Monthly Risk Spotlight: May 2024


Further Impact Across Region Due to Record-Breaking Climate Incidents
Large flooding events occurring across the continent, coupled with major drought and heat waves, have resulted in some of the worst environmental challenges the Americas have seen in decades. The extreme climate is attributed to both the El Niño weather pattern and the persistent rise in global temperatures, due in part to climate change. The most recent floods in Brazil have already been labeled as the worst climate disaster in Southern Brazil’s history. In total, there are more than 600,000 displaced in the state, as the Rio Grande’s city airport (RIG), one of Brazil’s largest and busiest, has been submerged in water and closed indefinitely. As of late May, 95 people have been killed in the recent floodings in Brazil, hundreds remain unaccounted for, and hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Southern Brazil have been ruined by the floods, ultimately placing doubt if global food supplies can withstand multiple major environmental disasters this year.

In addition to the major flooding events across the region, the other major concern is the spread of disease. Cases of Dengue fever is spreading rapidly; this year, authorities expect to see the largest spread of the disease since tracking first began. Due to climatic changes across the continent, countries like Chile, which have typically been too dry and high-altitude for mosquito-borne diseases from the Amazon to spread, are now experiencing the first recorded cases of Chikungunya and other tropical mosquito-borne illnesses within their territory.

Regarding the rest of 2024, the hurricane season will begin in June and meteorologists forecast for this year’s season are that it will be a record-breaking number of named storms.  El Niño, a weather system that began in 2023, increases the likelihood of major hurricanes developing in the Atlantic. With the region already suffering from several floodings, it is expected that the additional moisture in the atmosphere, provided by major hurricanes this year, will further spread diseases while also causing disruption to crop production efforts across the region.

Globally, there have been records of April being the hottest month. The Americas region has not been particularly prepared for climate resiliency in the face of global warming and shifting climate patterns. However, in the immediate future, the spread of disease, flooding events, and food insecurity that is developing in places such as Brazil could have far-reaching effects on travel, safety, and the global economy.


Repatriation Efforts from Syria Underscore Persistent Security Concerns in the Region
In early May, coordination by the United States (U.S.) saw the repatriation of 11 U.S. citizens and one non-citizen, including five minors, from the al Hol and al Roj camps in northeast Syria. This marked the largest repatriation from the country to date. Additionally, six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens, and one Finnish citizen, eight of whom were children, were also repatriated with U.S. government assistance.

The repatriation effort included the family of Brandy Salman, who had been stranded in Syria for some time. Salman and her nine children, all of whom were born in the U.S., were among those repatriated. Within these camps in northeastern Syria, more than 55,000 people, including almost 30,000 children, from more than 60 countries, remain detained. Roughly five years after the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) group, aid agencies have reported a plurality of deaths due to the torture and inhumane treatment in these encampments.

To effectively manage the ongoing humanitarian and security crisis in the region, representatives from the U.S. Department of State have emphasized the need for countries to repatriate their citizens from northeast Syria. Despite similar appeals from aid organizations, many governments remain reluctant to do so. This reluctance could be due to long-standing efforts made to counter the influence of IS in the region. Moreover, many nations are likely stalling repatriation efforts, as there may be little appetite to do so domestically. Additionally, the apprehension may be in conjunction with wider counterterrorism policies, both domestically and internationally. Arguably, many nations feel the influx of personnel who have been exposed to extremist ideology poses a significant security threat.

Regardless of sentiment or policy standpoint, officials from the United Nations (UN), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and security policy experts continue to urge countries to take responsibility for their citizens, especially children, who are still stranded in the camps. Several countries, including, but not limited to; Algeria, Bahrain, China, Egypt, India, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Türkiye, in conjunction with several European nations, have been sternly criticized for their lack of repatriation efforts.

Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, highlighted the dire situation of the children in the camps, emphasizing the urgent need for their release. In addition, a UN report also outlined concerns regarding the escalating hostilities in Syria, the conditions in the camps, and the potential for radicalization among children raised in these environments, particularly among adolescent males and men.

The repatriation efforts have also involved legal complexities, as some individuals could face criminal charges upon their return. In the example of Brandy Salman, her husband reportedly took the family to Syria in 2016 and was subsequently killed. Thus, Salman and her children were eventually taken into custody by the SDF. The situation has raised questions about where the family will be settled following repatriation and whether they will be subjected to legal action.

