Journalists working for Thomson Reuters Foundation’s AlertNet and TrustLaw news services cover humanitarian issues, climate change, women’s rights and corruption around the world.
We asked the team to highlight some of the stories on their radar in 2013. See their responses below.
2013 pressing issues
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I’ll kick off with a few of my own:
1/ Countries in transition: My eye is on South Sudan as violence threatens to erupt along its disputed northern border; Myanmar as foreign money flows in; Arab Spring nations as they finish new constitutions; Afghanistan as it braces for NATO troop withdrawals; Pakistan as aid diminishes and cracks widen between military and judiciary… And of course Syria, where it’s hard to imagine the humanitarian situation getting any worse. Sadly it can.
2/ The temperature in Pyongyang: Is North Korea coming in from the cold – or at least thawing slightly? Signs are mixed. Yes, new leader Kim Jong-un has called for an end to confrontation with the South. Heck, the boss of Google even visited Pyongyang. But that didn’t stop North Korea lobbing a long-range rocket into space in December. Meanwhile, what’s the latest on the country’s chronic hunger crisis?
3/ Aid crunch: Will this be the year we see the full impact of the financial crisis on global aid? Official development assistance from major donors has already fallen more than $4 billion, according to last year’s data. Humanitarian aid is also down. But the full brunt of austerity budgets is only starting to hit, and we may see savage cuts in 2013.
1/ Networks without borders: Natural disasters, conflict and violence make daily headlines, creating a sense that our world faces insurmountable problems. But globally, thanks to digital technology, non-state networks have sprung up from within civil society, the private sector and individuals, achieving new forms of co-operation and social change. How will they evolve? Could they even rival international institutions, like the United Nations, in shaping global policy?
2/ A parched future: Africa is heading for "hydrological suicide" if a scramble for cheap farmland by foreign investors continues unabated because there just isn’t enough water to irrigate all the newly acquired land. What can be done to stop this unabated land and water grabbing?
3/ Seeking urban refuge: Helping refugees in the world’s largest cities is becoming more of a pressing issue as half of the world’s refugees now live in cities and towns, many of them women, children and older people. With refugees often settling within poor and vulnerable communities in already overcrowded cities, how can their needs be met?
1/ Waking up to women’s rights: The brutal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December has sparked unprecedented public outrage and national debate in largely patriarchal India. For the first time, India is heading to a national election due by May 2014 with women’s rights as an issue.
Will those demanding better protection for women, larger gender budgeting, stricter laws for rape and more opportunities for women be able to keep up the pressure? Will women’s rights become a permanent part of the political agenda?
2/ Afghanistan abandoned? NATO-led forces in Afghanistan – numbering around 130,000 at their peak and stationed there since 2001 to help fight the Taliban insurgency – are now withdrawing.
Some worry that with the withdrawal of troops we’ll see a withdrawal of foreign aid, hurting millions of people who lack food, water and shelter. And how will the pull-out impact the security of aid workers? What are humanitarians doing to prepare for these challenges? Will they “abandon” Afghanistan when it needs aid most?
1/ Kenya on tenterhooks: Having covered Kenya’s last election in 2007 and witnessed its bloody aftermath, I’ll be anxiously waiting to see what happens when Kenyans go to the polls again in March – and thinking of my friends and former Nairobi colleagues as they put in long hours to bring us news.
2/ Zimbabwe vote: Another election in another country with a power-sharing government is expected later this year – Zimbabwe. Will a disputed election trigger a new crisis for a country that has suffered so much or will the global political agreement continue in some form?
3/ Mali insurgency: Finally, I’ll be curious to see whether the warning made by Paris’ top anti-terrorism judge comes true in 2013. Marc Trevedic has said insurgency in the north of Mali is paving the way for attacks on France (the former colonial ruler) as more French Muslims of African origin are finding a cause in the conflict.
A Zimbabwe opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporter shows the party's open hand salute at an election rally in Chitungwiza, near the capital Harare, Zimbabwe, March 27, 2008. REUTERS/Howard Burditt
AlertNet Climate Editor
1/ Violent weather: Australia’s weather forecasters had to add two new colour bands to their reports in January – purple and magenta – to reflect the continent’s first-ever-recorded temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius. As climate change drives more extreme weather, what will 2013 bring? Bet on worsening floods and droughts – including quick switches between the two extremes in some places – as well as record high temperatures and strengthening storms.
