From the deadly Orlando shootings to the continued strife in Syria, from Brangelina breaking up to Trump trumping over Hillary – there were some dark clouds over this rather tumultuous year of headlines. Amongst the many human lives forever extinguished in 2016, we lost Prince, Alan Rickman, George Michael, David Bowie, Muhammad Ali, and Carrie Fisher, and another celebrity marriage, between George and Amal Clooney, seems to be heading for splitzville.
There were some silver linings too – women shined at the Rio Olympics, and in India, Prime Minister Modi demonetized the Rs 500 & Rs 1000 banknotes in a bid to curb black money (funds earned on the black market) and terrorism. Zika became an epidemic of sorts, and 2016 wasn’t so cool for the environment either (frankly, it was hotter than average) but on the bright side, Bob Dylan won a Nobel prize and Leo DiCaprio got his due too!
Amidst all these ups and down, there was some wonderfully positive world news that missed the breaking headlines. We’ve picked 15 of the most awesome things that happened in 2016. Hopefully this starts your 2017 off with nascent hope, for the human race doesn’t seem to be doomed after all!
15. Acid In The Air On The Decline
In the 1930s, the industrial revolution took the world by storm. Farmers, housewives, and even general gadabouts became ensconced in the process of manufacturing and in doing so, became factory workers. While the world benefited from this industrial era, the climate suffered. The acidic air pollution, caused by manmade emissions and, to an extent, by volcanic eruptions, peaked in the 1960 and 1970s; after which top manufacturing giants in the USA & UK adopted The Clean Air Act Amendments, which involved rather simple and basic steps like installing air pollution filters to stop harmful emissions. Wonder why this wasn’t thought of before the pollution peaked!
It seems like 2016 is a good year for the climate, as shown by studies done on the Icelandic ice layers – the acidity levels in the air are almost back to what they were before the industrialization took place. So the good news is that acid pollution, unlike Schwarzenegger, isn’t back!
14. Malarial Deaths Going Down
Since the 2000s, malarial deaths have been on a steady decline despite half of the world’s population being at risk of contracting this mosquito-borne disease. More prevalent in third-world countries as well as countries that fall in the tropical belt, malaria used to be a big killer in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1995, the WHO European region had an astounding 90000 deaths – in 2016, this number was down to 0!
The goal to eliminate malaria from at least 35 countries by 2030, which seemed a tad far-fetched in 2016, just seems that much more achievable. In the WHO African region, malaria mortality rates have now fallen to a heart-warming 66% in adults and 71% in children under five years old. Use of insecticide-treated bedding and nets, indoor spraying, rapid diagnostics, and artemesinin-based treatments are the key malarial control tools that have proven successful.
13. World Hunger Is The Lowest in 25 Years
The Global Hunger Index shows how many people in a country are starving per 100 people. Obviously the ideal would be 0, which means that no one in a country goes hungry, ever and the worst case scenario is obviously a 100 – that is to say everyone in that region is basically starving to death. With ever-increasing humanitarian aid and an increasing sense of commitment to eradicate hunger by the world in general, the good news is that this level has dropped by over 29% even in developing countries.
That said, the hunger index in more than 50 countries of the world, located mostly in Africa and South Asia, is still alarming. However, the silver lining is that the evolution of hunger has been on a steady decline. More and more efforts are needed by countries to ensure that food grown does not end up as food wasted, to make sure that these declining levels can reach ground zero by 2030.
12. Pregnancy-Related Mortality Rates Have Been Cut In Half
Consider this: a study shows that a woman’s chance of dying from childbirth is one in 4,900 in developed countries. On the flipside, it’s a shocking one in 36 in sub-Saharan Africa! Clearly, while the percentage of pregnancy-related deaths has been brought down, the disparity remains.
An astounding 53 million pregnant women in the world, annually, receive no medical care. While the deaths per 100,000 live births have dropped from 385 in 1990 to 216 in 2015 – the original aim was for a 75% decline as opposed to the 44% that did take place. From remote areas that do not have adequate medical care in proximity, to certain cultural traditions that actively avoids western medicinal techniques to finally an abject poverty and a lack of education, much work has been done to ensure survival of mother and child and far more still needs to be done. In the UK for example, only one in 5800 mothers will die from childbirth complications – a number much of the word needs to aspire to.
