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PRESSING ISSUES: What stories will make headlines in 2014?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 10 Jan 2014 14:34 GMT
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TIM LARGE, Editor-in-chief, London

Our journalists cover the under- reported stories at the intersection of humanitarian aid and development, human rights, climate change, social innovation and governance. We asked them to highlight some of the issues on their radar for the coming year.

Their responses, below, have much in common: a sense of “crunch time” for countries in transition; tectonic shifts brought about by wars, mega-disasters or political reforms; questions over the effectiveness of new laws to tackle wrongs and initiatives to improve accountability; the promise of innovation; and fears that past lessons have gone ignored.

First, a couple of my own.

Central African nightmare

Violence has driven about a million people from their homes. More than twice as many need aid. Relief agencies struggle to cope. Interreligious bloodshed and deteriorating humanitarian conditions make Central African Republic one of the world’s worst “forgotten” emergencies. It’s as much about control of resources as religious divisions, and it threatens to destabilise an already unstable region. Will the deployment of French and African peacekeepers make a difference? What happens if food costs keep doubling, as they have in the past month?

Pyongyang provocations

Last year, I asked if North Korea might be coming in from the cold. Today, things could hardly be chiller in the most reclusive nation on earth. The rare public purge of leader Kim Jong Un’s powerful uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was the latest surprise from a regime that has conducted three nuclear tests and raised the possibility of nuclear war with South Korea and the United States. Jang’s execution fuelled speculation of internal divisions and competing factions surrounding Kim. North Korean politics are virtually impenetrable, but we’ll keep trying.

***

ASTRID ZWEYNERT, Deputy editor, London

Resilient cities

How does a city bounce back from a shock like Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or the 2011 Japan earthquake? With more than half the world’s population now living in urban spaces, many cities are racing not only to improve their preparedness for natural and human-induced calamities but also to work with their citizens, governments and the private sector to become more resilient. My eye will be on cities that are leading the way in reducing vulnerability to such shocks.

Securing water for food

More than 70 percent of global water use occurs in the food value chain – the journey of our food from farm to fork. Water scarcity is projected to rise dramatically between now and 2050, so low-cost, sustainable water innovations are key to addressing this challenge. I will be interviewing some of the innovators working on market-driven solutions to improve water sustainability to help boost food security.

An AIDS-free generation?

The fight against HIV/AIDS has been hailed as one of the most successful public health projects in human history - but for millions of people without access to treatment that promise is still unfulfilled. AIDS remains the number one killer of young women of child-bearing age – not just in sub-Saharan Africa, but globally - and three out of four pregnant women with HIV are not receiving treatment, all of them in developing countries. How can the promise of an AIDS-free generation become reality for them as well?

***

LISA ANDERSON, Correspondent, New York

Reproductive rights under fire

The U.S. marked its second-worst year on record for curbing abortion rights in 2013. There are signs that this trend will continue, not just in the U.S. Spain is the latest country proposing legislation to severely restrict abortion rights. There is renewed focus on restricting contraception around the world, from the U.S., where employers are fighting the requirement to cover contraception, to the Philippines, where a new budget cut all public funding for modern contraceptives.

Rape in the military

What can be done to fight rape among the ranks of U.S. servicewomen? The military has repeatedly pledged to solve the problem but with little apparent success. New legislation will be proposed in January that would shift the decision to prosecute rape cases from the commanding officer to military prosecutors but it faces steep opposition. Why is this problem so intractable and what will happen if this legislation passes?

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

Step by tiny step, women are making progress in Saudi Arabia. They can now practice law, sell lingerie, serve on the king’s Shura Council and, in 2015, vote and run in local elections. But, they still can’t leave the house, the country or even contract for medical services without a male guardian’s approval—and they still can’t drive a car. Yet, there continue to be signs that things are loosening up. What will happen next?

***

STELLA DAWSON, Chief corruption correspondent, Washington DC

Natural resource wealth

This is top of my watch list for 2014. This could prove a pivotal year for company disclosure in Europe and the U.S. of what they pay governments for the right to extract oil, gas and minerals. Industry is resisting detailed disclosure, but potential development gains from more transparency are huge and aid dependency could be reduced. Just look at Nigeria where $50 billion in oil wealth has gone missing over 18 months – that’s more money than all the foreign development aid in one year to Africa.

