The world's top 14 stories of 2014

A look back at some of the top world news events that shaped the past year, and will lead us into 2015.

A family member of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A family member of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
PROBABLY NO other regional conflict took such prominence in international media than Israel’s summer war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In capitals and major cities around the world, wide-scale protests saw participants condemn the actions of the Jewish state and put Jewish communities at risk from retaliation attacks.
Yet counter-protests showed solidarity for Israel and joined in the call to stop violence against international Jewish communities. Within Israel, the operation shook up domestic politics but also revealed some bright spots: the Iron Dome missile defense system shielded the country from the destruction of previous wars, and the amount of in-kind donation was so large as to overwhelm the IDF’s ability to handle it. – Eitan Arom
MORE THAN nine months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens, not a fragment of the passenger jet carrying 239 people has been found. A multinational search – the largest and most expensive in aviation history – for any trace of the plane has been ongoing since March 8, when the flight departed from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing, but nothing has been discovered. The majority of the 227 passengers on board were Chinese citizens, but 15 nationalities were present. Despite dozens of theories and rumors – including terrorism, pilot error and engine malfunction – no cause of the disappearance has been established, making it the biggest unsolved mystery of 2014. Malaysia Airlines continued its streak of bad news later in the year, when Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Ukraine – likely by pro-Russian separatists – killing all 298 people on board. – Amy Spiro
IT’S POSSIBLE the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in February will best be remembered for their impact on social media rather than the winning athletes. Arriving competitors, journalists and spectators found unfinished hotels, double toilets, contaminated water and a host of other problems they had no qualms detailing on Twitter. The hashtag #sochiproblems documented the oddities of the Black Sea resort town, but also provided an outlet for followers to comment on gay rights in the conservative country and take a stand against the systematic round-up and killing of area stray dogs. As the most expensive Olympics to date – costing $51 billion – Sochi may now be forever remembered in infamy for #sochiproblems, rather than the actual Winter Games. – Henry Rosenbloom
THE FIRST reported case of Ebola in West Africa came in March, putting the entire populations of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia under threat. The virus first appears with symptoms of fever, sore throat, muscle pain and headaches – but quickly deteriorates into vomiting, diarrhea and internal bleeding. In total, over 19,000 people have been infected and over 7,000 people have died. It had a great international impact as at first, foreign medical teams flew in to help treat patients, putting their own lives in danger; and then in their home countries, stoking fears of an outbreak upon their return. In the US, four people were isolated with the infection and one person died. Spain and Senegal each had one citizen infected, but both were treated and survived. After eight months, the epidemic is slowly starting to come under control, with increased education and resources sent to countries battling the disease. In Mali, no new cases have been reported since November, and as Liberia prepared for national elections, it took health precautions at polling stations, supplying 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer, thermometers to test for fever and ensuring voters stood at least three feet apart. – Laura Kelly
IN FEBRUARY, anti-government demonstrations largely concentrated in the main Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, reached a bloody and violent peak. Protesters armed themselves to fight against police, and Kiev’s special security forces were called in, yet were largely condemned for disproportionate retaliation. By the end, 82 civilians and 13 police were killed, with over 1,100 people injured. Tensions had been building since December 2013, when student protesters in favor of greater European integration began congregating in Independence Square, culminating in January in a near permanent encampment of protesters, swelling to hundreds of thousands on the weekends.
Then-president Viktor Yanukovych had angered citizens by forging closer ties with Russia at the expense of greater cooperation with Europe, with protests coming to a head in February. Throughout the year Ukraine has been engulfed by civil war, with the east of the country declaring itself an independent republic with close ties to Russia, which continues to occupy the Crimean peninsula. – Laura Kelly
ON APRIL 14, the Nigerian Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls between the ages of 16 and 18 from their school in Chibok. The targeting of young women brought a wave of international outrage and sparked a multinational social media campaign using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. Despite the international success of the online campaign – including support from US First Lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai – at press time the majority of the girls were still captive, despite repeated search efforts and several attempts to negotiate their release. Several dozen girls managed to escape, and said they were raped every day during their time in capture. Reports indicate at least four of the girls were killed for “disobedience,” and at press time at least 219 remain in captivity – yet the worldwide outrage has largely died down. Only a small group of Nigerian activists continue to demonstrate every day, refusing to give up the hope of their rescue. – Amy Spiro
THE LARGEST democracy in the world went to the polls in May, giving Narendra Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party the majority, and securing his spot as prime minster of India. The election of Modi saw the population support his Hindu-nationalist ideas in his effort to preserve the country’s uniqueness in the region and ancient religion. The prime minister himself is a rags-to-riches story that in a country with some of the highest poverty rates of developing countries is an inspiration to his constituency. He stressed during his campaign his humble origins as a poor tea seller at a railway station, and his successes as chief minister of the Gujarat state, surging the economy forward. As the leader of the second most populous country in the world – with 1.2 billion people – the world’s eyes are on Modi and how he brings India into 2015. – Laura Kelly
