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SUBHODEV DAS

SONGSOPTOK THE WRITERS BLOG | 12/10/2014 |





2014 Year in Review: Tragedy, Transition, Triumph
As the year is drawn to a close, it is the time to reflect on the events that shaped our lives and offered glimpses of the future.  Having taken up that task, I was having the dilemma of which events to review – there have been just too many happenings to discuss in these limited spaces. Finally, with the help of “Songsoptok” editors, I pared down the list to these newsworthy items that we hope would be of interest to the general readership.
Humankind conquered space in unprecedented ways, from injecting satellite into Mars orbit on a shoestring budget to chasing a fast-moving comet and landing a probe on it.
World watched Germany humiliating host Brazil in the FIFA World Cup and then beating Argentina in a thrilling final game.
But 2014 also brought the Ebola scare out of Africa, heightened tensions in the Middle East and Europe and a bizarre disappearance of a passenger-filled aircraft without leaving any trace.
Here are our summaries of significant news events of the year that is about to be consigned to history.

 

EBOLA OUTBREAK IN WEST AFRICA

In February, the Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa started, infecting nearly 17,000 people and killing at least 6,000 people as of this reporting. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (C.D.C) reports that this is the most severe epidemic in recorded history both in terms of numbers of infections and casualties.
Ebola was discovered in 1976 and was once thought to originate in gorillas, because human outbreaks began after people ate gorilla meat.

Scientists now believe that bats are the natural reservoir for the virus, and that apes and humans catch it from eating food that bats have drooled or defecated on, or by coming in contact with surfaces covered in infected bat droppings and then touching their eyes or mouths. The current outbreak seems to have started in a village near Guéckédou, Guinea, where bat hunting is common, according to Doctors Without Borders.
The World health Organization (W.H.O.) reported on Oct. 14 that the number of new Ebola cases could reach 10,000 per week by December. The C.D.C. published a report in September that outlined a worst-case situation, in which the total number of cases could reach 1.4 million by February 2015.
About 200,000 people are having problems getting food because of problems caused by the Ebola outbreak. An analysis by the World Food Program also concluded that if the disease continues to spread at the average rate observed since mid-September, as many as 750,000 people could lose access to affordable food by March 2015.
Click here for an interactive map of the current Ebola outbreaks.

 

DISAPPEARANCE OF MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 370

On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 airliner en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand with 239 people on board.
A multinational search effort, which became the largest and most expensive in history, began in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, where the flight's signal was lost on secondary surveillance radar, and was soon extended to the Strait of Malacca and Andaman Sea. The focus of the search shifted to the southern part of the Indian Ocean, west of Australia. An analysis of possible flight paths was conducted, identifying a 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) search area, approximately 2,000 km (1,200 mi) west of Perth, Western Australia. The underwater search of this area began on 5 October 2014 and will last up to 12 months at a cost of A$60 million (approximately US$56 million or €41 million).

There has been no confirmation of any flight debris, and no crash site has been found, resulting in many unofficial theories about its disappearance. Analysis of these communications by multiple agencies has concluded that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

 

CRISIS IN UKRAINE

The crisis in Ukraine, the most significant in Europe since the conclusion of WWII, precipitated with the ousting in February of the then Moscow-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych from office by the Ukrainian Parliament. This move followed after days of civil unrest in which about 100 people died in the capital, Kiev.
Within days of Yanukovych’s ouster, pro-Russian insurgency flared up in Eastern Ukraine. In early March, Russian troops backed by pro-Russian Ukrainian militia annexed the Crimean Peninsula. On March 16, A referendum on the status of Crimea was held. Five days later, Russia formally annexed Crimea after President Vladimir Putin signed a bill finalizing the annexation process. In response, the G8 group of nations temporarily suspended participation by Russia.

The event caused much controversy and was condemned by many world leaders, as well as NATO, as an illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. Russia opposes the "annexation" label and claims it was a process of accession. Ukraine disputes this, as it does not recognize the independence of the Republic of Crimea or the accession itself as legitimate. The United Nations General Assembly also rejected the vote and annexation, adopting a non-binding resolution affirming the "territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders."
In a strange twist of fate, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was brought down over Eastern Ukraine on July 17, apparently by a missile, killing 298 people on board.

 

#BRINGBACKOURGIRLS

On April 14, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 mostly-Christian girls from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. Houses in Chibok were also burned down in the incident. The school had been closed for four weeks prior to the attack due to the deteriorating security situation, but students from multiple schools had been called in to take final exams in physics.
Boko Haram subsequently claimed that the students were converted to Islam and married off to members of the group, with a reputed "bride price" of ₦2,000 each ($12.50/£7.50). Many of the students were taken to the neighboring countries of Chad and Cameroon, with sightings reported of the students crossing borders with the militants, and sightings of the students by villagers living in the Sambisa Forest, considered a refuge for Boko Haram. Local residents have been able to track the movements of the students with the help of contacts across north eastern Nigeria.

Parents and others took to social media to complain about the government's perceived slow and inadequate response. The news caused international outrage against Boko Haram and the Nigerian government. The hash tag #BringBackOurGirls began to trend globally on Twitter as the story continued to spread.
Except for the 53 girls who had managed to escape, the abductees still remain unaccounted for.

 

INDIAN GENERAL ELECTION

The Indian General Election for the 16th Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament) concluded in May after over a month of voting. It was the longest election in the country's history and the largest-ever election in the world with 814.5 million eligible voters.
The results were declared on May 16 in which the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), won a sweeping victory, taking 336 seats. The BJP itself won 31.0% of all votes and 282 (51.9%) of all seats. It was the first time since the 1984 Indian general elections that a party won enough seats to govern without the support of other parties.

