The world witnessed yet another chaotic year in 2014, with conflicts, disasters and epidemics taking an ever increasing toll on human lives. Political, religious and ethnic conflicts led to an ongoing civil war in Ukraine, a bloody burst of violence in Israel-Palestine relations and the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. In Africa, the Ebola epidemic took its ravaging toll, mainly across the three countries of Guinea, Serra Leone and Liberia in West Africa. Meanwhile, floods and hurricanes swept away lives and livelihood of thousands in India, Pakistan and elsewhere in Asia.
But it was not all doom and gloom during 2014, there were moments when acceptance of social and cultural diversity, advances in technological and scientific fields, displays of sporting prowess and empathy with fellow human beings restored one’s faith in humanity.
As another year draws to a close, The Times Kuwait takes a look at the tapestry of highs and lows from around the world that marked and marred 2014.
Winter Olympic Games
The 2014 Winter Olympic Games were held in Sochi, Russia, from the 7 – 23 February, with the participation of 2873 athletes from 88 countries. While originally budgeted at US$12 billion, the final figure crossed $51 billion and surpassed the estimated $44 billion it cost for 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and becoming the most expensive Olympics in history.
The most widespread Ebola epidemic in history is currently ongoing, mainly in three West African nations of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Researchers believe that 2-year-old boy Emile Ouamouno, who died in December 2013 in the village of Meliandou, Guéckédou Prefecture, Guinea, was the index case of the current Ebola outbreak, the most severe, both in terms of numbers of infections and casualties. As of mid-December, the World Health Organization (WHO) and respective governments have reported over19,000 suspected cases of Ebola infections with 7,388 confirmed deaths — all but 15 of them were confined to the three West African nations.
The Republic of Crimea, officially part of Ukraine, plunged into crisis early this year after Ukraine’s legally-elected president Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by violent protests over his reluctance to join hands with the European Union.
Crimea, which has strong ties to Russia, then voted to join Russia in a referendum in March – deemed illegal by Ukraine, the US and the EU. Russia accepted the referendum results and immediately incorporated the peninsula into its territory. The Western nations, led by the EU, imposed strict economic sanctions on Russia to protest the move. The contest for power between Russia and the West has led to an ongoing insurgency in Eastern Ukraine that has claimed over 4,000 lives.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappears
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeard off the Asian country's east coast, over the Gulf of Thailand, on 8 March. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 passengers and crew aboard, vanished from radars less than an hour after take-off. The costliest international search efforts in history have yielded no results so far and no trace of the flight has been found. The aircraft is presumed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean.
South Korean ferry disaster
MV Sewol, a South Korean ferry, sunk on April 16 while on route from Incheon to Jeju. Nearly 300 passengers, many of them students drowned in the disaster. National controversy then erupted over rescue efforts and actions of crew and owner. In November, the captain of MV Sewol was found guilty of gross negligence and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
Boko Haram abducts 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria
The extremist group Boko Haram made headlines around the world on 14 April when it abducted 276 schoolgirls from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Nigeria’s Borno State. Last month, the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed that all the girls had been converted to Islam and married off. The group continued its deadly attacks in Borno in May with the killing of over 300 civilians in a night attack on towns of Gamboru and Ngala. This was followed by bomb attacks in the town of Jos in Plateau State that claimed a further 120 lives.
Rise of the Islamic State
The growth of Islamic State that led to creation of a self-declared caliphate spanning large parts of Iraq and Syria caused international concern, with a US-led coalition now conducting airstrikes against the group. Known for atrocities, including beheading of its victims, the militant group, headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has killed thousands of civilians. However, recent events point to the militants having met their match in a revamped Kurdish Peshmerga forces that have retaken control from the Islamic State in some areas.
