The News You Missed in 2020, From Every Country in the World (Part 1)

The News You Missed in 2020, From Every Country in the World (Part 1)

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In 2020, one singularity dominated the news. There  was one story that filled almost every front page,   of every paper, on every day. If I asked you  what was the biggest story from 2019, or 2018,   or 2017, or almost any other  year was, there’d be some debate,   but not in 2020. I don’t even have to tell  you what I’m talking about--you already know.   But just because the front pages were clogged up,  that’s not to say page two, three, or four were.   While we may have stood still, the world  kept spinning, and news kept happening--some   of it was heavy, some was sad, some was  bizarre, and some momentous--but what   binds these stories together is that you likely  didn’t hear about them. By no fault of your own,   it was difficult to follow what was happening in  the world, because the only thing you could hear   was that one, singular story. The year’s not over  yet, though, at least as I’m saying this, and so  

there’s still a chance to catch up on the news you  missed in 2020, from every country in the world.   Here’s how this’ll work. We ordered the countries  by population from largest to smallest according   to 2019’s statistics. There are 195 of them:  193 countries recognized by the United Nations,   plus two UN-observer states: Palestine and  the Vatican City. This list was chosen because  

it is the most definitive list, it’s the list most  commonly used as a list of all countries, so some   of its entries might include nations that you  or your government do not consider as countries,   or omit ones that you or your government do  recognize. At the end of the day, we had to   pick a list, and if any is the list of countries,  it’s this one. Oh, and one more rule: the C word,   as in, the word that describes that one, singular  story of 2020, you’re not going to hear it once.   We start in China, the most populated country in  the world, which continues to expand its global   presence, and in this case, its space presence  too. It became the second country in the world   to plant a national flag on the moon, 50 years  after the United States did. China is trying to   catch up with American and Russian planetary  endeavors, and, in recent years, has poured   millions into its military-run space program  with the hopes of sending humans to the moon.  

Another country with a burgeoning space-program  is India, where Amazon recently completed its   largest office building in the world. The  1.8-million-square-foot behemoth was erected   in Hyderabad--a city of nearly 10 million that’s  grown into a sizable technology and financial hub.   India, as the world’s second-most-populous  country, is the fastest growing internet   market and Amazon joins other major tech  multinationals which have opened offices there,   though none with a campus that  spans 65 football fields.  A United States man that was facing  sentencing for two vehicle-theft charges   might be looking at a lot more jail time  now that he was caught faking his death.   His attorney submitted a fraudulent death  certificate, and it might have passed had   there not been typos, like the misspelling  of “registry.” Stay in school, kids. 

In Indonesia, a stimulus bill aimed at restarting  Southeast Asia’s largest economy was met with   months of protests because citizens  said it slashed worker’s rights and   environmental regulations. But, President  Joko Widodo signed the bill into law anyway,   saying it will bring over a 1 million jobs to  the struggling economy, which until this year,   had been on an upward trajectory.  Opponents, though, argue it weakens   rules that already don’t do enough to protect  the country’s natural resources and workers.  Rice is a serious business in southern Asia, and  it’s a profitable one too. That’s why Pakistan is   vehemently fighting India over the  long grain—basmati to be specific.   This year, India applied to the European Union  for a designation that recognizes basmati rice   as an exclusive export of the country, even  though one-third of EU imports on the product   come from Pakistan. In recent years, Pakistan’s  basmati rice exports to the EU have doubled,  

while India’s are shrinking—which  makes the designation, if granted,   potentially more devastating and further  increases tensions between these two neighbors.  Between rain forest fires  and a negligent president,   the news streaming out of Brazil has been  heavy. But, a new discovery about the mating   habits of the Thoropa taophora frog lightened  the feed. Frogs are either typically monogamous  

or not—meaning they get around. This species  however, prefers “harem” style—one male to   two or more specific females—which is much more  common in mammals throughout the animal kingdom,   but not seen before in amphibians. Dubbed  “group fidelity,” finding this behavior in   another set of four-legged animals checks  another box in the evolutionary list.  One particular virus has dominated the  news cycle this year, but in Nigeria,   they’re dealing with an entirely different  one too--the yellow fever. The disease,   which is spread by mosquitoes, had basically  been eradicated for 20 years until 2017   when it crept back into the country because  of climate change and lower vaccination rates.   Now, it’s spiking. In the latter part of  2020, 75 people have already died and health  

officials worry that number will increase as  people are still hesitant to get vaccinated.  India is being beat in another metric as well,  and it’s an important one. Bangladesh most   likely surpassed India in gross domestic product  this year, according to International Monetary   Fund estimates. Why does that matter? Well,  India is the world’s sixth-largest economy,  

and its 10% GDP contraction is a  concerning indicator for the world economy.   Thanks to increased agricultural production and a  focus on developing its low-wage labor workforce,   Bangladesh, on the other hand, was able  to expand its GDP by 4% this year.  Another country that’s known to be slightly  competitive is Russia, and that’s a problem since   they were banned from the biggest global sporting  competition of 2020 because of doping—that   would be the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Of course  the event was postponed until 2021 anyway,   but new investigations reveal that Russia  was planning to cyberattack the games,   which is something they’ve done before  when they attempted to wreak havoc on the   Winter Olympics in South Korea by dismantling  ticketing and wifi for the opening ceremony,   as well as targeting individual  broadcasters, sponsors, and athletes.  Before flights were ground to a halt in the  spring, one health insurer in Utah was taking   advantage of Mexico’s inexpensive pharmaceutical  prices and actually flying public employees from   the United States to south of the border so they  could buy drugs at a fraction of American prices.   They also got the benefit of those in-flight  snack peanuts and a free soda. It’s already  