Important issues during the campaign included high inflation, lack of jobs, economic slowdown, corruption, security and terrorism, religious division and communalism, and infrastructure such as roads, electricity and water. Corruption also figured high in the issue list.
Narendra Modi, the colorful leader of the BJP, swept into Varanasi, India’s most ancient city, on May 17th pledging to clean the Ganges, its holiest and filthiest river. Three days later, in Delhi, BJP parliamentarians chanted and roared unanimous support for him, and he broke down in tears in mid-speech. Mr. Modi was sworn in by Pranab Mukherjee, India’s president, as India’s 14th prime minister on May 26.

 

FIFA WORLD CUP

On June 12, the 20th FIFA World Cup opened in 12 cities across Brazil. It was the second time that Brazil hosted the competition, the first being in 1950.
All world champion teams since the first World Cup in 1930 – Argentina, Brazil, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Uruguay – qualified for this competition. The national teams of 31 countries advanced through qualification competitions to participate with the host nation Brazil in the final tournament. The title holders, Spain, were eliminated at the group stage, along with previous winners England and Italy. Uruguay was eliminated in the Round of 16 and France was eliminated at the quarter-finals.

Host and 2013 Confederations Cup winner Brazil lost to Germany in the first semi-final in a stunning manner (1-7). Germany won the tournament and took its fourth title, its first since the reunification of West and East Germany in 1990. On July 18, Germany defeated Argentina 1–0, the same result as the 1990 FIFA World Cup Final. With the victory, Germany became the first European team to win a World Cup in the Americas.
For the first time at World Cup finals, match officials used goal-line technology, as well as vanishing foam for free kicks.

 

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICTS

In early June, a Sunni militant group called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (also known as the ISIS or ISIL) began an offensive through northern Iraq, aiming to capture the Iraqi capital city of Baghdad and overthrow the Shiite government. The ongoing Syrian Civil War has helped the jihadists to control large swaths of territories in Iraq and Syria. Groups controlling territory in Sinai, eastern Libya, and Pakistan have been absorbed by ISIL.
On June 29, the group proclaimed a worldwide caliphate, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi—known by his supporters as Amir al-Mu'minin, Caliph Ibrahim—was named its caliph, and the group renamed itself the Islamic State. As caliphate, it claims religious authority over all Muslims worldwide, and aims to bring Muslim-inhabited regions of the world under its control.

ISIL continues to promote violent propaganda with targeted killings and beheading of Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The group has recruited Iraqi children as young as nine to its ranks. There are many allegations of sexual abuse and enslavement of Iraqi women and girls, predominantly from the minority Christian and Yazidi communities.
Meanwhile, amid growing tensions between Israel and Hamas following the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June and the revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in July, Israel launches Operation Protective Edge. The July 8 offensive on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, the stronghold of Hamas, started with numerous missile strikes. It was followed by a ground invasion a week later. In 7 weeks of fighting, 2,100 Palestinians and 71 Israelis were killed.

The stated aim of the Israeli operation was to stop rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, which increased after an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank was launched in the aftermath of the killing of the Israeli teenagers. The ground invasion was aimed at destroying Gaza’s tunnel system. Israeli ground forces withdrew on August 5. The Gaza Health Ministry, UN and some human rights groups reported that 69–75% of the Palestinian casualties were civilians; Israeli estimate of that number is 50%.

 

MARS ORBITER MISSION

On September 24, the scientists and engineers of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully inserted the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or Mangalyaan (“Mars-craft” in Sanskrit) into Mars orbit after a year-long voyage through deep space.

It is India's first interplanetary mission and ISRO has become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency. It is also the first nation to reach Mars orbit on its first attempt, and the first Asian nation to do so.
The mission is a "technology demonstrator" project to develop the technologies for design, planning, management, and operations of an interplanetary mission. It carries five instruments that will help advance knowledge about Mars to achieve its secondary, scientific objective.
The most astounding fact is that the total cost of the mission was approximately INR450 Crore (US$73 million), making it the least-expensive Mars mission to date.

 

#COMETLANDING

On November 12, the European Space Agency achieved a first in space exploration – successfully landing a probe on a comet zipping at over 31,000 mph!
The Rosetta spacecraft's Philae probe successfully landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko orbiting between Mars and Jupiter after a decade-long journey. The lander is named after the Philae obelisk, which bears a bilingual inscription and was used along with the Rosetta Stone to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The scientific goals of the mission focus on "elemental, isotopic, molecular and mineralogical composition of the come tary material, the characterization of physical properties of the surface and subsurface material, the large-scale structure and the magnetic and plasma environment of the nucleus." Several of the instruments on Philae made the first in situ analysis of a comet, sending back data that will be analyzed to determine the composition of the surface.
One of the last tweets received from the lander (#CometLanding) before its batteries went dead: Now that I’m safely on the ground, here is what my new home #67P looks like from where I am.

 

KISS OF LOVE

Kiss of Love protest is a non-violent protest against moral policing which started in Kerala and later spread to other parts of India. The movement began when a Facebook page called 'Kiss of love' asked the youth across Kerala to participate in a protest against moral policing on November 2 at Marine Drive, Cochin. The movement received widespread support with more than 143,000 'Likes' for the Facebook page. After the initial protest in Kochi, similar protests were organized in other major cities of the country.

Various religious and political groups in India have opposed movement. However, both the Supreme Court of India and Delhi High Court have made it clear that kissing in public is not an obscene act and no criminal proceedings can be initiated, for kissing in public, through landmark judgments.
A Kiss in the Street protest is planned for December 7 in Kozhikode.


[SUBHODEV DAS]


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