Repatriation programs will continue to be contentious, however, moving forward they must have clear goals and success metrics whilst assigning specific roles and responsibilities to organizational structures. The goal of reintegration programs must be to help repatriated individuals feel like they belong in their communities and reduce the risk of them becoming influenced by violent extremists.


Heatwave hits South and Southeast Asia
A recent wave of extreme temperatures across South and Southeast Asia has raised alarms about the increasing severity and frequency of heat waves due to climate change. The unprecedented heat has caused significant disruptions, such as school closures and health emergencies, impacting millions across the region.

Record-high temperatures have been reported across countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, the Philippines, and Myanmar. In Cambodia, temperatures soared to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), forcing schools to send children home due to the unbearable heat in poorly ventilated classrooms. Similar situations have occurred in Bangladesh, where more than 33 million children were affected by school closures. The heatwave not only disrupts education but also poses severe health risks, such as dehydration and heat stroke.

The timing of the heatwave has compounded the struggles of many communities still recovering from the economic and social disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt transition from pandemic-related challenges to battling extreme temperatures continues to strain resources and hinder recovery efforts in affected nations.

Moreover, the heatwave has occurred during critical periods, such as the general elections in India, affecting voter turnout and complicating the logistics of conducting elections. The extreme temperatures have also had devastating impacts on agriculture, with crops failing in arid fields, thereby threatening food security and livelihoods in regions already vulnerable to food shortages.

One of the most alarming aspects of this heatwave is its extensive coverage and intensity, which is being described as an extreme event in the world’s climatic history. This has been attributed to a mix of factors, including El Niño effects, global warming, and specific regional climate patterns. These conditions not only exacerbate the current situation but also indicate potential worsening trends due to climate change.

The broader implications of this heatwave are also profound. Economically, the region could face reduced productivity, especially in agriculture and construction, where work is often outdoors. Socially, the most affected populations are the impoverished communities that lack the resources to mitigate the effects of extreme heat, such as access to cooling systems or adequate healthcare. This exacerbates existing inequalities and increases the vulnerability of marginalized groups.

Environmentally, the persistent high temperatures contribute to the degradation of natural habitats and biodiversity. Urban areas, which experience higher temperatures due to the heat island effect, face increased energy demands for cooling, further contributing to the problem by increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

In response to these challenges, governments and international organizations must enhance their focus on climate adaptation strategies. This includes improving infrastructure to withstand extreme weather, implementing widespread public health campaigns to educate on heat risks, and developing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the impact on climate change.

The ongoing heatwave in South and Southeast Asia serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive and coordinated actions to address the effects of climate change. As these extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, the resilience of these regions will increasingly depend on proactive measures to protect vulnerable communities and secure a sustainable future.


West Africa’s Future Post-Military Coups
Recent coups in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, respectively, have led to an abrupt decision to end relations with traditional Western country partners and to establish closer ties with China, Iran, and Russia. A vacuum of reliable support has emerged, prompted by the withdrawal of military aid from regional partners such as the European Union (EU), and traditional regional powerbrokers, namely France and the United States (U.S.). Overall, the result for the West has squandered investments, created a loss of economic opportunities, reduced political influence, and resulted in a significant setback for counterterrorism efforts. Moreover, the vacuum has supplied ample opportunities for potential adversaries to broaden their interests in the region.

Driven by the EU, France, and the U.S., the region has seen significant investments in the fight against militants aligned with foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs), namely Boko Haram and the regional affiliates of al-Qaeda (AQ) and the Islamic State (IS). The U.S. has contributed over 300 million USD in aid, plus the construction of two military bases in the region. One of the bases, Air Base 201, is a U.S. drone base that took nearly ten years to construct and cost over 110 million USD, located three miles (five km) from Agadez, Niger. Due to their strategic position and sophisticated engineering, these bases have played a vital role in conducting surveillance, reconnaissance, and airstrikes in counterterrorist operations across the Sahel. In addition to monetary aid and military hardware, thousands of troops have been deployed to the region by the U.S. and its partners. However, less than a year after the juntas seized power, the foreign militaries were forced to reluctantly relinquish their bases and withdraw their troops.

Although diplomatic efforts have commenced to sustain these security operations, they have either been constrained by policies or wholly rejected by the Sahel states as being self-seeking and incapable of bringing about change to the insecurity in the region. Traditionally, aid and assistance from predominantly Western nations have more strings attached and prerequisites to tackle human rights abuses and other domestic issues. However, aid from non-traditional powerbrokers is more clear-cut, cash-up-front style arrangements with little to no consideration for domestic polices and issues. The overwhelming majority of assistance is often brokered with access to critical infrastructure or natural resources. As the Sahel slumps further into a trend of authoritarian-style governments, assistance with fewer asked becomes ever more appealing.