Dirty money

Tax havens, bank secrecy and shell companies became seriously uncool in 2013. I expect even more focus on illicit financial flows in 2014, and stepped-up efforts by G20 countries to address financial leakage from dirty money as a budgetary and development imperative. It’s fascinating to see the focus starting to shift in the corruption debate away from kleptocrats towards complicity of Western countries as facilitators of corruption, profiting from money laundering.

Political upheaval

Presidential elections in Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil as well as general elections in India and South Africa will see corruption as a major campaign issue. It is an underlying theme in the citizen protests underway in Ukraine. The jeering at South African President Zuma during a ceremony to honour Nelson Mandela by citizens sickened by what they see as his moral abrogation of African National Congress’s ideals could be an omen. I would look to Turkey and India for the greatest potential disruptions. Other ballots to watch: Thailand, Egypt and Afghanistan.

***

LUKE BALLENY, Commentary editor, good governance, London

Putting teeth into transparency law

Britain has become the new darling of financial transparency advocates after it announced in October 2013 that it would create a public registry detailing the true (beneficial) owners behind every corporation registered in the UK. This will help tax and law enforcement agencies crack down on those who hide their illicit wealth behind shell companies. What details will the registry require and will the U.K.’s announcement spur others into action?

Where are the prosecutions?

Anti-corruption advocates have waited patiently for over two years for the first prosecution of a company under the UK Bribery Act. The director of the UK anti-graft agency, the Serious Fraud Office, has repeatedly said that there are Bribery Act investigations in the pipeline. But how much longer can the SFO remain credible without a single corporate Bribery Act prosecution?

Transparency law in limbo

Dodd-Frank 1504, the U.S. extractive transparency law, is in limbo following a judge’s decision to make the Securities and Exchange Commission reconsider and redraft the rules that govern the law. Transparency advocates and oil companies alike hope that the SEC will act soon but redrafting of the rules is not on the SEC’s published priorities list for 2014. Surely the SEC won’t prolong the uncertainty into 2015?

***

NITA BHALLA, Correspondent, New Delhi

Patriarchal India heads to the polls

India’s political parties are for the first time looking to woo urban women voters as the world’s largest democracy heads for elections in the first half of 2014. The murder and gang rape of a woman on a bus in New Delhi a year ago has brought issues related to women such as safety and security, economic and political empowerment into the mainstream among urban middle classes, and elections could see key pledges being made to improve gender equality.

Bangladesh on brink

After a violent general election widely seen as lacking in credibility, Bangladesh is poised for a long period of political chaos. The main opposition alliance led by Bangladesh National Party boycotted the election. This comes on top of months of deadly street violence between pro-government secularists and opposition-aligned Islamist supremacists, a struggle that threatens to unravel the democracy. The violence threatens to disrupt the country’s $22 billion garment industry that is its economic lifeline and has raised fears of mass displacement of minorities and warring political rivals.

Afghanistan’s slide backwards

Charities in Afghanistan are likely to find it harder to reach the poor and may be forced to shut down some operations due to waning donor interest and insecurity after foreign troops leave in 2014. A resilient Taliban and concern over the ability of Afghan security forces to keep militants in check have sparked fears amongst aid workers that a worsening conflict will hamper their ability to help millions of people in need of aid and affecting programmes aimed at promoting women’s rights since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001.

***

MISHA HUSSAIN, Correspondent, Dakar

Intervention in Nigeria?

First Mali, then the Central African Republic. The French led the way in 2013 for humanitarian interventions in former colonies. Meanwhile, Nigeria, a commonwealth country, continues to violate human rights on a massive scale in its fight against atrocities committed by Islamist sect Boko Haram. I’m watching if Britain will muster the courage to hold the Nigerian state and Boko Haram to account?

Heat is on in Sahel

It’s a pivotal year in the Sahel for aid agencies playing catch up with one of the world’s longest running emergencies. Last year, the U.N. told me some 16 million people risk hunger in 2014 and cyclical droughts and disease outbreaks are on the cards. A hit this year could roll back progress by decades. Will humanitarians be able to get ahead of the crisis before the next shock devastates the region?