11. A Child Born With Tripartite DNA
Sounds something from a B-grade science-fiction flick, but in 2016, it became a reality. Of the 130 million babies born in 2016, one child born in April became a scientific first. A Jordanian baby inherited the DNA of three people – two of his parents and a healthy donor – to prevent him from getting a serious genetic disease. The US team performed a mitochondrial transfer in Mexico, since the US does not consider this controversial procedure legal. In the UK though, mitochondrial transfer got the legal go ahead in 2015.
The boy has been declared healthy, but there still a chance of him contracting the same genetic disease at a later stage in life since this is the first time something like this breakthrough procedure has been performed. While studies are needed to prove the efficacy of this procedure, this may be a boon for couples who are carriers of genetic diseases but wish to have their own offspring. The stork has arrived!
10. A Big No to Female Genital Mutilation
Female genital mutilation has long been a torturous ordeal that many girls in Africa and the Middle East have been subjected to in the name of culture, tradition, and purity. Also known as female circumcision, it involves the removal of the clitoris, inner and outer labia, and vulva, and basically a restructuring of a woman’s genitalia – all done by a non-medically trained older woman or barber under horrific conditions, some without anesthesia. The so-called sewing up is done by thread and even agave thorns with a poultice of raw egg amongst other horrors. This results in the woman being physically and emotionally scarred and suffering from a myriad of health issues all her life.
There is not a single known benefit of FGM, and yet thousand, even millions, of women have been mutilated and scarred for years. This year dawned as a new ray of hope – the Pan African Parliament has now endorsed a continent-wide ban on FGM as well as on underage marriages.
9. The Paradigm Dietary Shift In The US
Michelle Obama has come to her own right. During Obama’s stint as president, she has not just been the president’s wife but a harbinger of great nutritional change. What many may not know about her is that slowly, silently but studiously, she has managed to change the school lunch system in the US and promoted far more nutritionally balanced meals that what were earlier being served.
In June 2015, the FDA banned trans fats from the food supply within three years. And from May 2018, new food labels would go on packaged foods that clearly indicate the amount of added sugars or fats in that particular food item. Her Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was implemented subtly and so strongly that as of December 2015, 97% schools serve a more nutritional meal to the children with major focus on fresh produce and whole grains.
8. The Hole In The Ozone Is Healing
In the 1980s, a huge environmental problem came to our attention. The ozone that protects the earth’s atmosphere had developed a huge hole in it! In 1974, there was a Nobel prize-winning discovery that indicated the CFCs used in coolants and refrigerants could be harmful to the stratosphere. But it was only when the hole over Antarctica was discovered in 1985 that everyone scrambled into action.
Acts and agreements were signed, rules were enforced and a slew of environmental directives were dictated by the experts, including the 1987 Montreal Protocol that called for a ban of these ozone-depleting chemicals, still very much into force today. All this work has now paid off. A new survey in June this year has shown that the ozone hole has shrunk by more than 3.9 million square kilometers since 2006.
7. “No Coal, No More” Say China & India
Two of the biggest populations in the world, with an ever-increasing need for energy to sustain their extra-large human mass, China and India, have announced varied bans on coal mining and show an increased trend towards renewable energy. The Chinese government has placed a ban on new coal mines, enforced various rules and regulations for grid access and doubled its renewable targets for 2020.
India too has strategically announced that it would not be needing or setting up any new coal plants for the next three years as all its energy needs are being met (though a third of the population is still without power due to geographical and economic constraints). In November, India unveiled the world’s largest solar plant and revealed that it was now on track to be the world’s third biggest solar market in 2017. Happily enough, the UK also agreed to phase out coal by 2025 and France by 2023.
6. A Great Year For Wildlife
Giant pandas, humpback whales, white-tailed deer and green sea turtles – these were the lucky few animals to be taken off the endangered species list in 2016 much to the joy of wildlife lovers all over the world. In February, the global manatee population was taken of the endangered list too. The US banned elephant ivory trade across borders and Sea World announced the stop of its captive whale breeding problem. At the 2016 CITES conference, a whopping 183 countries signed on to strongly protect endangered animals like rhinos, elephants, manta rays, porpoises, and parrots.