saved the company a quarter of a million  dollars, and now other states are eyeing   the move—and may mimic it once flight schedules  resume to normal levels—meaning Mexico is bound   to see an even greater boost to its already  burgeoning pharmaceutical tourism industry.  Fugaku is not just fun to say, it’s also  the name of the world’s speediest computer,   which was built this year in Japan. The  room-sized computer took first place in a   speed-ranking competition between supercomputers,  carrying out 2.8 times more calculations than the   second-place IBM machine built in the United  States. This is notable for the Japanese,   who have remained less competitive in  the supercomputer realm, often following   the leads of the US and China. The systems are  used for complex military and scientific tasks,  

including breaking code and modeling climate  change, and, of course, winning competitions. Africa is getting its own great wall: a green one.  The ambitious reforestation project is supposed   to stretch 4,350 miles or 7,000 kilometers from  Djibouti to Senegal, with an aimed completion date   of 2030. Ethiopia is on track to meet its goal,  having already planted 5.5 billion seedlings. But   its neighbors are slow to start, and the project  is only 4% complete at the halfway mark, mostly   due to financial struggles. It turns out, it takes  a lot of green to make a green wall, and so it's   proving difficult for some of the world’s poorest  countries to take this project to completion. 

Money problems are also the reason that the  Philippines’ largest news network cited when it   shuttered dozens of its regional stations around  the country, but the audience isn’t buying this   excuse. Instead, they’re wondering if it has more  to do with President Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism   of the network’s coverage of his antidrug  platform. Either way, the loss will be felt   by millions of rural residents who rely on the  network as a lifeline for critical information. 

Wealthy residents of Egypt are getting their  15 minutes of fame, just 2,500 years too late.   More than 100 ornately painted wooden coffins  were unearthed by archaeologists near Saqqara,   20 miles or 30 kilometers south of Cairo. This  area is a large burial ground and is home to   more than a dozen sites with similar tombs. This  discovery, however, is one of the most exciting   in recent years and comes at a time when the  country continues to try to draw tourists back   after a sharp decline resulting from  the Arab Spring in the early 2010s. 

Tourism isn’t a problem in Vietnam,  where 18 million people visit per year,   and that should mean liquor sales aren’t either.  But, a new zero-tolerance drunk-driving law that   went into effect this year has taken the fizz out  of one of the world's faster growing beer markets.   Since implementation, beer sales have dropped  25% in the country, and violators face a fine   of up to $345, which is double what the average  Vietnamese makes in a month. Even those who think   riding a bike is a safe alternative will be  shocked with a $25 fine for drunk-pedaling.  In other 2020 epidemic news, the  World Health Organization declared   that an ebola outbreak in the Democratic  Republic of the Congo was officially over,   after two years and 2,280 deaths. It was  the country’s 10th outbreak of the disease,   but its second most deadly, stemming  from people’s mistrust of the government   and feuding between officials. That doesn’t  mean the country is in the clear though, as  

it’s now dealing with the world’s largest measles  epidemic, and, of course, the global pandemic.  Germans are taking a stand, and, well, technically  a sit, in Dannenröder forest, south of Frankfurt,   where they’ve been camped out to oppose the  government’s construction of a highway that   will route through the wild lands and cut down 67  acres or 27 hectares of 250-year-old trees. These   activists are calling the government hypocritical  for cutting down cherished trees when it should   focus on public transportation infrastructure, and  both sides expect standoffs for months to come.  Also bad news for trees are the more than 9  million that have died in Turkey. Last year,   as part of National Forestation Day, volunteers  across the country planted 11 million trees across   more than 2,000 sites—including 303,150 saplings  planted in Çorum, which broke the world record   for most trees planted in a single location. Now,  officials are reporting that up to 90% of these   have died because they either weren’t planted  properly or lacked enough rainfall to grow. 

In neighboring Iran, a woman was filmed  riding a bike without a hijab near a   major mosque in Najafabad. Why is this news?  Well, in Iran, it’s been against Islamic law   since 1979 for women to be seen in public without  a covering for their head and hair and this is   largely obeyed. Though women have started to  push the limits in larger cities, like Tehran,   it’s still widely criticized  and, in this case, punishable.   The woman was arrested for this display,  which was widely shared on social media.  Another arrestable offense, this time in  Thailand, is writing a bad online review--yes,   you heard that correctly. An American living  in the Southeast Asian country wasn’t happy   with being charged a $15 corkage fee at a  beach resort in Koh Chang, so he did what   any thumb-happy traveler would do and wrote  a negative TripAdvisor review. The hotel was  

equally displeased and had him arrested on  defamation charges, which are notably harsh   in a country that attempts to stifle some free  speech. He therefore spent a weekend in jail.  In more turbulent waters, construction started on  what will soon be the world’s largest off-shore   wind farm. When completed, the Dogger Wind  Farm in the North Sea off the eastern coast   of the United Kingdom, will provide enough  energy to power 4.5 million homes every year,   or 5% of England’s total energy demand.  The enormous energy production capability   is made possible by their use of one  of the world’s largest wind turbines,   the Haliade-X, which stands 853 feet or 260  meters tall and has 351-foot or 107-meter blades. 

Requiring much less power than that, though, is  the Ami, a mini car released in France that can   be driven without a license by anyone over 14.  Manufactured by Citroen, the all-electric Ami is   what’s officially dubbed a light quadricycle. The  four-wheel cube can travel 28 mph or 45 km/h with   a range of 46 miles or 75 kilometers, and it’s got  a mini price too, ringing in at just over $7,000.

