Visualizing North Korea's Worst Drought in Decades

By Alex Kappel on Jul 08 2014

The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) is experiencing its worst drought in over a decade. According to reports, some areas have experienced 70 days without rain as well as the lowest rainfall levels since 1961. As food shortages are already a problem for North Korea, the damage that this drought will likely cause for harvests is cause for serious alarm. Food shortages in the 1990s led to an estimated million deaths.

Toggle OpenStreetMap labels to pinpoint most vulnerable cities.

We used satellite data to measure what areas are most impacted by the drought. We examined MODIS Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to evaluate current vegetation levels across the country as a proxy for drought. The map shows the difference between current vegetation levels (data comprising NDVI measurements from June 10 through June 25) and a baseline constructed from average vegetation levels, for the same June extent, over the past 5 years (2009-2013). Red areas have less vegetation than normal. Darker red shows significantly less vegetation. Green areas have higher levels of vegetation than average. Blank spots are the result of ground-obscuring clouds in the satellite imagery.

This drought map can be used to identify urban areas most vulnerable to food shortages right now, to plan irrigation and relief efforts, or to identify areas that are susceptible to widespread forest fires.

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