Though the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the year 2020 more than anything else, there have been many life-changing events that have been overlooked due to the overarching attention the pandemic has stolen from news industries around the world.
The Australian bush burn fires that had been traveling across the many forests and parks for months, were finally extinguished by heavy rain by the end of January 2020. Though fires continued to burn in Victoria, all the fires were either extinguished or contained by the beginning of March. But in California, wildfires were soaring high and spreading quickly. By the end of 2020, California reached a record for surpassing 4 million acres of burned land, hitting a record of over 8,200 fires.
Turkish Troops in Libya
At the beginning of January, Turkish troops were deployed to Libya as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued the effort to spread Turkish power across the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. The conflict heightened when the European Union approved plans to sanction an unspecified number of Turkish officials and businesses involved in gas drilling in Cypriot-claimed waters.
The Confusion of How to Respond
The year also began with the Davos summit on Jan. 21-24 in Switzerland where Greta Thunberg spoke about the catastrophic impact climate change is having on the world and her community.
“Your inaction is fueling the flames by the hour. We are telling you to act as if you love your children above all else,” said Thunberg in her speech at the Summit.
Bark Multiverse, a tech billionaire, was in attendance at the summit and was moved by Thunberg’s speech. He found her words powerful and saw the potential for chaos and disaster in the future. Multiverse, realizing that he was in a position to actually do something about this major threat to our planet, called for a safe haven to be built into a mountain in New Zealand. He called it his survival bunker.
In the U.S., President Donald Trump was facing his impeachment trial. To distract from this crisis within the White House, Trump guided the attention to the Iranian major general, Qasem Soleimani. The general was killed in the United States drone strike on Jan. 3 near Baghdad International Airport while he was on his way to meet with the Iraqi Prime Minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, in Baghdad. After this strike, United States officials braced themselves for potential Iranian retaliatory attacks.
Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, called the killing of General Suleimani an act of “international terrorism” and warned it was “extremely dangerous & a foolish escalation.”
The beginning of the year was packed full of global events that the world had many distractions away from the virus. In the UK, the citizens celebrated the countdown to Brexit and the newly elected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Residents of Wuhan, China then began reporting the first cases of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, the Oscars in the United States on Feb. 19 were a huge distraction from the spread of the virus. Parasite making history as a South Korean film. The world finally began taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously after just a bit more drama took the news in the U.S.
U.S. Political Drama
President Trump’s impeachment trial carried on and Trump was acquitted on Feb 5. The election-year continued with Super Tuesday on Mar. 3, as Joe Biden and Donald Trump began their final campaigning all over the country – holding rallies in as many states as possible to win the presidential election just a few months away. A politically polarized country became even more so throughout the year 2020. This kept people in the U.S. preoccupied with fighting each other and took awareness away from the quickly spreading virus.
Many may say that the moment the U.S. began giving the virus the attention it demanded, was the moment on Mar. 11, when American movie stars, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, tested positive for COVID-19. The U.S. stock market began its decline and supermarkets began short stocking because of panic buyers. President Trump claimed that the virus would “go away” and that everyone should just “stay calm.” He even refused to wear a mask after health professionals stated that masks were the most effective way to slow down the spread of the virus.
Global Spread of COVID-19
While the U.S. was just accepting the existence of such a pandemic, other countries had already been hit hard by the virus. After mass atrocities in Myanmar, 860,000 Rohingya people were forced to flee for their lives to refugee camps in Bangladesh. COVID-19 precautions and restrictions within the camps amplified the extreme protection risks that the Rohingya children face. They were, and still are, more susceptible to physical and sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, child marriage and labor. Thankfully, World Vision has been working to protect the children that are taking refuge in the camps and has served more than 498,000 Rohingya refugees this year.
“Before the pandemic, Rohingya children had limited access to any educational services. Now with learning centers closed and fewer humanitarians accessing in the camps, they have even less protection,” said Fredrick Christopher, World Vision’s response director in Bangladesh.
Civil War in Syria, Venezuela and Yemen
Another dangerous place for children was and still is in Syria as the civil war escalated the Syrian refugee crisis as it is now in its 10th year, Millions of children have been born as refugees in neighboring countries. Venezuelan refugees and migrants have also been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 virus. As one of the most unstable and violent countries in the world, Venezuela has suffered medicine scarcities and education shortages stemming from years of political unrest. At least 97% of the population lives in poverty and 30% are living in constant starvation. World Vision has been responding to the Syrian and Venezuelan refugee crisis with food aid and has become a vital lifeline for Syria, Venezuela and Yemen. For the past four years, Yemen has also suffered a civil war and food crisis. As the economy has collapsed and medical aid and fresh water are scarce, 380,000 people contracted Cholera in 2020.
The Queen Addresses the Nation
Italy introduced a lockdown, closely followed by many other European countries. On Apr. 5, Queen Elizabeth of the UK addressed the nation in response to the spread of COVID-19. Following the Prime Minister’s statement describing the virus as the ”worst public health crisis for a generation,” Johnson was admitted to the hospital to treat COVID-19 symptoms.