2/ Food prices: Population growth and a rising appetite for meat and dairy products in countries like China are driving up global demand for food, just as increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather is hitting harvests in many parts of the world. The result? Expect food prices to rise – and potentially soar – this year, with little prospect of them coming back down.
1/ Arab Summer? Will instability and change reach more countries in the Middle East and North Africa? Is there hope for stability in the region and what will happen with the much-talked about issue of women’s rights?
2/ Going global: Are women really going to benefit from the globalisation of women’s issues – the broader attention dedicated to such issues and the wider support that national and international organisations are trying to drum up as countries across the world face up to the importance of women’s wellbeing and of their political and economic participation?
3/ Berlusconi back? Meanwhile, will Berlusconi steal the hearts of the Italian people once again? Only joking, but as an Italian I’m very curious about this one!
1/ Climate losers: For me, 2013 is about climbing climate costs. Has the world entered a new era in which we can no longer avoid “loss and damage” caused by climate change, and who will pay to fix it?
This was a sizzling topic at the recent U.N. climate conference in Doha. Some richer nations fear demands for yet more cash to compensate poorer countries, even as extreme weather batters the wealthy too. Insurance may offer a solution. Either way, expect a stormy debate in 2013.
2/ Hunger campaign: Britain hosts the G8 summit this summer, and is organising an event on food and nutrition ahead of it. Aid groups will launch a joint push for more action by leaders to feed the world’s hungry. Is there real political appetite for tackling the root causes of hunger, or will we see more food crises in 2013?
Thin Lei Win
1/ Myanmar reforms: I’ll be focused on Myanmar after a year of unprecedented reforms – political prisoners released, censorship laws relaxed, demonstrations allowed, peace negotiations with ethnic rebels…
But 2012 ended with worrying signs, including a violent crackdown on protests, air strikes against Kachin rebels and bloody sectarian conflicts between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingyas. Land grabs continue. How will a country perceived as one of the world’s most corrupt deal with expected inflows of aid and investment?
2/ Indonesia on edge: Will Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, crank up its conservative credentials, stroking further religious extremism and gender discrimination ahead of elections in 2014? Rights group say violence against minorities such as Christians, Shiites and Ahmadiyah is on the rise. There are worries over blasphemy laws and political corruption.
A Myanmar Rohingya girl wears traditional make-up at the village of Takebi, Myanmar, May 18, 2012. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Kenya decides: The unsightly overnight graffiti springing up on my drive to work shows that candidates are gearing up for Kenya’s March 4 poll. For most of us, anxiety outweighs excitement.
While the United Nations is predicting up to 450,000 people will be displaced in pre- and post-election violence, I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll avoid the ethnic bloodletting that followed the disputed 2007 vote.
To me, the bigger question is whether Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s founding president and a leading contender in the coming poll, will attend the opening of his trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 11. He is facing charges of crimes against humanity for directing ethnic violence after the last vote.
Will Kenyatta (or his allies) win the presidency, giving him the power to spurn the ICC? Would this quash hopes of reining in the electoral violence that plagues this country every five years?
1/ Sustainable goals: As the clock ticks down on the 2015 deadline for the anti-poverty U.N. Millennium Development Goals, policymakers are working toward establishing Sustainable Development Goals to replace the eight targets established in 2000. What steps will they take to include measures to address the goals which are likely to remain unmet?
2 / Water watch: Experts facing the complex challenge of how to manage pressures on water infrastructure – vital for food and industrial production, drinking supplies and human sanitation – as the global population is projected to rise from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050 have said they are creating a global water monitoring body. How will this ambitious enterprise take shape?
3/ Cluster pact: Civilians accounted for 71 percent of casualties caused by explosive weapons in 2011, according to a report by Action on Armed Violence. The Cluster Munition Coalition reported that civilians accounted for 94 percent of cluster munition casualties in 2011. How have these numbers been affected by war in Syria? Will more countries join the Cluster Munitions Convention?
Syria showdown: Will the West eventually intervene in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s attempt to use chemical weapons in a desperate fight to hold onto power? Will the conflict cause more turbulence in the Middle East? Syria’s civil war is the story I’ll be watching closely in 2013.
Women hold placards as they march during a rally organized by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit (unseen), protesting for justice and security for women, in New Delhi, India, January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Chief Correspondent, Good Governance
1/ Anti-corruption gets sexy this year. Anger over inequality and unemployment fuels the growing wave of anti-corruption protests. Watch for Indonesia to join Russia, India and China. And Saudi Arabia?