AFTER EARNING the right to host the World Cup this past summer, Brazil was one of the favorites to win heading into the tournament. However, its dreams were quickly dashed on July 8, six minutes into the first half in its match against Germany, which took a lead with four goals. The semifinal game ended in a devastating 7-1 loss for the South American hosts. As a world soccer power with high hopes for the global competition, and so much money invested in preparation for the tournament – more than $3.5b., which covered the construction of five new stadiums and the renovation of six others – Brazil’s early exit was a devastating blow to the entire country. Considered perhaps the most shocking result in world cup history, both the economy and the country are still trying to recover. – Henry Rosenbloom
PATIENTS SUFFERING from ALS, until recently a relatively obscure neurodegenerative disorder, became the beneficiaries of a viral video campaign that has helped raise $115 million for the ALS Association since July. The challenge is as follows: Either dump a bucket of ice on your head and donate $10, or forgo the ice bath and donate $100. Participants then nominate friends for the challenge, resulting in a network of celebrities dousing themselves in freezing water. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg nominated Microsoft magnate Bill Gates, who nominated entrepreneurs Elon Musk and Chris Anderson along with TV personality Ryan Seacrest, capturing more than 20 million YouTube views. Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres doused celebrity Kim Kardashian in her studio. The proceeds of the star-studded campaign were distributed by the ALS Association to various projects researching cures and treatments for the disease, which currently lacks effective treatment. – Eitan Arom
ONE OF Mother Nature’s more surprising happenings in 2014 must be the polar vortex that descended on the North-East of the US and parts of Canada. The world had little pity for a geographical area that is used to cold winters, but the polar vortex was something else entirely. It was strong enough to freeze parts of Niagara Falls and Lake Michigan in Chicago. The worst day of the month-long winter siege was January 2, with heavy snowfall and temperatures dropping to record lows, affecting nearly 240 million people. Throughout the year, other notable weather events included raging forest fires in California, volcanic eruptions in Iceland and Japan, and streams of lava covering parts of Hawaii. There was heavy flooding in Bosnia and Serbia, mudslides in Afghanistan and an avalanche in Nepal that killed 43 people, with 175 injured and 50 missing. – Laura Kelly
ON AUGUST 9, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Brown was black; Wilson white. After the shooting, demonstrations broke out about law enforcement’s relationship with black citizens. The protests calmed, but when a grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, they began again, more violent than ever. In an unrelated incident in New York, a grand jury refused to indict a white NYPD officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, also black. Large-scale protests against the judicial decision were organized throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. US President Barack Obama announced the government would spend $75 million on body cameras for law enforcement officers to better reasure the public; but the move wasn’t enough to stop a gunman from fatally shooting two on-duty NYPD officers on December 20. Many see this as the culmination of unresolved issues involving racial discrimination, in a country plagued by its history of slavery and fight for minority civil rights. Moving into the new year, US citizens will continue to struggle with working through these existential issues. – Jordyn Schwersky
ON AUGUST 14, a CNN news crew traveled with the Iraqi army and Kurdish Peshmerga forces on a daring mission to deliver food and water to the trapped Yazidi population on Mount Sinjar. One week before, fighters from the radical Islamist movement Islamic State had surrounded the mountain, trapping the minority religious sect, cutting them off from food and water, threatening their lives. Around 20 Yazidis, from newborn to elderly, jumped on the helicopter as it briefly touched down, visibly relieved to be rescued, with tears streaming down their faces. Islamic State has proven to be one of the most horrifying and formidable foes to the Middle Eastern region and Western world as a whole. It has gained control of large swaths of territory, recruited foreign fighters and indoctrinated them into their extremist ideologies, and pillaged villages and cities, forcing conversion on civilians or killing them. While Western governments have given air support to those fighting against Islamic State, moving into 2015 will be a test of resolve as to how the international community deals with this violent and destructive threat. – Laura Kelly
ITS INEVITABLE that each year, the public will have to say goodbye to some of their celebrity heroes – but 2014 marked several of the most surprising and tragic losses for some time. On February 2, award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman – arguably most revered for his role as Truman Capote in Capote – was found dead in his West Village apartment from an apparent drug overdose.
Loved by audiences the world over, Robin Williams’s suicide on August 11 was a blow to family, friends and fans, who didn’t know about or understand the actor’s private struggle with depression. And while she may have joked of her own demise, the death of comedienne Joan Rivers was nevertheless a blow to her loyal fans – who thought she would outlive them all. Rivers died of cardiac arrest resulting from complications during minor throat surgery; an investigation is ongoing into whether the clinic performing the surgery made a number of mistakes that led to the iconic star’s death. – Jordyn Schwersky
ITS A rare thing when the most isolated country can dominate the news, yet North Korea in 2014 captured – or maybe demanded – the world’s attention.
People were surprised when the notoriously reclusive leader Kim Jung-Un extended an invitation to NBA bad-body Denis Rodman, perplexing the world with their bizarre friendship. American citizens Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae were released. The latter was arrested for “anti-government activities” in 2012 while leading a tour group through North Korea; he was given a sentence of 15 years. Miller has admitted in interviews that he traveled to the isolated country with the intention of being arrested to experience the human rights abuses of the country in the prison system. And in closing out 2014, North Korea is blamed for the hacking of the Sony corporation’s computer system, wiping its data systems clean and leaking materials of its CEO and employees to the press. The hacking is being reported as a retaliation for Sony’s release of the farce-comedy The Interview, where slacker journalists land a high-profile interview with Kim, only to be recruited by the CIA to assassinate him. US President Barack Obama said the American government would respond proportionately to the attack, paving the way for new policy in how governments should react to cyber-terrorism. – Laura Kelly