Another European product is making headlines,  but this time it’s for lack of it. The world’s   second-largest producer of olive oil, Italy, has  been plagued by bad weather and a deadly bacteria,   cutting production by more than a quarter this  year. The Xylella bacteria, also called leprosy,   has hit the olive trees in the Puglia region  particularly hard, and those effects will be   felt globally, especially in the United States,  which purchases one third of Italy’s oil.  At the southern end of the world, a 116-year-old  man died in South Africa. He was, however,   the oldest man in the world at the time  of his passing, at least unofficially,   having lived through the Spanish Flu,  which took the lives of his entire family.  

He credited his long life to “God’s grace,” but  it may have been health and strength too—a couple   weeks before he died of natural causes, his family  said he was chopping wood with a 4-pound hammer.  Up the African coast, the two largest  Tanzanite gemstones ever unearthed   were pulled out of the only country  in which they’re found: Tanzania.   The two dark violet-blue minerals, each about 11  inches or 30 cm long and 4 inches or 10 cm thick,   rang in roughly $3.35 million for the mining  boss who runs the 200-person operation in   the country’s northern region. He did what  anybody who struck the motherlode would do:  

promised to build a school and shopping  mall, but first threw a neighborhood party.  Multiple drug raids in the hills of Myanmar  revealed a complex and burgeoning synthetic   drug market that’s speculated to be fueling  global demand for opioids like methamphetamine   and fentanyl. The seizures were the  largest finds in Southeast Asian history,   and represent a transition away from China,  which had previously been supplying many   of the chemicals for synthetics but  cracked down under worldwide pressure. In Kenya, the score is 1 for the fig tree, 0 for  developers. A four-story tree in the country’s   capital of Nairobi was set to be cut down to make  way for an expressway but environmentalists put   up a fight—and they won. Not only will the tree be  preserved in its spot, but it’s now been elevated  

to legend status, gaining notoriety both as an  environmental symbol and as a call to action to   protect even more green space in a city that’s  constantly seeing parks and nature eliminated.  In grimmer news, the mayor of  Seoul, the capital of South Korea,   was found dead in a park this summer. He  was a potential presidential candidate and   the second-most powerful person in the country,   so the passing sent unrest through the nation.  Several days before his death, a former secretary   accused him of sexual harassment—especially  shocking since he was a champion of women’s   rights in a male-dominated country—so  his death is being treated as a suicide.  A less grim story comes from another mayor on  the other side of the world in Bogota, Columbia,   who recently became the first openly lesbian  mayor ever for the capital city in January.  

This was an historic moment for  the conservative Catholic country,   and Latin America in general. Claudia  Lopez married her partner in 2019,   and is recognized for being a progressive beacon  in a region that’s slow to progress LGBTQ rights.  Yachting in the Iberian Sea was a little  more raucous than usual this fall,   after a string of orca incidents  were reported in Spain,   in which killer whales were targeting boat rudders  and causing damage to more than a dozen vessels.   The increasingly aggressive interactions initially  puzzled researchers, but they now believe the trio   of orcas—which accounted for almost two-thirds  of the two dozen reports—were previously injured   by a boat and perhaps reacting defensively to  yachts because of those traumatic incidents.  Another boating story brings us to  Argentina, where a determined sailor   finally docked on land after completing an  85-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean.   The Portugeuse resident set sail in mid-March  after lockdown restrictions kept him from   traveling to see his 90-year-old father. He  would not be deterred by the lack of flights,  

and decided to voyage by sea in his 29-foot boat,  accompanied by rice, canned tuna, and fruit.  Uganda is home to 50% of the world’s mountain  gorillas, so when one of the country’s most   famous, Rafiki, was killed by a poacher,  the government took a harder stance than it   had previously. Officials chose to jail the  killer for six years. This landmark ruling   sends a message to future poachers that animal  killings won’t be tolerated and is a win for   wildlife groups which have been calling for  more restrictive measures for many years.  In terms of on-brand news for 2020, wildfires  coming within 1 mile of Chernobyl in Ukraine   has to be near the top of the list. An 18-mile  radius exclusion zone was set up after the nuclear  

disaster there in the ‘80s, and this wildfire  spread into that area, causing officials to   worry that not only would radioactive material be  dispersed into the air, but that it might threaten   existing structures and a disposal site. More than  300 firefighters were able to control the burn,   preventing this lesser-known story  from becoming a major headline.  When a migrant rescue boat came across a  backpack floating in the Meditteranean Sea,   officials assumed its owners had perished  in crossing from Algeria to Italy,   as is often the case with many found personal  objects floating in this part of the world.   But this time, there was a happy ending:  An NGO in Italy was able to track down   the owners of the personal items, who  were migrants that survived a shipwreck,   and return the contents to them, which  included their inscribed wedding rings. 

Sudan is taking baby steps toward democracy,  after three decades of oppressive laws that   were primarily targeted toward women. Of  highest priority is banning female genital   mutilation--a typically religious practice  that affects almost 90% of Sudanese women.   The new transitional government is also  loosening wardrobe restrictions for women,   and saying OK to alcohol consumption, at  least for non-Muslims in the country. 

The 3,600-year-old Gilgamesh Dream Tablet is being  returned to its rightful home in what is now Iraq,   where it originated, after a curious and illegal  journey that brought it to the Museum of the Bible   in Washington DC, which was co-founded by none  other than tablet king and crafts retail giant   Hobby Lobby. The rare cuneiform tablet features  one of the oldest works of literature in the   world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, and was purchased by  Hobby Lobby at auction for $1.6 million in 2014.   This isn’t the first time Hobby Lobby has had  problems with the provenance of its acquisitions,   as it previously had to forfeit 5,500  artifacts and pay a $3 million fine. 