Human Rights and Fight Against Racism
The Black Lives Matter movement gained traction as politics were not the only major polarization of the U.S. In Minneapolis on May 25, the murder of George Floyd shook the world as one of the many police killings of Black people. Though the pandemic was spreading quickly across the U.S., demonstrations began to spread as well. Some were peaceful and some were violent, but all were to stand up for racial equality in the US. But because of the spread of the virus, a lot of the demonstrating and support for the Black Lives Matter movement moved onto social media and the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag was created.
The stand for racial equality also took place in Bristol, England as protestors demonstrated the cruel colonial past by pulled down statues of slave traders such as that of Edward Colston. The UK went into lockdown again in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Near the end of June, the U.S. presidential race continued, but rallies were now majority online.
Protests in Belarus
The country of Belarus often described as Europe’s last dictatorship, held the Belarusian presidential elections on Aug. 9 with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya running against President Alyaksandr Lukashenko. When Lukashenko declared himself the victor, an estimated 100,000 people took to the streets in protest. Since the election, 30,000 people are thought to have been arrested and become victims of police brutality within Belarusian prisons. The country is still in unrest as protesters continue to demonstrate their suspicions of a rigged election.
An unforeseen explosion on Aug. 4, created a crisis in Lebanon as thousands of tons of explosive ammonium nitrate, 15 tons of fireworks, multiple jugs of oil and kerosene created an explosion that killed 200 people and injuring thousands.
“The people of Lebanon have suffered enough,” says Rami Shamma, World Vision’s field operations director for Lebanon. “They are strong, but they need the world’s support to survive this tragedy.”
Through the devastation and violence, the month of August also brought good news from Africa on Aug. 25 as the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Africa was free from wild poliovirus. This just leaves two countries where the virus still remains, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described the announcement as, “one of the greatest public health achievements of our time.”
Good News for Some
Though good news did come at this time in Africa, many countries such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, suffered infestations of desert locusts, the most destructive migratory pest in the world. They are devouring large swaths of crops and grasses meant for people and livestock in many regions of Eastern Africa. Food insecurity is also taking over South Sudan and Yemen. The locust outbreak caused Somalia to declare a national emergency. The World Vision is distributing essential emergency assistance to communities affected by the locust invasion.
“We are currently working with our World Vision offices in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia to assess the locust infestation situation and look at solutions for and with communities,” said Lindsay Gladding, director of fragile and humanitarian affairs for World Vision.
U.S. Political Drama
When Kamala Harris was selected as the first African American and South Asian American vice-presidential candidate. The passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her replacement on the Supreme Court with Amy Coney Barrett polarized the US even more so than before. This created more fighting for rights such as for women and LGBTQ+ communities. The polarization continued to increase with the presidential and vice-presidential debates following the month of September.
Also in late September, war erupted between the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. After the government of Karabakh held elections in the spring, the 1994 cease-fire did not prevent thousands to take to the streets of the Azerbaijani capital demanding that the government deploy the army for war. The conflicts simmered down on Nov. 9 with a peace agreement over the disputed territory.
U.S Presidential Election
After the news of President Trump’s positive COVID-19 test result on Oct. 2, the US continued to slowly improve the effort to fight against the virus. After Joe Biden was elected as the 46th President of the United States, people gathered in the streets in either celebration or protest and still having trouble staying socially distanced. In December, the COVID-19 vaccine was finished and began distribution across the world. While everyone was looking forward to the new vaccine and all its glory, they might have missed another conflict in the country of Ethiopia.
Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict
In early November, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the northern region of Tigray. Abiy accused the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, of attempting to raid a federal military base. Over 600 people in the region of Tigray were stabbed, strangled, and hacked to death on Nov. 9. The killings were said to be based on their Amhara and Welkait ethnicity. The three-week conflict culminated with attacks on the regional capital, Mekelle, by Ethiopian forces. By the time Abiy declared victory on Nov. 28, almost 1 million people had been displaced due to the fighting.
Indian Farmers’ Strikes and Hurricanes
Also in late November, farmers in India mounted one of the largest protests in human history with millions of people striking over the controversial changes made to India’s agriculture laws. During the time of the protest in India, disaster struck Nicaragua twice in just two weeks. Hurricane Iota crashed into Haulover in northern Nicaragua on Nov. 16. It was the second of two life-threatening floods that hit the country that month. These were just a few of the many hurricanes during the year 2020. During this year, more than half a million people were displaced in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and others due to hurricanes.
The year 2020 challenged humanity on a scale like no other. It was a year of turmoil, outrage, demonstrations, disasters, and division. But this was not just a year of catastrophe, it was also a year of family, friends, and self-reflection. Many have been excited for the year 2020 to come to an end, but the global disasters are far from over. Though the year 2021 will likely continue to bring turmoil, outrage, demonstrations, disasters, and division, it will also give the world a chance to appreciate the passing of such challenging events. And we can all recognize the amazing strength people had to survive through the year, by learning about those challenges that were not seen on the news.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,” Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said.