LGBT exodus from Africa?

Whilst LGBT rights activists in Europe take on what many consider as the final hurdle, gay marriage, in West Africa, gay rights haven’t even left the starting blocks. A European court ruled in 2013 that people may seek asylum on the basis of sexual orientation. Will this open up new, gay migration patterns and what humiliation will they have to endure to find sanctuary? How will gay asylum seekers prove they are gay?

***

KATY MIGIRO, Correspondent, Nairobi

South Sudan on the brink

Just two years after celebrating independence, South Sudan is embroiled in renewed warfare triggered by power politics. Since mid-December, 1,000 people have been killed – often on ethnic lines – and 200,000 displaced. I’ll be watching to see whether the violence marks a return to civil war for one of the world’s least developed nations. Will regional mediation work? How can humanitarians protect – or even trace – displaced civilians in a vast country with barely any tarmac roads?

Kenya’s gender agenda

A Kenyan scientist dreams of inventing a vaccine for HIV/AIDS. Her hero is Charles Darwin. But the name on her school leaving certificate is frustrating her career plans. She is transgender, meaning she was born male but feels more comfortable with a female identity. She is a fighter, ready to challenge Kenya’s conservative heterosexual culture despite the risk of condemnation, humiliation and even violence. She has gone to court to compel the Kenyan state to recognise her right to define her own identity, while also seeking gender change surgery. I’ll be using my camera to tell this groundbreaking story of African sexual politics in the 21st century.

Somali refugee repatriation

How many Somalis will leave the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya as the two governments wield their carrots and sticks to implement a recent repatriation deal? Few Somalis believe they will find safety or education in Somalia, but Kenya is becoming increasingly inhospitable with food ration cuts, insecurity and mounting xenophobia.

***

ANASTASIA MOLONEY, Correspondent, Bogota

Haiti - a forgotten crisis?

With Haiti’s legislative and local elections two years overdue, tensions are mounting between Haiti’s president, Michel Martelly, and his opponents. Martelly is facing ever bigger and more frequent anti-government protests over high food prices and corruption. Will the government hold stalled elections in 2014 and will they bring greater stability? Meanwhile, the cholera epidemic continues to kill Haitians and nearly 172,000 people still live in makeshift tent camps following the 2010 earthquake.

Peace at last?

Having lived in Colombia for over a decade, I’ll be anxiously waiting to see if the government and FARC Marxist rebels can sign a peace deal to end 50 years of war that has killed more than 200,000 people. After 14 months of peace negotiations in Cuba, the two sides have agreed on two issues on a five-point agenda. Peace talks will also define the presidential elections scheduled in May. Will Colombia finally see peace in 2014?

Justice for genocide survivors

My eye will also be on Guatemala to see if the landmark retrial of former Guatemalan dictator Jose Efrain Rios Montt - the first ex-head of state to stand trial for crimes against humanity and genocide in his own country - will gain momentum and a firm date set for his retrial. Will Guatemala’s war victims get justice soon?

***

ADRIANA BRASILEIRO, Correspondent, Rio de Janeiro

2013 protests, 2014 promises?

Anger over corruption, misuse of public funds and the lack of accountability and transparency in Dilma Rousseff’s government led over a million people to the streets last year to demand changes. More than six months later, very little has been done to address their demands. As 2014 kicks off, with a Fifa World Cup and presidential election on the agenda, will we see some real action or just more promises?

Slowing economy, inevitable social spending cuts

As the Brazilian economy slows amid persistent inflation, a weakening currency and a ballooning deficit, pressure is mounting on the government to deeply cut spending. I’ll be watching how those cuts will affect much- needed investment in education and in social programs.

Deforestation on the rise

The Brazilian government reversed a reduction in deforestation as it favoured massive infrastructure projects such as huge power dams in the Amazon, pardoned big landowners and farmers who cleared land illegally and relaxed environmental laws. As a result, Brazil’s rate of deforestation rose 28 percent between August 2012 and July 2013. With an eye on a possible second presidential term after elections in October, President Rousseff is likely to be even more permissive on environmental crime as she seeks support from the agriculture industry.

