11 Stories You May Have Missed in 2017
Logging a primeval forest, Mexican murders, Arctic pathogens, the Russian hack you didn’t hear about, and more.
Avid news consumers this year suffered a near-daily whiplash of bombshell stories, many of which involved U.S. President Donald Trump and his star-crossed administration. His surprising election win, and hectic first year in office, so dominated the news cycle that a Balkan war criminal downing a vial of poison on the stand at The Hague went almost unnoticed. Here are some other big stories from around the world you might have missed.
The Central African Republic is on the precipice of collapse: Since 2013, the Central African Republic has been mired in a vicious civil war that few people have paid attention to. This year, the CAR inched its way closer to becoming a failed state as new waves of brutal violence swept across much of the country. The government has little authority outside of the capital, Bangui, and experts say more than half the country is controlled by armed militants. Nearly 500,000 people are internally displaced, and the U.N. peacekeeping mission there trying to maintain some form of peace is outnumbered, outgunned, ineffective, and plagued by sexual abuse scandals, with little or no justice for the victims.
The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez: Team Trump wasn’t the only one in the hot seat for scandals in Washington this year. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, went on trial for corruption over allegations he abused his power on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a dramatic trial that flew largely under the radar. It was the first time in nearly four decades a sitting U.S. senator faced trial for federal bribery. The drama ended in a mistrial, which was a big blow to federal prosecutors and an even bigger setback for future public corruption cases.
Gender-based violence: Some experts say gender-based violence killed more women than armed conflicts did in parts of Asia. Think about how many times you read about armed conflicts. Now think about how many times you read about gender-based violence.
India and China stood at the brink: An on-again, off-again dispute over a border on a Himalayan plateau was back “on” in a big way in 2017. The two nuclear-armed countries began a new wave of tense confrontations in June when India moved to block the Chinese construction of a road in the Doklam region in Bhutan. Both India and China claim the other is occupying its territory (complicating things, it isn’t the same piece of territory). They agreed late in the year to try to resolve the border dispute at their 20th meeting on the issue since the 1980s. As the cliché goes, the 20th time’s the charm!
Mexico’s deadliest year on record: If Mexico made headlines this year, it was usually in relation to Trump’s plan to build a wall or tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement. But 2017 was also Mexico’s deadliest year in recorded history amid a surge in drug violence. The country registered a record-breaking 23,101 murder investigations in the first 11 months of the year, surpassing the previous record of 22,409 total in 2011 — the largest since this type of macabre record keeping first began in 1997. Reporters are also caught in the crossfire of Mexico’s drug wars; Mexico was also the deadliest country in the world for journalists outside of conflict zones this year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Physicists found we’re not living in a simulation: Sorry, fans of the multiverse or the bad place or whatever other pop culture alternate universe you used to get through the year. Theoretical physicists found that we can’t model the physics we know and love on computers. Which means, essentially, that you are not Neo. Another bummer — or, perhaps, relief — of 2017.
Poland has been logging a primeval forest: The ancient Bialowieza Forest, one of the last remaining bits of the huge forests that once covered Europe, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was also where the Polish government decided to start logging, violating habitat protection rules and incurring the wrath of the European Court of Justice. Twice, the court ordered Poland to stop logging immediately and warned of fines of up to 100,000 euros a day. Jan Szyszko, Poland’s environment minister, said the logging was “aimed at protecting the site’s biodiversity.” Poland’s new prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, said his country would respect the final decision of the European Union’s top court. It did not, however, respect the order to stop logging immediately.
Romania is possibly undermining its own judiciary: While much of the world was watching rising illiberalism in Poland, Hungary, and elsewhere, Romania also tried to take a walk on the autocratic side. In the winter, Romania’s legislature tried to pass a bill in the dead of night that would decriminalize official corruption, sparking the country’s largest protests since 1989. More recently, Romanians have taken to the streets once again, this time because of legislation that would give the parliament greater control over the judiciary and check the independence of judges and public prosecutors.
Russia may have hacked a U.S. nuclear site: It was hard to avoid Russian hacking stories in the first year of Trump’s presidency. But one big story seemed to slip through the cracks: In July, reports emerged that hackers had breached at least a dozen U.S. power plants, including a nuclear facility in Kansas. Officials say the hackers worked on behalf of foreign governments, and Russia is the prime suspect. The attack could open vulnerabilities in the country’s power supply and electricity grid.
A thawing Arctic leads to new (old) disease risks: That the Arctic is being ravaged by warming temperatures is no secret. But a scary new knock-on effect is emerging. As the Arctic and sub-Arctic thaw, the melting permafrost is unlocking bacteria, viruses, and other scary pathogens that have been lying dormant, some for thousands or even millions of years. These pathogens don’t pose a global health risk just yet, but scientists received a grisly preview last year of what could come, when 13 people in Siberia were hospitalized after contracting anthrax that emerged from melting permafrost. Scientists warn this could be the start of a worrying new trend.
The unraveling crisis in Yemen: Yemen’s ongoing civil war, a geopolitical showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran, gets less attention than the prospect of war with North Korea. But caught in the crossfire are Yemenis themselves, who’ve been hammered by a Saudi-imposed blockade of food and humanitarian aid on the country’s key ports. Some 7 million civilians have been pushed to the brink of starvation, and on Dec. 21, Yemen surpassed a grim milestone of 1 million suspected cholera cases, making it the largest cholera epidemic in recent history. Saudi Arabia has eased the blockade on Yemen in recent weeks, due to quiet pressure and politicking in Washington, but civilian suffering continues unabated.
Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer