January 01, 2020

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PAST AND FUTURE

WORLD

Unfinished Stories

As 2019 comes to a close, and with it, a decade, we at DailyChatter are taking a look back at a few select issues and events – by no means exhaustive – that made headlines over the past decade and will continue to do so in the next. From the Arab Spring to the Islamic State to the extinction of species, these topics will continue to shape our increasingly global lives.

An Absent Summer

Starting in late 2010, many in the Middle East and North Africa decided they had had enough of their long-time dictators. From Tunisia to Egypt, Libya to Yemen, ordinary citizens hit the streets and brought down their leaders in what was sometimes called the Arab Spring. Since then, Tunisia has been slowly, and stumblingly, putting down democratic roots. In Egypt, however, dictatorship has reasserted itself, and the country, many locals say, is even more repressive in 2019 than it was a decade ago. In Yemen, the fall of its dictator set off events that led to a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia that continues to rage. This conflict has killed almost 100,000 people directly, tens of thousands more due to famine, and has left millions homeless and destitute. In Libya, two governments compete for power as a proxy war builds there after years of tribal conflict following its revolution in 2011. And in Syria, which saw its 2011 revolution turn into a bloody civil war, there is a cease-fire in place, brokered in late August, but the fighting goes on. In recent weeks, fighting in Idlib, in northwestern Syria, began escalating again as Russian-backed Syrian government forces attempt to retake the rebel-held province – in December, more than 200,000 fled the violence, according to the UN. Meanwhile, more than 11 million Syrians remain displaced by the civil war, half of them outside the country. The conflict has killed an estimated 400,000 people since it began almost nine years ago.

In the next decade, analysts expect new protests and fresh violence to erupt across the region, especially in Egypt and Libya. They expect the wars in Yemen and Syria to continue even as Syria attempts to rebuild parts of the country it has secured from the rebels. In both countries, they eventually expect an uneasy peace and lingering violence for years to come, with the inhabitants caught in between.

The Street, Enraged

In 2019, protests kicked off across the globe: From Chile to France, from Bolivia to Hong Kong, from Haiti to Indonesia, and in Lebanon, Iraq and many, many other countries, ordinary citizens hit the streets. In fact, unlike the Arab Spring, most of these demonstrators didn’t aim to topple governments or ask for more civil liberties. And most of these protests occurred in democracies. Instead, folks were angry for a wide variety of reasons, from economic frustration (Lebanon) to Chinese heavy-handedness and interference in their judicial process (Hong Kong). But what they had – and will continue to have – in common is frustration with the status quo. And what’s also new is the duration of the protests: Earlier uprisings tended to last a week or two but in the past year, demonstrations have turned into months-long shows of anger, intensifying in scale and size. And in some cases – for example in Bolivia, Puerto Rico, Iraq, Hong Kong, Malta and elsewhere – street power has already forced governments to backtrack or toppled them altogether. In the next decade, expect the street to stay enraged.

An Unchecked Serial Killer

In December 2013, the first case of Ebola broke out in the town of Guékédou in southern Guinea near the West African nation’s borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. By the time the virus was contained in what was the largest outbreak of the disease ever recorded, over 28,000 people across 10 countries had been infected, and more than 11,000 died. Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were still recovering from civil wars, were devastated.

In 2019, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continued to battle the virus in an outbreak that began the year before, the second largest ever recorded. The outbreak has infected more than 3,000 people and killed more than 2,000. What makes the situation in the DRC particularly dire is that the country is in the middle of a civil war, making it very difficult for aid workers and medical personnel to reach some of those infected or effectively contain the virus. The positive news is that over the past few years, a vaccine has been developed and approved for use. Now if only health workers could get the vaccine to the vulnerable in the DRC in time. Health workers and aid officials expect this outbreak to continue over the next few years, mainly because there are few signs of the civil war abating.

A Terrible Game of Whack-a-Mole

In 2014, the world was shocked when a little-known militant group took over huge swaths of Iraq and Syria and declared a “caliphate,” imposing their harsh brand of Islam on their territory, while their followers launched terror attacks around the world, and tried to do the same.

That was then.

The past year saw the final “defeat” of the Islamic State in Syria in campaigns against the jihadists’ remaining strongholds in March 2019 (the group was defeated in Iraq in 2017) and the killing of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Even so, pockets of the terror group remain in both countries, as it has created deeper roots across the Sahel and elsewhere in Africa and has spread to Asia, most devastatingly in the Easter attack in April 2019 in three churches in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people, and another attack in August at a wedding in Kabul that killed 63.

Meanwhile, the IS attacks with big-shock value launched on targets in Europe and North America have seen a decline as the decade comes to a close. Even so, the world over the next decade will continue to grapple with the aftershocks of the rise of the Islamic State, and not just where they pop up, or its attacks on civilians. There are thousands of Islamic State fighters, their brides and their children – often nationals of Europe, North America and North Africa – stuck in limbo in detention in Syria and Iraq, with their home governments deeply reluctant to repatriate them, mostly because they fear importing radicalism. This Washington Post series on the aftermath of the Islamic State illustrates the dilemma well, one which many governments in the world will be increasingly dealing with in the coming decade.

Missing: Flora and Fauna

Climate change and protests against it continued to make headlines in 2019, and the fight to protect Earth will intensify in the next decade. Overshadowed but not forgotten is an escalating and increasingly desperate fight to save the creatures on it.

This year, a group of scientists wanting to call attention to the decrease in biodiversity sounded an alarm with the first-ever report on the decline of entomofauna (insects): The report found that over 40 percent of all inspect species are in a deep and dangerous decline and one-third are threatened with extinction. That’s because of a number of factors, including habitat loss; the transformation to intensive agriculture; urbanization; pollution, mainly from synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; biological factors, including pathogens and introduced species, and climate change.

Why is this trend important? Because insects are the base of the food chain and have supported ecosystems ever since their rise 400 million years ago, scientists say.

“This review highlights the dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world,” the scientists wrote in the report. “The conclusion is clear: unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades. The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic.”

The catastrophic effects the scientists are talking about are already here in some ways. In the past 48 years, North America has lost almost 3 billion birds, almost a third of its avifauna, according to scientists. And in the past decade, two mammal species have gone extinct, the tiny Christmas Island pipistrelle bat and the mouse-like Bramble Cay melomys, according to this excellent cover article in National Geographic headlined, “Last of Its Kind.”

According to the magazine, the International Union for Conservation of Nature lists over 200 mammal species and subspecies as critically endangered – when plants are included, that number tops 41,000. In some cases, like the Sumatran rhino or the vaquita – a porpoise native to the Gulf of California – there are fewer than a hundred left. In other cases, like that of the Yangtze River dolphin, the species isn’t officially declared extinct yet but it has probably died out.

Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of the article and of the Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Sixth Extinction,” explores the question of what is lost when a species dies out. Take a look at the Photo Ark project by photographer Joel Sartore and National Geographic to document these threatened species, and you will have the answer. And it is devastating.

We at DailyChatter wish you a Happy New Year!