***

THIN LEI WIN, Correspondent, Bangkok

Will Myanmar wilt or thrive?

2014 will be a key year for the impoverished but resource- rich country that I call home. Now a chair of regional bloc ASEAN for the first time, its emergence from half a century of military rule is much lauded but many issues are now in deadlock. Fighting continues in Kachin, and a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armed groups, who say their rights have been abused and resources exploited, remains elusive. There’s little sign that violence against Muslims - in particular stateless Rohingya – will end; and activists say land grabs continue unabated.

After the super-typhoon

With a four-year $8.2 billion plan, the Philippines has started efforts to recover from one of the strongest storms to ever hit land. Personality politics, corruption, donor fatigue and unclear land rights may hamper the biggest rebuilding effort we’ve seen in Southeast Asia since the 2004 tsunami. If successful, it could prove a model for how island countries can build resilience to climate change. There’s some hope - Aquino has named a former senator known for his anti-corruption views as the rehabilitation tsar.

What change for Indonesia? 

The world’s most populous Muslim country is holding elections this year. Decentralisation has created “centres of patronage”, resulting in rampant corruption, a worsening education system, by-laws that dilute the rights of women and minority groups as local politicians try to appease hardliners. Deforestation and violations of community land rights continue unabated as authorities struggle for control over precious forest land. Some 67 million first-time voters - a third of the electorate - will cast their vote.

***

ALISA TANG, Sub-editor, Bangkok

Democracy stumbles

Thailand is in the throes of political turmoil again, with demonstrators from the middle class and elite demanding that Prime Minister Shinawatra resign so that an appointed “people’s council” can implement reforms aimed at rooting out corruption before another election is called. If democracy is suspended, how will democratic rights be affected? Already we’ve seen protesters try to strong-arm journalists into reporting the “right” news. Will the endemic corruption in this country be impacted at all?

In the eye of the storm

Which will strike Asia next? An earthquake, flood, tsunami or monster typhoon? Southeast Asia lies in the path of some of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Several countries also lie along the earthquake- and volcano-prone Pacific Ocean’s “Ring of Fire”. Which country will be hit next, and how will they rebuild? More importantly, how are people innovating to adapt their homes, farming techniques and lifestyles to cope with these natural disasters?

***

ALEX WHITING, Correspondent, London

Conflict spread

How far and how fast will the Syrian conflict spread across the region? And if violence in Central African Republic gets worse what will that mean for its neighbours? Ditto South Sudan. And what will the withdrawal of NATO troops in Afghanistan mean for security in Pakistan?

Natural disasters

As climate scientists predict that strong storms will become more frequent, what lessons can be learnt from the Philippines typhoon disaster about protecting people from the next major one?

Extremist Islamists

Will extremist Islamist groups gain more territorial control in 2014? The year began with a key extremist group taking large parts of the strategic Iraqi city of Falluja, having already gained control of areas in Syria. Many fear similar groups are still capable of taking over parts of Africa’s Sahel region, despite their ousting from northern Mali last year.

***

EMMA BATHA, Correspondent, London

Syrian exodus

Syrians are set to become the world’s largest refugee population in 2014, overtaking Afghans. As huge numbers continue to flee the civil war, I’ll be watching for repercussions in neighbouring countries, which are already massively overstretched after taking in more than 2 million people. European leaders have been criticised for their reluctance to share the burden. Will 2014 bring a change of heart?

The world’s most forgotten people?

Most of us take our nationality for granted. But imagine for a moment you didn’t have one. An astonishing 12 million people are stateless, deprived of their most basic rights and vulnerable to exploitation. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the first U.N. treaty to address statelessness. There will be a lot of talk and, hopefully, some breakthroughs. However, there seems little immediate prospect of much changing for Myanmar’s beleaguered Rohingyas and Kuwait’s Bidoons.

Ending female genital mutilation

I’ll be keeping an eye on what measures countries are taking to fulfil a global pledge to eradicate this barbaric ritual. Will Gambia make good on its promise to ban FGM? Will other African countries step up efforts to enforce their widely ignored laws? And will Britain finally see its first FGM trial – nearly 30 years after the practice was made illegal?