National identity cards in Afghanistan  include a person’s name, date of birth,   and now, both of their parents’ names,  which sounds pretty normal, but previously,   just the father’s name was listed because using  a woman’s in public was traditionally frowned   upon and even considered an insult—it’s a  restriction that goes so far that much of   Afghanistan does not list females’ names on their  gravestones. This step in updating ID cards is   seen as a small victory for women’s rights  in the overwhelmingly conservative country.  When a herd of elephants at Poland’s Warsaw zoo  became sad after losing their matriarch—which   lead a given herd—veterinarians turned  to Colorado’s favorite stress reliever:   medical marijuana. The three African  elephants are being given doses of   liquid cannabis through their trunks, and  researchers will study hormone levels in   their blood over the next two years to  monitor how it affects their stress.    A small town of 7,000 people in Canada gave  itself a new identity when they voted this   year to change the city’s name from Asbestos  to Val-des-Sources, or Valley of the Springs.  

The town got its name for being home to  the largest asbestos mine in the world,   but since the mineral has been linked  to causing cancer and the mine has shut,   residents voted to disassociate from the toxic  substance. But it wasn’t without a fight.   More veteran members of the community were  opposed to the name change as they felt it   was unnecessary, because in French, which is  spoken there, the word for asbestos is amiante.  Tensions are simmering in a United Nations-backed  buffer zone between Morocco and Mauritania,   which could bring a 29-year truce to a  boiling point. The Western Sahara-contested  

zone has long been controlled by Morocco under  a ceasefire agreement with the Polisario Front,   a pro-independence movement. But now, the  front has blocked transportation between the   two countries, and Morocco launched  a military operation in response.  On the same latitude, but a few time zones over,   Saudi Arabia wants to maintain its claim  as the world’s top energy exporter,   but now with hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is a carbon  dioxide byproduct of reforming natural gas,  

and Saudi Arabia sent its first cargo shipment  of it to Japan this year, all in an effort to   profit off of the world’s transition to greener  fuels. Part of this goal also includes plans to   build a $5 billion hydrogen-based ammonia plant  powered by renewable energy on the Red Sea. Uzbekistan’s language can be written in  three ways: Arabic, Cyrillic, and Latin,   but it’s the latter that will soon be the norm,  thanks to a decree by the country’s president   which called for a faster transition away from  Cyrillic. Though Uzbek was originally written   in Arabic, Russian influence during the early  20th century changed it to Cyrillic and now,   to distance itself from Russia, Uzbekistan wants  to move toward Latin script, consisting of 29   letters and 1 apostrophe, to help develop  a stronger, more unique national identity.  Peruvians are hoping that the third time’s a charm  after three presidents reigned in just one week.   Francisco Sagasti will now lead the country,  following a Congress-led ousting of one president   and a five-day term-turned-resignation by the  second. Sagasti is seen as a consensus-builder,  

so citizens are hopeful, but the tumultuous  leadership changes over the past several years   leave a lot of uncertainty, and,  frankly, apathy, at this point.  If there’s a baby boom this spring,   a shortage of condom manufacturing in March may  be the culprit. A Malaysian company, Karex Bhd,   makes one in every five condoms globally, and  when the pandemic hit this year, facilities   were forced to shut down resulting in at least  100 million fewer condoms worldwide. It ramped   back up quickly, but the effects of a shortage  like this could be at least nine months away.  It’s been a year for Africa’s richest woman,  Isabel dos Santos. She’s the eldest daughter   of Angola’s former longtime leader Jose  Eduardo dos Santos, and in January was   charged with embezzlement and laundering  more than $1 billion from her native country.  

Then, in October, her husband died in, reportedly,  a diving accident off the coast of Dubai. He was   an avid art collector, and also tied up  in the scandal she faced, meaning it’s a   tragic tale with lots of plot twists, that  doesn’t seem to have a final chapter yet.  Another story about $1 billion revolves around  the United Kingdom’s investment in Mozambique.   This year, a deal was inked to send UK  taxpayer-funded financial support to develop   and export the African country’s gas reserves—one  of the largest financing projects on the continent   ever, according to some reports—but citizens and  environmental groups are shouting “hypocrite”   as the UK continues to claim it’s a global  leader in the fight against climate change.  Speaking of oil in Africa, a floating storage and  offloading facility moored off the coast of Yemen   continues to deteriorate and threatens  to spill 1.1 million barrels of crude  

oil into the Red Sea, which would be four  times the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill.   The war in Yemen has prevented the United Nations  from doing anything to prevent a potential leak,   but recently Houthi rebels—which control the  area where the vessel is stuck and the oil   company that owns it—gave permission for world  leaders to move ahead with rehabilitation plans.  The African country of Ghana may be a respite  for Black Americans seeking refuge from the   United States’ ongoing racial injustice, and  Ghanian officials are actually recruiting   members of the African diaspora. The government  set up a handful of enticements for transplants,   including land deals, expatriate guides, and  quicker paths to citizenship, and all of this   comes on the heels of a 45% increase in visitor  numbers from the United States last year.  Math, science, and reading are, of course,  required subjects for children in school,   and now, in one country, downward dog is too. In  March, Nepal became the first nation in the world   to incorporate yoga into its mandatory curriculum.  Students in the Himalayan country won’t just  

practice the poses, but they’ll learn about the  history of yogic thought and Ayurvedic medicine.  Children, or the idea of them at least, are  making headlines in Venezuela, where controversial   Twitter-happy President Nicolas Maduro asked for  every woman in the country to have six children.   The plea was met with immediate backlash because  the country is in a deep economic recession,   and is unable to provide essential services  like food and healthcare for the millions   of residents it already has. He, apparently,  views more children as part of the solution,   though he offered little in the  way of specifics as to how. 