FIFA World Cup
June – July
The 20th Football World Cup was held across several venues in Brazil from 12 June to 13 July, with national teams from 32 teams competed in 64 matches. Germany emerged the victors by trumping Argentina with a lone goal in the finals and won the FIFA Trophy as well as $35 million in prize money. Estimates forecast the games to cost Brazil over $14 billion making it the most expensive World Cups ever
Simmering tensions rooted in previous Israeli settlements in Gaza and other disputed territories in the West Bank once again tipped the boiling point in 2014, and exploded into violent conflict after three Israelis were kidnapped and killed in June and the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth by Jewish settlers. Israel blamed the Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip of responsibility for the deaths of the three Israelis and the delicate ceasefire that had existed between Palestine and Israel fell through in July. A bloody conflict that then erupted lasted for over 50 days and saw over 2,100 Palestinians and 72 Israelis killed. According to official stats, a total of 5,226 air strikes were conducted over Gaza as part of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge while 4,591 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel. The two finally managed to broker a peace deal in Cairo in August.
Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland
July - August
Commonwealth Games are held in Glasgow, Scotland with 4,950 athletes from 71 different nations and territories competing in 18 different sports, making it one of the largest Commonwealth Games staged to date at a cost of nearly $900 million. England, Australia and Canada topped the medal tally.
July – August
The year 2014 will go down in history as one of the worst for the aviation sector in recent years, following a spate of major air crashes, in the July – August period. Aviation Safety reported over 1040 aviation-related deaths so far this year, compared to just around 346 in 2013.
Following the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370 in February, the shooting-down of Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine on 17 July, killed all 298 aboard, shocking the world and adding to the woes of the beleaguered Malaysian Airlines. It is still unclear who shot down the flight, which was heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
On 23 July, the crash of TransAsia Airways Flight 222 in Taiwan killed a further 48, and a day later, the fatal crash of Air Algerie Flight 5017 in Mali, left all 116 people onboard dead. An Iranian passenger plane also crashed in Tehran on 10 August, killing at least 38.
Khmer Rouge sentenced for genocide
Cambodia's Khmer Rouge or Red Khmers leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal on 7 August. Their orchestrating of the Cambodian genocide led to widespread famine, that led to the death of thousands, in addition to the nearly two million that died as a result of mass executions and torture carried out by the Khmer Rouge cadre.
Heavy monsoon rains and floods caused by overflowing rivers across India and Pakistan during the first week of September. The rivers Chenab, Ravi, Sutlej, and Jhelum in Pakistan overflowed and brought flash floods that caused homes to collapse and resulted in death of over 300.
Heavy rains in India’s Jammu and Kashmir State caused severe flooding, reportedly the worst in in 50 years. Ten districts were heavily affected and over 280 people were reported dead. In the region of Jammu, landslides triggered by heavy rainfall caused serious damages to infrastructure and agricultural land.
Rosetta meets Churyumov
Rosetta, the robotic space probe built and launched by the European Space Agency in March 2004, deployed its lander module Philae to touch-down successfully on the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimen on 12 November, 2014. After over 10 years of travel that took it through 6.7 billion kilometers of our Solar System, the landing of Philae on 67P marked the first by a space-craft on a comet. The landing was also a momentous occasion celebrating the success of precision planning, innovative engineering and human ingenuity.
Nobel Peace Prize and School Massacre
On 10 December, in Oslo City Hall, the youngest Nobel-laureate – Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Indian children’s-rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi received the joint Nobel Peace Prize for 2014. The Nobel committee in presenting the awards to the two described them as 'champions of peace'.
In her acceptance speech at the Prize awarding ceremony, Malala Yousafzai launched a searing attack on “strong governments that have the resources to begin wars but not to enable universal education. “Why is it that giving guns is so easy, but giving books is so hard?” she asked raising her voice in the silent room.
A week later the Pakistan Taleban stormed a military-run school in Peshawar and killed 141 people in one of Pakistan’s bloodiest terrorist attacks. Of the dead, 132 were children; many of them were found killed in their classrooms, some holding their books in front of them in a futile attempt to shield themselves from the bullets of the deranged attackers.