The World Today for January 02, 2023

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NEED TO KNOW

A News Year

WORLD

The New Year will begin with two pressing crises that could upend the international order: the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, and the coronavirus pandemic in China.

As the Economist noted, Ukraine has a fighting chance against Russia in 2023. Ukraine’s recent counteroffensive shocked Russia and the world, the Washington Post reported. The Russian army is tired and running low on supplies. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently even referred to the conflict as a “war” rather than using his “special operation” euphemism, added CNN.

Putin has expressed an openness to negotiating an end to the fighting and Ukraine hopes to see a peace conference by the end of February. Still, Putin is unlikely to cave to Ukrainian demands to return all territory that Russia has annexed since the 2014 invasion of Crimea. That means practically that the war and its associated chaos will continue.

Russia’s key ally, China, is dealing with its own troubles. Widespread protests against harsh lockdowns and other measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus prompted Chinese officials to lift their public health restrictions, the BBC wrote. Now the virus has spread quickly through the country and hospitals are overwhelmed. At least one million people are expected to perish.

China’s failure to deal well with Covid-19 has seriously undermined the legitimacy of President Xi Jinping at the same moment that he has cemented his authority in the central government, Reuters added in an analysis. Political ramifications aside, a slowdown in the Chinese economy will have worrisome ripple effects worldwide, added Al Jazeera. Bloomberg warned 2023 would see the world have one of its worst-performing years economically since 1993. Accordingly, oil producers in the Middle East might be reluctant to raise prices.

A poor global economy could unfortunately worsen humanitarian crises that have become all too common in recent years. Migrant crises and displacement due to war, famine, natural disasters as well as economic hardships are going to be fixtures in the news in 2023, argued the International Rescue Committee.

How the rest of the world reacts to these megatrends will help decide the course of history. But other regions face major internal challenges, too.

In Latin America, left-wing politicians who recently won office are battling their conservative foes to chart their countries’ destinies, Americas Quarterly wrote. Important elections are scheduled in Africa, with Nigeria’s vote in February paramount among them, Foreign Policy argued. And India is on track to become the most populous nation in the world. Tensions in the Middle East remain high, too. Saudi Arabia recently warned that “all bets were off” if its enemy, Iran, obtained a nuclear weapon, for example.

Expect the crises of 2022 to remain unstable in the New Year. Luckily, that doesn’t preclude them from trending in positive directions.

THE WORLD, BRIEFLY

Change of Strategies

VENEZUELA

Venezuela’s opposition voted to dissolve the country’s interim government this week, putting an end to the leadership of Juan Guaidó, who had been attempting to oust the authoritarian government of socialist President Nicolás Maduro for years, the New York Times reported.

The vote was the second one last month to determine the fate of Guaidó’s interim presidency, whose influence has waned in recent years as Maduro has remained in power.

The parallel government began in 2019, when Guaidó – at the time the head of Venezuela’s parliament – invoked the constitution to declare himself the country’s interim leader. The opposition leader has accused Maduro of being an illegitimate ruler following his re-election in disputed polls in 2018, the BBC noted.

Guaidó’s move received international backing with many nations, including the United States, recognizing him as Venezuela’s leader. But his support began to falter after he failed to force Maduro out, including an unsuccessful attempt to spark a military uprising against the leftist leader.

US sanctions designed to assist Guaidó only ended up gutting government revenues and forced many Venezuelans to focus on daily survival, instead of political mobilization.

Other countries, meanwhile, have also backed away from recognizing Guaidó as interim leader, while new leftist governments in Latin America have taken a softer approach toward Maduro.

The dissolution is a major blow to US efforts to oust Maduro and underscores efforts by the opposition to seek different strategies.

Even so, the US has softened its stance toward Maduro’s government in recent months, while the Venezuelan government and the opposition have sought to revive stalled negotiations to end the country’s ongoing crisis.

Since 2014, oil-rich Venezuela has been grappling with economic, political, and humanitarian crises that have shattered the country’s democratic institutions and left much of the populace impoverished.

Stay Local

ZIMBABWE

Zimbabwe banned the exports of raw lithium, an important component in electronic batteries, as the government seeks to develop its own processing and battery industry in-country, Business Insider South Africa reported.