Ever heard of Voeltzkow’s chameleon? No? Well,  that’s OK, almost nobody has, since the elusive   reptile hadn’t been seen in almost 100 years and  was actually placed on the extinction list. But,   this year a team of researchers spotted it  on the northwest tip of Madagascar. There,   the reptile is only thought to  live during the rainy season,   making it a “mayfly of vertebrae.” This, of  course, makes it even more vulnerable to the   deforestation that continues to threaten  their sheer existence, but its rediscovery   gives scientists hope for other species  which were also thought to be extinct. 

More than 40% of North Korean men smoke, but a new  law that bans puffing down in public places might   smolder that statistic. Citing health reasons,  tobacco is now prohibited in specific venues,   such as political and ideological education  centers, theaters, cinemas, and medical and public   health facilities. One person who might struggle  with this new law: Leader Kim Jong Un, who is a   chain smoker and frequently photographed with  a cigarette in hand. But, the country is moving   forward with the prohibition despite being unable  to convince its supreme leader to kick the habit.  Political unrest looms over the Ivory Coast  after President Alassane Ouattara won,   controversially, a third term in November. When  his planned successor suddenly died this summer,  

Ouattara reneged on his pledge to leave office,   and even though he received 94% of the  vote, many, including the opposition,   saw the process as unfair. It’s indicative of  a wider trend in African politics, which has   seen third-term bids and constitutional  amendments increasing in recent years.  The unearthing of four 8,000-year-old skeletons  in Cameroon is a groundbreaking find that’s   providing new information about our current human  species. The DNA from these skeletons offers the   first genetic material from West African humans,  painting a better picture of how ancient people   split into four genetic groups, both physically  and geographically. Of the four populations,   it’s been the West African genes that have  remained elusive to researchers—until now. 

Another big find was recently made by scientists,  this time in the Great Barrier Reef off the coast   of Australia, where a pinnacle of coral one third  of a mile long was discovered by researchers.   While you might think that the world-famous  natural wonder would be thoroughly mapped out,   this was actually the first major new element  of the reef to be discovered in over 120 years.   Of course, the reef is shrinking by the year  due to the effects of climate-change and coral   bleaching, so even the discovery of this  comparatively small section is great news.  Niger is one of the world’s poorest  countries, but its location also makes   it a key regional recipient of western aid  funding the fight against Islamic terrorism.   That’s why an audit of its defense spending that  revealed a loss of $137 million over eight years   raised more than eyebrows. Apparently the country  was overcharged in several instances—sometimes   by nearly $20 million—for important  military equipment, and western countries   that grant Niger money are questioning their  decisions, and potentially future giving. 

You don’t have to worry about the spread of  airborne viruses in Sri Lanka’s newest museum   because it’s... underwater. Created by naval  officers off the southern tip of the island   nation, the country’s first-ever  below-water museum is a collection   of artifacts and sculptures installed 50  feet beneath the surface. The attraction   is not only intended to draw tourists, but it  should lure fish and spur coral growth too.

One of Burkina Faso’s largest gold mines was  shut down for almost a year after 39 employees   were killed in an attack on their convoy.  Since then, the Canadian-owned Boungou mine   has restarted with tightened security measures and  improved infrastructure. During the year hiatus,   the mine’s owners actually changed from one  Canadian company to another for $735 million,   which is notable because, even though agriculture  still accounts for 80% of the country’s economy,   gold exports driven by foreign investments  continue to develop alternative economic sectors.  And on the subject of West African unrest,  a military coup in Mali ousted the country’s   president and prime minister in August,  following eight years of disrupted elections,   government corruption, and Islamist insurgency.  Military colonels remain in power today.   This further instability could send ripple  effects across the region because of Mali’s   strategic location for Western countries  such as France and the United States,   which have actively tried to prevent  increased tensions in the area.  File this story under stranger than fiction,  because, well, it’s about nonfiction. Some 200  

books, including first editions by Galileo and  Sir Isaac Newton, were found buried underneath a   rural Romanian cottage, after a three-year search  that spanned 45 addresses and three countries.   The $3.35 million worth of books were stolen  during a heist from a London warehouse in 2017.  Looking to get away from it  all? For a cool $20 million,   you can buy a 50,000-acre island off the coast of  Chile. Acquiring private islands is nothing new,   but this one is making headlines  because environmentalists and the   indigenous population are not happy that  this biodiversity hotspot has a price tag   at all. Even though the island has been in  private hands for a century, they’re worried  

that new ownership could jeopardize its future  conservation and sets a dangerous precedent.   In an effort to bolster its economy, Malawi became  the fifth African country to decriminalize medical   marijuana. Almost 80% of the country’s  population is employed in agriculture,   and it used to be a major producer of tobacco,  but, as global demand for tobacco declines,   it’s looking for alternative revenue streams.  Enter, Malawi Gold, an already popular strain of   recreational cannabis. The country’s dry climate  is actually conducive to growing marijuana,   and as the herb’s popularity increases around the  world, Malawians plan to jump on the ganja train.  Kazakhstan is known for a few  things: its oil and gas economy,   its proximity to Russia and Mongolia,  and just generally for being a “stan,”   but in Western culture it’s perhaps most  famous for one of its fictional natives:   Borat Sagdiyev. Played by actor Sacha Baron  Cohen, the satirical character Borat pokes  

fun at Kazakhstan with the catchphrase “Very  nice!” but officials there realized those   words have staying power, and recently officially  adopted them as their official tourism slogan.  The African Ansell mole-rat, native to  Zambia, is near-blind, burrows underground,   and this year, scientists discovered it  can sense magnetic fields with its eyes.   Though the animal’s eyes are barely functional,  discerning between just light and dark,   this new discovery gives more clues as to how  the creature travels and lives in an underground   network up to 1.7 miles or 2.7 kilometers long,  and of course, it may help humans in our own   scientific advances, as we learn more about  nature, and as we often do, try to mimic it. 