***

MARIA CASPANI, Production editor, London

Fighting sexism globally

I’ve been following the Everyday Sexism Project, a website and Twitter account for women to share their experience of discrimination and sexual harassment, and I’m interested to see what priorities will shape this successful movement as it goes global. The project now reaches more than a dozen countries around the world and many more are to join. Its founder, Laura Bates, plans to launch a global campaign to raise awareness about abuse in teen relationships, and I am looking forward to covering its development.

Much talk, little action?

Women’s rights have gained a top spot on the global agenda - and rightly so. We’ve seen international gatherings and a renewed push for improvement of programmes on reproductive rights and the reduction of maternal mortality. Sex workers’ rights have been at the centre of heated debates, and the rights of women in post- Arab Spring countries have been relentlessly scrutinized. That’s all well and good but I will be keeping an eye on the actual progress the world will make in 2014 to achieve gender equality.

***

MAGDA MIS, Production editor, London

Humanitarian access in Syria

I will be looking at war-torn Syria, where over 9 million people need help, but as access for humanitarian agencies is regulated by the government many people are not reached. Will the Security Council agree on a resolution that will oblige Damascus to allow wide humanitarian access? And will we see more EU countries eventually open their doors to Syrian refugees?

Erosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan?

Restoring women’s rights after the fall of the Taliban in 2001 - access to education, healthcare and the media – was a great achievement of the last decade. Recent reports suggest that the situation is changing rapidly, and not to women’s advantage. 2013 saw a surge in violent crime against women. With foreign troops scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014, will the country roll back hard-won women’s rights?

***

CRINA BOROS, Data journalist, London

Restoring damaged lives

My eye is on how governments and international organisations manage refugees, asylum seekers and other survivors of war and conflict. Rape is a widespread weapon a war, with traumatic consequences for the victims, yet widespread impunity for perpetrators. Seeking justice in court can be expensive, dangerous and futile. What efforts are being made to restore survivors’ lives?

Follow the money

I will be looking at reconstruction funds in countries in transition and volatile territories. I want to know how aid money is spent, who owns the businesses cashing in on development projects and expose corruption in aid flows.

Who rules over natural resources?

A country’s natural resources are essential to its fortunes. Who is influencing policies that give way to projects that endanger the environment, communities and livelihoods? How much transparency can the winners and decision-makers afford?

***

KARRIE KEHOE, Data journalist, London

Rape in Somalia

Last year thousands of women and girls in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) were subjected to rape and sexual assault, many by government soldiers and armed militia. Will 2014 be the year that Somali women and girls in IDP camps are finally safe or will they continue to be brutalised? Which camps are the worst and is there any new hope for the physical protection of women and girls in any of the Somali regions?

Maternal health in Central African Republic

Even before the outbreak of conflict in 2013, the Central African Republic had a scarcity of obstetricians and midwives, which resulted in 890 maternal deaths per every 100,000 live births in the country. Now with the effective collapse of the state, and the closure of schools and hospitals, what effect is this having on the women and children of CAR? Has the maternal mortality rate risen and what new challenges are women facing in the midst of violence and an uncertain future?

An unsettled region

The Iraqi Kurdish region has long been an area of instability and has produced hundreds of thousands of refugees within the last forty years. But now the autonomous region is seeing an influx of Syrian refugees and is now hosting over 200,000 people. Kurdish militants have been engaged in conflict with Syrian government forces since 2012. What affect is this war having on the Kurdish people and what is the threat of the Syrian conflict spilling over into Kurdish territories?

***

LAURIE GOERING, Climate change editor, London

Worsening severe weather

From record floods to stronger storms and worsening droughts, weather patterns continue to grow more extreme around the world – and more people than ever before feel in their gut that climate change is behind it. But will that drive action on climate change? Not while political leadership remains so weak on the issue.

Legal status for climate refugees?

Last November, a man from Kiribati – a Pacific island threatened by sea level rise – applied for refugee status in New Zealand, arguing that the threat to his homeland made it unsafe for him to return. He was refused. But as more people on threatened islands make plans to leave, look for growing pressure to recognize a new legal category of “climate refugee” – and other innovative efforts to help those losing their homelands find new ones.