Wild wolves made a comeback to Europe, and wild salmon began to spawn in the Connecticut River, thanks to the dreams and hard work of many wildlife experts. In another big win, for the first time in 100 years, the number of tigers in the wild increased, and in March, the grizzly bears made a wonderful comeback in Yellowstone National Park, much to the tourists delight.
5. A Big Win for Renewable Energy
The Paris agreement (Accord de Paris) has become the fastest and largest United Nations treaty to become an international law from just an agreement in modern history! The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the body that will deal with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation, and finance starting 2020. Adopted by 195 countries in December 2015 and opened for signature on April 22, 2016 – by October 2016 enough members had signed and ratified it for the agreement to enter into force which it did on November 4, 2016.
Countries agree to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees and to basically try and curtail it to 1.5 degrees on the whole, as compared with the levels before the industrial revolution. And while it is an ambitious goal, a transformational shift in global energy systems is what is needed to bring this to its rightful conclusion. The world is shifting towards a positive note and 2016 was the year to realize it.
4. Ebola Eradicated … For Now
In June 2016, Liberia announced that it was now free of Ebola, after the worst outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in 2013. First recorded in Guinea in December 2013, Ebola spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone soon after. Minor outbreaks were reported in Nigeria, Mali, the UK, Sardinia, the US, and Spain. More than 28,000 people were infected and there were more than 11,000 deaths – though the WHO believes the magnitude may have been much larger than that. The outbreak peaked by October 2014, after which its effect began to wane.
In Liberia more than 10,000 people were infected by EVD and almost 5000 died while in Sierra Leone more than 14,000 people were infected out of which almost 4000 succumbed to this virulent disease. Finally in June, Liberia ended its long struggle against this disease and ended the incubation period twice over before announcing itself to be purged of this virus. Good riddance to a horrific disease.
3. The War is Over, Mostly
Amidst the Syrian carnage, the Colombian skirmish, the India-Pakistan standoff, the Nigerian-Boko Haram conflict, Russia grabbing Crimea, and finally Libya shattering into ISIS – we forgot to see the larger picture. War on the whole has been on a steady, if slow, decline. All the wars in the world, as of 2016, are limited to just 6% of the world’s population. From 1945 to 2011, the deaths per 100,000 of people in the world dropped from 22 to 0.3.
However, unrest and bombings in various Islamist states in the world is still a troubling aspect and a major roadblock in the path towards world peace.
The happiest news amidst it all is the ceasefire in Syria, though skirmishes with the ISIS remain at large. Ukraine remains partially peaceful as does Nigeria after defeating and taking away major territories from Boko Haram. In the Central African Republic, elections have taken place, and in South Sudan, a unity government brings in hope.
2. Screw You, Antibiotic Resistance
First there were deadly diseases, then we realized that we did not yet have a cure. Scientists all over the world slogged over strains of bacteria and finally came across the cure – antibiotics. And then, just when modern medicine thought that they had won the war, a new combatant entered: Antibiotic resistant strains of previously treatable disease, which brought the cycle, back to square one!
Now the scientists at Harvard are saying that they have successfully created a solution to the antibiotic resistance crisis. Since the 1950s, macrolide antibiotics have been based on and around erythromycin. Now, the scientists have bypassed this drug in favour of eight, chemical building blocks derived from industrial chemicals. Various combinations of these eight chemicals can be used to target various organisms and make new, stronger but safer antibiotics in far fewer steps.
1. ISIS is Reeling
After the carefully orchestrated demise of Osama Bin Laden, the then biggest threat of terrorism, Al Qaeda seemed to have lost its moorings. And just when the world was heaving a sigh of relief, an even uglier threat raised its head. ISIS, The Islamic State of Iraq & Syria, is a Sunni jihadist movement that has been categorized as a terrorist organization by the United Nations and many others.
It came to prominence in 2014 when it drove Iraqi forces out of their own provinces and then formed its own caliphate. ISIS basically proved to be a disaster for Sunnis around the nation, and so many all over the world have publicly denounced violent terrorism and issued fatwas against ISIS.
The good news is that this so-called caliphate is crumbling. US drone strikes have taken out quite a few leaders and the Syrian war has reduced their numbers drastically. We hope 2017 proves to be their ultimate downfall and that various other terrorist organizations take heed from them.
Evil never really does win a war, or anything else for that matter!