Government officials in Guatemala passed a  $12.2 billion budget that raised stipends for   representatives’ meals while cutting funding for  human rights agencies, healthcare, and education,   triggering residents to protest in the  streets and set the congressional building   on fire. Their anger at the misplaced spending  comes on the heels of not only the pandemic,   but two destructive hurricanes that  tore through the country this fall.   It turns out, tragedy after tragedy  is when people need help the most.  In July, Ecuador reported that more  than 300 Chinese fishing vessels   were encroaching on its exclusive  fishing zones near the Galapagos,   with the illegal fleets going as far as to turn  off their tracking devices to remain undetected.  

So the South American country joined coastal  neighbors Chile, Peru, and Colombia to file   a joint statement—or rather, a light  threat—about protecting their waters   from the increasing creep of foreign fishing,  and ultimately, China’s expanding presence.  Overseas, some new research into the life of the  Netherlands’ most famous artist, Vincent Van Gogh,   reveals that he didn’t suffer from schizophrenia  or syphilis, as some have theorized, but rather   that the delirium leading up to his death may be  attributed to alcohol withdrawal. The artist was   institutionalized twice—once after cutting off  his ear—and reported hallucinations both times.   Researchers now believe these symptoms  were due to his lack of wine and absinthe,   which he consumed in great amounts during the  most prolific, and final, years of his life.  In somber news, Syria topped an unenviable  list in 2019, being named the deadliest place   in the world for humanitarian workers. The  report on the subject, released this year,  

details that the number of people killed helping  the war-torn country rose sharply last year,   with the majority of deaths stemming from aerial  strikes. Officials say the grim statistic will   make it harder to recruit aid workers to  a place where they’re needed the most. One rodent that’s turning its species’ reputation  around is Magawa, a land-mine-sniffing rat in   Cambodia. The 5-year-old African pouched rat has  discovered 39 land mines, 28 pieces of unexploded   ordnance, and helped clear more than 1.5 million  square feet of land over the past four years,  

rightfully earning itself the gold medal from  the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. That,   unsurprisingly, makes it the first rat to receive  an award that is usually reserved for humans.  After the tragic port explosion in Beirut, Senegal  moved quickly to avoid a similar catastrophe and   removed 3,050 tons of ammonium nitrate from its  port. The substance was transported to Mali, where  

it was used to make bombs for mining operations.  Ammonium nitrate is commonly found in fertilizers   and explosives, so ports around the world  which temporarily house the volatile compound,   such as Senegal’s Dakar, made sure they weren’t  in the same vulnerable situation as Beirut,   where the substance led to the accidental  explosion that killed 190 people.  South African extractive economies  continue to make headlines, such as Chad,   which recently asked UNESCO to postpone  the process for designating Lake Chad   as a World Heritage Site. Why? Because Chad  wants to explore oil and gas development in   the lake area—which directly opposes UNESCO’s  conservation goals for World Heritage Sites.   It also came as a surprise to Cameroon, Niger,  and Nigeria, which cooperated on the two-year   application process for the multinational  lake to gain this distinctive designation.  More fish theft brings us to the coast of  Somalia, which stretches 2,000 miles or   3,200 kilometers and is the longest coastline  in Africa. That expanse makes it harder for  

the country to police its waters, where  poachers like a 192-vessel fleet from Iran   are illegally fishing in the country’s exclusive  economic zone. The size of the Iranian operation,   discovered this year, is a blow to Somalia,  where one in three residents face hunger,   and it demonstrates the rising tensions  over the planet’s limited natural resources. One resource being exported out of Africa  that benefits from increased demand   is a Zimbabwean film that became the country’s  first feature to make it to Netflix. The movie,   “Cook Off,” is about a woman who enters a TV  cooking show, and it was made for just $8,000—an   impressive feat given that it was produced in  2017 just before the country’s economy collapsed.   This acquisition by the streaming giant gives  more credibility to Zimbabwe’s film industry,   and means that the production crew  and actors may finally get paid. 

A small band of chimpanzees in Guinea that  are known for their remarkable use of tools   were thought to be near extinction until the  tribe’s last fertile female gave birth to a beacon   of hope: another female. Deforestation and  isolation have led to the tribe’s demise—and   this group is of particular interest to  researchers because they mimic human’s use   of tools. But this bundle of joy has also created  momentum from the country’s residents to increase   protections and forestation to ensure  there is a future for the chimpanzees.  One of the world’s most wanted fugitives  was found this year in a small apartment   on the outskirts of Paris. Félicien Kabuga was  arrested for his role in the Rwandan genocide,   which killed 800,000 members of the  Tutsi ethnic minority, among others,   in 1994. Kabuga will be tried in a UN tribunal  court next year, and this capture renews  

efforts to find others on the run who played  significant roles in the country’s darkest days.  France and Benin also made the news in 2020,  with the former’s government fast-tracking a   bill aimed at returning looted objects to the  Sub-Saharan country within a year. The move is   part of a multi-year restitution effort between  European countries and their former colonies,   and this law specifically returns 26 royal  artifacts that were stolen from the Abomey   Palace during the 19th century. These  cultural repatriation efforts are ongoing,   signaling an African drive to reclaim its cultural  identity after centuries of European pillaging.  Efforts to protect sea turtles in Tunisia  are working, says new scientific research   that shows nests on Kuriat Island have increased  from 11 to more than 40 since 1997. Turtles are a   keystone species, meaning their disappearance  would disproportionately damage ecosystems,   and their increased presence in this  area—despite threats from people, climate,   and pollution—is good news for the reptiles,  and the workers striving to save them. 