Shortly after annulling former diplomatic and military ties, the military-led governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger signed agreements with Russia’s African Corps (formerly Wagner Group), a private military company with links to the Russian government. As of May 2024, Russian military trainers and equipment had arrived in Niger and were being housed at a compound on the airbase constructed by the U.S. Airforce. In January 2023, the U.S. designated Wagner Group as a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) for committing human rights abuses in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali.

The deterioration of diplomatic relations between Niger and the U.S. likely came as the latter attempted to put pressure on the regime to relinquish power. Following the coup in July 2023, the U.S. has significantly reduced its assistance to Niger. In the months succeeding, attacks by Islamist militants increased by roughly 40%. In January 2024, Niger signed an agreement with Russia to strengthen military ties. According to Niger, the U.S. responded with a condescending attitude trying to force Niger to sever its ties with Russia. Moreover, reports surfaced that the regime had signed preliminary agreements with Iran that would grant access to its uranium reserves.

Niger’s uranium reserves, along with its oil, have made them a valuable trading partner in the region. Over the last ten years, France, which relies primarily on nuclear energy, has leveraged legacy influence to import 20% of its uranium from Niger. After France, China is the second largest foreign investor in Niger. This is embodied by a $90.93 million USD loan to Niger via a Chinese state-owned developer to support a uranium mining project, as well as a $400 million USD loan to facilitate oil shipments to China from Niger, beginning in May 2024.

As the U.S. and its allies withdraw from the tri-border countries, they lose a highly advantageous position and take a great deal of much-needed aid with them. Given China’s hands-off approach regarding human rights and the Russian African Corp’s record of abuses, the region is likely to experience a very different type of intervention than what it has in the past decade. This type of exploitation of people and resources has been seen in neighboring African countries and has left greater instability and insecurity in its wake.


Security Services on High Alert Ahead of the Summer Games
Amid any security threat, it is the speed and forethought of security professionals that can provide risk mitigation efforts for civilians. Public safety must be paramount, in any instance, but will be even more so with the world’s attention soon to be set on France’s capital, Paris, and areas across the country. Between July 26 and August 11, 2024, Paris will host the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad, exactly 100 years since the last time the city hosted the games. Due to France’s history of civil unrest and terror-style incidents, there will be a heightened threat of both, as activists and foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) attempt to leverage the profile and significant global attention of the Games to further causes or ideological goals, respectively.

On April 19, an Iranian-born man, identified only as Nicolas K-M, entered the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Paris with what appeared to be a suicide vest and several grenades. Reportedly, the man entered the consulate at roughly 1100 hrs. local time and began dragging flags on the ground while declaring he wished to avenge a family member’s death. Shortly thereafter, security services swiftly created a security corridor around the embassy and all surrounding at-risk areas. The Rue Fresnel Street, which passes in front of the Embassy, was completely closed, along with much of the neighborhood around the embassy, and Metro Line 6, which crosses directly next to the embassy.

At approximately 1445 hrs. local time, the man left the embassy and was immediately detained. Following a thorough search, no explosive materials were found on his person. The man in question, an Iranian-French dual national, was known to local authorities. In September 2023, the individual had been convicted for setting tires on fire in front of the embassy, an act he claimed was in protest against the Iranian regime. He received an eight-month suspended sentence and was banned from Paris’ 16th arrondissement (neighborhood) for two years, as well as carrying a weapon. Moreover, on the day in question, April 19, there were heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, however, due to the individuals’ previous grievances, it is unlikely that those specific tensions prompted his actions.

Regardless of motive, the individual presented a very credible, high-threat situation to a diplomatic mission and the surrounding areas. Had the individual had and subsequently utilized explosives, it could have caused major damage to a central neighborhood and the metro system directly across from the embassy. The swift action from security services is a testament to their handling of the situation; they evacuated civilians in the surrounding vicinity and took immediate steps to mitigate risk to those transiting unknowingly through the area via the Paris Metro System.

As the Games draw closer, the authorities will seek to handle a high threat and sensitive situation promptly and professionally. In addition, authorities will consider the necessary attention to area details and mitigation tactics needed for any high-traffic and sensitive areas. Situational awareness is of the utmost importance regarding the largest sporting event in the world, and security forces will play a pivotal role in mitigating threats to the event as well as being prepared to handle any emergent incidents that could arise.


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