2/ Banker bonus: Yet again, no big money-centre banker pays the price for money laundering, corruption or bribery.
3/ China cracks: The diet of four-course meals plus soup ordered up by President Xi Jinping to curb the greed of public officials won’t sate China. The new middle class’s popular disgust over rampant corruption will threaten the Communist Party’s grip on power. Educated and social-media savvy Chinese citizens are hungry for a more accountable government. Can Red Capitalism reform in time?
4/ Data drones: Big Data is the Big New Thing in the War on Corruption as public institutions and companies publish more and more online. But who has the skills to manipulate this tsunami of numbers? My bet is on the emerging army of citizen journalists and hacktivists.
1/ Colombia crossroads: Tens of thousands killed, up to 4 million displaced, thousands of child soldiers, and 10,000 landmine victims – that’s the toll of Colombia’s nearly 50-year-old war. But there’s hope for change as peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC rebels continue. Will the two sides reach a historic peace deal this year?
2/ Rebuilding Haiti: Most Haitians I’ve met say they’ve seen little or no improvement in their lives since the massive earthquake hit the nation three years ago. I’ll be watching to see if aid donors and the Haitian government can really work together to rebuild Haiti and resettle the 358,000 people still living in makeshift camps.
Commentary Editor, Good Governance
1/ Bribery battle: An act that would force U.S. incorporated companies to reveal their beneficial owners may become law in 2013. If it does, it has the potential to be as influential globally as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was for changing attitudes towards the legality and morality of bribing foreign officials.
2/ Legal challenge: A consortium of lobbying groups is currently suing the U.S. financial regulator to overturn rules on financial transparency in the extractive industry. The lobbyists say that the rules go beyond the objectives of U.S. lawmakers and put U.S. firms at a disadvantage. Transparency campaigners will watch the lawsuit play out with baited breath.
3/ Mining transparency: The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) is at a crossroads. The Oslo-based organisation which promotes revenue transparency in resource-rich countries, may have become a victim of its own success. Laws that codify transparency requirements for extractive industry companies are in place in the U.S. and under discussion in Europe. How will these developments affect the EITI standard?
Correspondent and Women’s Rights Editor
1/ Abortion rights: This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion in the U.S. But 2012 brought more state-level restrictions on abortion – second only to the record number in 2011. Despite polls showing that the majority of Americans favour keeping abortion legal, the subject is hotly debated by lawmakers. Will U.S. abortion rights be further eroded in 2013?
2/ Tide of violence: Violence against women – from the near-fatal attack on a schoolgirl in Pakistan to the fatal gang-rape of a university student in India and the alleged gang-rape of a girl by football players in Ohio – appears to be on the rise in both developed and developing nations. Distorted gender ratios, traditional attitudes and official negligence are three aspects of the problem. What will it take to stem this brutal tide of violence against half the world’s population?
1/ Al Qaeda in Africa: I’m watching Africa’s Sahel region where experts say al Qaeda is working with local groups to create a secure zone. If al Qaeda moves its bases from Pakistan to the Sahel as predicted, how much territory will it control and what will this mean for the region?
2/ Yemen emergency: Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is deepening and 8.1 million people – a third of the population – will need aid this year, up from 6 million in 2012, the United Nations says. What will turn the situation around? And will donors give more than last year, when the U.N. appeal was only 56 percent funded?
A sniper checks surrounding areas for al Shabaab militants at Baledogle airbase, Somalia, October 17, 2012. REUTERS/African Union-United Nations Information Support Team/Tobin Jones/Handout
1/ Somalia anarchy: After two decades of despair, can Somalia's people at last hope their anarchic country will turn a corner? Life is returning to battle-scarred Mogadishu, al Qaeda-linked rebels have withdrawn from their last major bastion and the country has a new president. But the situation remains perilous. There are also reports that some militants are grouping in the relatively peaceful semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
2/ Newborn health: Melinda Gates thinks 2013 will be the year we start making serious progress on saving newborn lives in Africa. While child survival rates have improved dramatically since 1970, newborn survival has not. Will we finally learn how to save babies’ lives? A prediction worth watching.
3/ Ban on female cutting: On the subject of health, we at long last have a U.N. resolution on female genital mutilation (FGM) – a brutal practice inflicted on millions of girls which causes serious physical problems. Will more countries ban this form of child abuse following December’s resolution?