Picture: Luis Tato / AFP / Taken on August 18, 2023 – KENYA: Young Maasai men perform their traditional jumping dance as they gather during the Eunoto ceremony in a remote area near Kilgoris on August 18. Hundreds of young men take part in the tribal ceremony, a rite of passage that marks the transition from Moran (young warrior) to adulthood as junior elders. The ceremony is held by every clan once in a generation – every eight to 10 years. Eunoto, Enkipataa and Olng’esherr are the three main Maasai rites of passage that have been inscribed since 2018 on the Urgent Safeguarding List of Intangible Cultural Heritage by Unesco.
By The Washington Post and AFP
Ii’s fair to say 2023 has been a difficult year in a lot of ways.
In addition to devastating wars – including in Ukraine, the Gaza Strip and Sudan – 2023 also will be Earth’s hottest year in human history, with multiple climate records broken.
In the US in 2023, the highest number of mass killings occurred in any year since at least 2006.
Despite all this, the year was also one with significant positive developments, including in the scientific research and medicine fields – and, throughout the year, moments of genuine connection and humanity shone through the bad news.
Research has indicated that uplifting news can provide an emotional buffer against distressing news and feelings of hopelessness – and even encourage optimism or action.
So, in that spirit, here are some of the more uplifting developments you may have missed this year.
While suffering across the world may have dominated the headlines in 2023, the year also reminded us that kindness and generosity exist, even amid crises and tragedy.
In March, after tornadoes devastated Mississippi, a group of Ukrainian refugees made a 16-hour journey to distribute water to victims of the disaster. Many had only just arrived in the US – and still had immigration forms to fill in or job interviews to prepare for – but hoped to help a community they felt faced a struggle similar to theirs.
“When they stop what they’re going through to help someone else in need, that to me is the definition of love,” Corie Jones, the deputy director of Volunteer Mississippi, said.
In October, as police officer Arizbeth Dionisio Ambrosio was clearing debris after Hurricane Otis swept through Mexico, she came across a woman with a crying, hungry baby.
Ambrosio, who was breastfeeding her 1-year-old, offered to nurse the baby and was able to soothe the infant – a moment of empathy that was praised around the world, and led to her receiving a promotion.
She said she didn’t consider what she did to be heroic or out of the ordinary. “It was what I needed to do and I did it,” Ambrosio said. “When you are in a situation like that, you do not think whether to help or not … I felt peace because I was with the baby giving him what he needed at the moment,” Ambrosio said.
The head of the WHO said this week the world needs to properly prepare for future pandemics after finally ending three years of Covid “crisis, pain and loss”.
In his end-of-year message, World Health Organisation (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said 2023 had marked a turning point in fighting major health challenges but had also brought “immense and avoidable suffering”.
He called for ramped-up relief efforts for the Gaza Strip and urged nations to seal a “monumental” pandemic accord to plug preparedness gaps that were exposed during the pandemic.
Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May. “This marked a turning point for the world following three years of crisis, pain and loss for people everywhere,” he recalled in a video message. “I’m glad to see that life has returned to normal.”
After 10 months, the WHO also lifted a similar emergency on Mpox in May, while the UN health agency approved new vaccines for malaria, dengue and meningitis, Tedros said.
In October, the WHO approved a malaria vaccine – only the second time a vaccine against the potentially deadly disease has been created.
The WHO expects the vaccine, which costs $2-$4 (R26-R73) per dose and has been shown to reduce symptomatic cases by 75 percent after three doses within a year, to be available by the middle of 2024.
More than 600,000 people died of malaria in 2021, with children under five representing 80 percent of malaria deaths in Africa. The US reports about 2,000 malaria cases every year, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says, with most of them contracted abroad.
Tedros, said “I used to dream of the day when we would have a safe and effective vaccine against malaria. Now, we have two.”
In December, the FDA also approved two therapies for sickle cell disease, a rare and debilitating condition that affects around 100,000 Americans, most of them black. The disease causes extreme, constant pain and can drastically cut the life span of those affected.
The new treatments are both gene therapies that have been shown in clinical trials to stop severe pain crises for most patients: one uses a harmless virus to insert a gene into the patient’s stem cells, while the other is the first medical treatment to be based on the gene-editing tool Crispr.
After 20 years, countries agreed on a treaty to protect the oceans. Even as scientists voiced concern about the state of Earth’s health, there were some positive steps to protect the planet.
In May, more than 190 countries agreed a deal to protect the biodiversity of the world’s oceans outside of national borders.
The UN adopted the treaty in June.
At present, only 1.2 percent of the high seas – which make up two-thirds of the planet’s ocean surface – are protected, leaving large stretches at risk from rising temperatures, overfishing, pollution, mining and other threats. The deal will allow nations to start creating new marine protection areas on the high seas for the first time. The agreement has been welcomed as a much-needed start on the path to protecting 30 percent of the planet’s land and sea by the year 2030.
Last year, The Washington Post published a series of stories showing the fast pace of destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest under then-President Jair Bolsonaro. During his presidency, the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rose to a 15-year high, and those behind the destruction acted with impunity.
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returned to the presidency in January.
His first six months in office showed positive signs, as authorities drove thousands of illegal gold miners from Indigenous lands, and the government said deforestation dropped by 50 percent.
There are questions about how likely Lula is to reach his goal of ending deforestation by 2030, given plans for a large-scale railway project and to pave an 869km highway.
But European countries and the US have offered to restart funding – which was suspended under Bolsonaro – to help end deforestation in the Amazon.
Resuming the programme would be a significant step for a rainforest that stores billions of tons of carbon and pulls millions more out of the atmosphere every year. – The Washington Post and AFP