End of insurance?

As financial losses from flooding, sea level rise and severe weather grow, insurance companies are raising their premiums. Homeowners in some particularly vulnerable areas – such as parts of Florida’s coastline – can no longer afford coverage. Cash-strapped government disaster assistance programmes, such as the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, also are heading further into debt. Could inability to afford insurance, or get alternative help in disasters, push climate change up the agenda of public concerns?

***

MEGAN ROWLING, Correspondent, France

Super Ban to the planet's rescue?

Governments are tasked with sealing a new global deal to tackle climate change by the end of 2015. That means coming up with a draft text next December, and tabling offers to reduce emissions early in 2015. November’s U.N. talks in Warsaw produced only just enough progress to keep the process on track. Fearful of failure, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon is convening a climate summit for leaders in September 2014. He may not extract many definite commitments on emissions, but there are high hopes for significant new pledges of climate funding for poor nations.

Spare any change for the Green Climate Fund?

The fledgling U.N. Green Climate Fund - due to channel tens of billions of dollars of climate finance - has been an empty shell for the past two years. Developing countries are eager to see it disbursing cash to help them pursue low-carbon growth and cope with extreme weather and rising seas. But it’s taken time to work out how the fund will operate, including the role of the private sector. This is due to be settled in the first half of 2014, paving the way for donor countries to start making substantial contributions.

Sustainable development goals up for grabs

At the U.N. General Assembly in September 2014, the working groups tasked with how the world should do development beyond 2015 - when the Millennium Development Goals expire - are due to present new targets. That will give governments a year or so to agree on these “sustainable development goals”. Consensus is growing they should apply to all countries and put more emphasis on protecting the planet. The public wants “an honest and responsive government” - not all politicians are so keen on that.

***

CLAUDINE BOEGLIN, Multimedia director, London

Gay rights under threat

We need to think of innovative ways of telling the story of the violent setback to gay rights in places like Russia, India, many parts of Africa and the Middle East. Where is the global movement headed to help protect citizens’ sexuality from state interference and oppression?

The world we look at

It’s time to reflect upon our visual legacy and ask if we tend to build stereotypes and therefore frame people in visually alienating spaces of repetitive representation? A veteran cameraman put it this way: “When you go to a place and have little time to film, build a postcard of the location. In other words, reproduce a collective general understanding of that place.” The risk is to build visual clichés: Palestinian women crying, a child popping out under a burqa... The danger is to build a conformist representation of a place rather than capture its changes.

Questioning identity and globalisation

Will we continue to refer to people based on their geographical identity – something individuals do not choose and can’t always change? It creates mental hierarchies when a country has a poor human rights record, for instance, or is at war. Can our identity shift towards what we become rather than where we come from? Do we have a collective responsibility in the tacit building of a fragmented identity for the Syrian people? And how is the label “stateless” shaping the identity and psyche of those affected?

***

SHANSHAN CHEN, Multimedia producer, London

Same-sex marriage in China

For the first time in its 12-year history, the Beijing Queer Film Festival happened without any government interference last year, right after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing the resumption of same-sex marriage in California. Chinese scholar Li Yinhe has been an outspoken advocate for legalisation of gay marriage for years. I will be watching out for signs of increasing tolerance towards queer people in China, as reflected in a campaign last February by parents of gays and lesbians demanding same-sex marriage legislation in an open letter.

China’s “left-behind” children

I first got involved in the stories of “left-behind” children in 2007 during a volunteering project in China’s improvised rural Sichuan province. Some 60 million children are left in villages by their migrant worker parents who have jobs in big cities and usually are brought up by grandparents. In 2013, international media reports showed that those children, especially girls, are susceptible to sexual and domestic abuse. Chinese NGOs are offering support, but 60 million is a huge number.

The next “Arab Spring”?

I’m interested in how women’s rights have been improved in post-revolution countries, and how changes are influencing women in patriarchal communities outside the area, even in Europe or the U.S. I am looking for stories about women driven to make a change within their communities.

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