The ban would require mining companies to either set up local processing plants or show “exceptional circumstances” before moving lithium out of the country. Any export of lithium will require government permission.

The move also aims to stop artisanal miners, who have targeted abandoned mines in search of the high-priced metal. Zimbabwean officials lamented that the country has lost $1.8 billion in mineral revenues because of smuggling and artisanal mining, according to the South China Morning Post.

The decision will also affect many Chinese companies that have invested in lithium mining in Zimbabwe, as they will need to build processing facilities there at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars so they can export higher-value lithium chemicals.

In the last two years, lithium prices have risen by nearly 1,100 percent to a record high, with supply straining to keep up with rising demand.

Zimbabwe is believed to hold the largest unexploited reserves of lithium in Africa and is the sixth-largest producer in the world.

Even so, the southern African nation has remained behind in production and only makes one percent of the global output, slightly behind Brazil.

Half Peace

COLOMBIA

The Colombian government agreed to a six-month ceasefire with the five largest armed groups in the country, a truce that is part of leftist President Gustavo Petro’s efforts to end decades of conflict in Colombia, Agence France-Presse reported.

Petro announced the ceasefire on New Year’s Eve, adding that it could be extended “depending on progress in the negotiations.” Among the groups participating in the deal are the leftist insurgency group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), and two splinter factions of the now-demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

The announcement comes as the Colombian government is continuing to negotiate with various armed groups to end more than 50 years of conflict between the state and groups of left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and drug traffickers.

A landmark 2016 peace deal put an end to years of conflict between the government and the leftwing FARC rebels.

Following his election victory last year, Petro – a former guerrilla fighter and Colombia’s first leftist president – vowed to negotiate with all Colombian armed groups as part of a “total peace” policy.

Since November, the government has been engaged in peace talks with ELN rebels – the last recognized insurgency group in the country.

Even so, the Colombia-based Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) warned that the violence in the country continues as armed groups fight over drug trafficking revenues and other illegal businesses.

There are currently around 90 political and criminal groups operating in the country, according to the think tank.

DISCOVERIES

The Fire Web

Scientists discovered a large complex of flat, interconnected magma chambers below Hawaii’s volcanoes that could be responsible for a number of tremors in the past seven years, the Independent reported.

In their paper, the research team used machine learning to analyze data gathered from seismic stations, including more than 192,000 small temblors of less than magnitude 3.0, that occurred between 2018 and mid-2022.

They explained that the technique allowed them to chart out the structure of the pancake-like magma chambers – known as “sills” – and map them out.

Their analysis showed that these sills link at least two of Hawaii’s most active volcanoes – Mauna Loa and Kīlauea.

The team noted that the magma chambers – which appear to be at depths ranging from around 22 to nearly 27 miles – tend to be over 900 feet thick and separated by a distance of more than 1,600 feet.

“Now, we have a high-definition map of an important part of the plumbing system,” co-author John D. Wilding said in a statement.

The new technique also helped researchers detect small quakes that would be difficult to spot by the human eye on a seismogram.

But the team noted that the study has yet to answer a few intricate details about volcanic activity, such as how the magma’s movement triggers these tiny tremors and if the sills beneath Hawaii are unique.

Furthermore, they were unable to determine if magma movement in these chambers contributed to the Nov. 27 eruption of Mauna Loa – the planet’s largest active volcano – as the study’s time frame concluded in May 2022.

 

COVID-19 Global Update

Total Cases Worldwide: 660,800,810 (+1.17%)

Total Deaths Worldwide: 6,691,269 (+0.38%)

Total Vaccinations Worldwide: 13,164,011,492 (+0.43%)

Countries with the highest number of confirmed cases worldwide as of 4 a.m. ET*

  1. US: 100,752,629 (+0.86%)
  2. India: 44,680,046 (+0.01%)
  3. France: 39,498,188 (+1.27%)
  4. Germany: 37,369,867 (+1.05%)
  5. Brazil: 36,331,281 (+1.29%)
  6. Japan: 29,397,865 (+8.32%)
  7. South Korea: 29,139,535 (+3.28%)
  8. Italy: 25,143,705 (+1.04%)
  9. UK: 24,365,688 (+0.20%)
  10. Russia: 21,495,511 (+0.41%)

Source: Johns Hopkins University

*Numbers change over fourteen days

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