Two Chinese bidders, with the  pseudonyms Super Duper and Hitman,   bought a Belgian racing pigeon for a  record price of $1.9 million. Belgium is   the world’s leading racing pigeon breeding  country and, thanks to a booming economy,   the Chinese upper class have a lot of money  to spend even compared to a decade ago.   So why not invest in something like a pigeon? The  bird will likely be bred with another genetically   superior pigeon to create a super-bird that  will dominate in racing circles, and betting   on those is just one area where the Chinese are  spending significant amounts of their yuan.  Eleven months in Argentina sounds nice, but  for former Bolivian president Evo Morales,   it was more of an exile. He  reentered Bolivia this November,   after a 2019 campaign for a fourth presidential  term became marred by fraud allegations,   leading him to flee the country. A caretaker  government has managed affairs since then,   but when Morales’ former economic minister  recently assumed leadership, it paved the way for   Morales to return—though it’s unclear what role  he’ll play in the country’s new reality. If it all  

sounds turbulent, it is. Latin American countries  continue to struggle with government instability   and this is just one more on the list.  
The financial situation in Cuba worsened   this year when the United States placed  increased restrictions on the country,   forcing the closure of 400 Western Union  offices and potentially cutting off a stream of   remittances from abroad. The United States claims  the move came in response to the Cuban government  

purportedly siphoning a cut of the incoming  money, but officials there say the move was   politically motivated. Cuban-American relations  have become more tenuous under Trump, but the new   Biden administration is expected to reinstate  diplomatic relations, especially since Cuban   refugee Alejandro Mayorkas has been nominated  to lead the Department of Homeland Security.  Hopping one island over, Haiti’s local president  of FIFA—the governing body for soccer—has been   shut out, and not in the winning way. Haitian  Football President Yves Jean-Bart was issued a   lifetime ban from all football-related activities  after he was found guilty of sexually harassing   and abusing female players, including minors.  He was also fined roughly $1.1 million. Many  

are lauding the punishment, saying abuse should  be rooted out of any industry, at any level.  South Sudan is the world’s youngest country,  formed in 2011. Since then, it’s experienced   almost a decade of civil war but earlier this year  feuding parties finally signed a unity agreement.  

Millions of people continue to flee the  country and suffer from extreme hunger,   but the establishment of a ruling party offers  one step in the right direction toward stability.  President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi died  suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 55.   He leaves behind a legacy as an autocratic ruler  known for committing a variety of human rights   abuses, and his death in June came just weeks  after the country had already elected a successor,   which only happened because Nkurunziza did not  seek reelection. His death will have impacts   on regional and global relationships, potentially  allowing for increased unity under new leadership. Despite the pandemic, the Dominican Republic  has hosted more than two dozen feature film   and TV production shoots this year, which  poured $80 million into the local economy,   smashing a previous annual record of $30  million in 2017. Producers track their   local expenditures because part of the country’s  international incentive for filming there is a 25%   rebate through a transferable tax credit.  That’s attractive to American filmmakers,  

like M. Night Shyamalan who took advantage of  it this year, because they can spend 25% of   wages in the Dominican Republic and maintain  tax incentive status in the United States.  A deer stealing their rifle isn’t something  that hunters would think they’d have to worry   about when out stalking, but that’s what  happened to one in the Czech Republic when   his dog startled the deer, which ran toward  him and looped his rifle with an antler.   The deer was seen a mile away, with  the gun still in tow. Reportedly it   wasn’t loaded, but had it been, a deer claiming  self-defense might have worked in this case.  Also filed under bizarre sightings is a tiny  child floating on an inflatable unicorn in the   Meditteranean Sea. The 3-year-old girl was swept  into the water while playing on a beach in Greece,  

but rescued shortly after by a passing ferryboat.  She was delivered back to her family safely,   and, yes, the unicorn made it too.  When Brazilian Maya Gabeira surfed a 73.5-foot  or 22.4 meter wave off the coast of Portugal   in February, she didn’t just ride the biggest wave  ever for a woman—it was the largest wave surfed by   anyone, period, during the 2019-2020 season. She  is the first woman in professional surfing to top   all men in terms of wave size in a season, but  with another female surfer earning spot number   two on the big-wave list this year, it’s  clear she may not hold the title for long.  The title for the highest smoking rate in  the world goes to Jordan, where a shocking   80% of the male population says they use  smoke or use nicotine products daily. This  

was a status previously held by Indonesia, and  bucks the global trend of declining tobacco use.   Multinational tobacco companies are still allowed  to hold a large amount of influence in Jordan,   from funding school programs to being  featured on the prime minister’s social media,   and this widespread interference  is likely what’s increasing use.  Rapper Cardi B may have overstepped her  political boundaries when she posted an   advertisement supporting Armenia to her 76  million Instagram followers. Like all wars,  

the conflict between Azerbaijan  and Armenia has been a tragic one,   that ended with Armenia’s defeat and a pact  between the two countries over the disputed   territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, which will remain  with Azerbaijan. But Cardi B was only trying to   help a real estate agent friend when she made the  post, and has since apologized amid the backlash.  Unstaffed grocery stores accessed by logging  in with BankID, the national identification app   operated by Sweden’s banks, seems like something  only Sweden could pull off in remote areas,   which is why they’re probably the ones doing  it. Amid a drastic decline in food markets   across the country, mostly in rural areas, the  company Livfs has installed almost 20 small,   container stores that are fully stocked  with meat, vegetables, dairy, and desserts.  

Customers simply swipe an app to enter and  pay for groceries, no store clerk needed.  Israeli flights traveling to and from the  United Arab Emirates can now cross through   Saudi Arabian airspace, marking the first time  that commercial jets on this route can pass over   the kingdom’s territory. The announcement cuts  travel time between the two countries in half,   to three and a half hours, and signals normalizing  relations, both diplomatically and economically.   According to reports, the decision to open the  airspace came at the request of the UAE. It became   the third Arab country to acknowledge relations  with Israel, behind Egypt and Jordan, and the   development signals some progress in an otherwise  unstable region—though Saudi Arabia was quick   to note that opening airspace didn’t change its  country’s stance on the Israel-Palestine issue.

Despite having previously faced murder  charges, Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares,   aka “The Tiger,” was still named police chief  in 2012 in Honduras. So it may not come as a   surprise that he didn’t uphold the tenets of the  job, and is now charged with conspiring to smuggle   cocaine into the United States… but the plot  thickens. He wasn’t smuggling cocaine for just   anyone, but doing the dirty work for  the Honduran president and his brother,   the latter of which was convicted for  drug trafficking in New York last year.  In Hungary, a scientist accidentally  created a new fish hybrid in a lab,   dubbed the sturddlefish. The combination of  Russian sturgeon, whose eggs make premium caviar,   and American paddlefish, a filter feeder  found in less than half of the United States,   is an unlikely one that would probably never  have occurred without human intervention—based   on geography alone. And while there’s no real  practical purpose to the awkward-looking creature,  

it does demonstrate that species’ genetics are  sometimes more similar than previously thought.  Also in the neighborhood is the proposed  Baltic-Black Sea waterway, a 1,240-mile,   2,000 kilometer inland shipping route that would  cut through Poland, Ukraine, and some of the most   ecologically rich parts of Belarus. Oh, and  it would involve dredging up land inside the   Chernobyl exclusion zone, which could potentially  expose millions of people to latent nuclear waste.   Proponents say it would spur an economic boon  for the region, while opponents argue it will   destroy the “Amazon of Europe.” It may end up  happening piecemeal, with Ukraine and Belarus  

committing—and already starting in some cases—to  dredging up parts of their tributary rivers. Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in east   Asia and many residents cross into Russia for  higher-paying jobs and higher education. The   Russian-speaking population in this country  has dwindled 10-fold in four decades,   but there’s new interest in teaching children  their neighbor’s language, marked by officials’   announcement that they would build five more  Russian-speaking schools—with a capacity for   1,200 students in each—in addition to the 10 that  have been constructed in just the past two years.  A musician in Austria is pulling  a different sort of string:   that of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s 250-year-old  violin. The musician took a leap when he asked  

the foundation that owns the violin if he could  borrow it to play and record the violin concertos   on the exact instrument Mozart  composed them on between 1773   and 1775. The answer was yes, and he performed  them in October to small, live audiences.  A group of United Nations officials  signed a letter to four countries   protesting the development of a  massive mine in Papua New Guinea,   citing grave concerns both for the environment  and human rights. If built, the mine would be   the largest in the nation’s history, and  potentially produce $1.5 billion of gold,   copper, and silver annually for 30 years.  But that money would mostly go to  Chinese  

investors in the Australian-registered mining  company, and the real costs could come in the   form of a catastrophic environmental disaster  on the Sepik River, where it would be located.  More than 43 million Tweets amplifying  positive news coverage of Serbian President   Aleksandar Vučić were linked to  his Serbian Progressive party,   and Twitter subsequently blocked 8,500 accounts  for attempts to undermine public conversation.   The tweets were making his governing  look better than it actually was,   and this isn’t just happening in Serbia.  The tech company blocked some additional   13,000 accounts in countries like Egypt, Honduras,  and Saudi Arabia for doing the same thing. 

Serbia is the 98th largest country in the  world, meaning we’re halfway to 195. Therefore,   that’s where we’ll end part one, and part two  will be going up on Thursday, December 31st.   While you wait for that, though, I have something  else, new and rather exciting for you to watch. Tomorrow, on Nebula, we release the first  episode of, “Sam from Wendover Presents:   A Very Good Trivia Show, Presented by Sam  from Wendover.” You see, we were going to   film something for our last Nebula original of the  year on-location, like we normally do, but then,   you know, everything got in the way--can’t break  our no C-word rule now. Therefore, we decided to  

do something completely different--a trivia show,  filmed remotely with three fantastic contestants:   Brian from Real Engineering, Dave from City  Beautiful, and Jordan Harrod. They competed   in seven games, some of which were pretty normal,  and others of which were pretty… out there. This   was all hosted by me, and I even go on-camera,  so get mentally prepared for that. Of course, the   only place to watch this is on Nebula, as their  business model makes bigger projects like this   financially possible, and there’s quite literally  never been a better time to sign up. That’s  

because our sponsor, CuriosityStream, is having  its biggest ever sale, 41% off, meaning it works   out to less than $1 a month, and by signing up at, any subscription is   bundled with a Nebula subscription for the exact  same price. That’s two whole streaming sites,   with thousands of top-quality documentaries and  non-fiction shows from bigger names, in the case   of CuriosityStream, and tons of bigger-budget  projects from your favorite educational-ish   creators, in the case of Nebula, for less than the  cost of a bus fare per month. While you wait for   our original to come out, you could, for example,  watch something quite similar to this video: it’s   where CuriosityStream rounds up the top science  stories of 2020 in an hour-long special, which is   quite good. This sale will end very soon, so make  sure to sign up at,  

and you’ll be supporting this, and countless  other independent channels, while you’re at it.

2021-01-04 14:20

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