The year 2023 will be remembered as an ‘annus horribilis’. It has delivered a series of natural and man-made disasters, unmatched in recent years. As the world recovered from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns and the loss of tens of thousands of lives to a mysterious deadly virus, 2023 brought promise of rejuvenation and a fresh start.
But a 7.8 earthquake that rattled southern and central Turkey as well as northern and western Syria in February killed more than 59,000 people with massive destruction of cities and towns. While Turkey had the means to launch an organised rebuilding scheme for the devastated areas, the same could not be said of Syria, where over a decade of civil war had left thousands without access to aid or immediate help.
Nature's fury in Libya and Morocco
Nature once more intervened when a ferocious storm pummelled Derna in Libya in September, destroying dams and overrunning an entire city; killing no less than 4,000 people. The catastrophe underlined the political divisions that have turned Libya into a failed state.
Also in September, an earthquake measuring more than 6.8 struck the Marrakesh region of Morocco, killing almost 3,000 people, mostly in isolated rural areas. The destruction of remote villages has been unprecedented.
In addition to natural events, climate change had a dire effect on countries, including record-high temperatures that destroyed crops in Europe, and South America and ignited wildfires across North America, especially Canada.
From Ukraine to Gaza, a sober approach to conflict-solving is needed. The deaths of tens of thousands must not be overlooked. A reset of the world order is needed.
For those who deny the greenhouse phenomenon and the effect of man on climate change, temperature extremes in 2023 have raised eyebrows on how fast drastic changes are taking place. This would prove particularly important as Dubai hosted the COP28 in November and December, and the effect of fossil fuels on the environment will be mentioned for the first time in the final resolution.
Aside from natural occurrences, the world was not doing any better with man-made conflicts.
In Ukraine, the war continued with modest achievements by Ukrainian forces in the much-publicised counter-offensive. With robust US and European backing, the Ukrainian troops had achieved little as they attempted to breach Russian defences. The crisis was quickly reaching a state of stalemate. That was the case even before the Israeli war on Gaza. Following that, Ukraine would be denied US funds and ammunition needed to wage war on Russia. For now, it seems that conflict has reached a deadlock on the military front.
The Sudan conflict, which held centre stage early this year, appeared to have been forgotten as Israel launched a war against Hamas in Gaza. But on the battlefield, the regular army was losing ground to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), opening up many scenarios that were terrible for the country.
But the most dire development is the Gaza war. After the October 7 Hamas attack, around 80 days have elapsed, but Israel has yet to achieve any of its declared goals: destroying Hamas and freeing the hostages.
This war has put the United States in a difficult position. On the one hand, it had to back Israel, but on the other, it became involved in what many now describe as “genocide.” Israel’s war has polarised the world, both at government and people’s levels. The horrific civilian death toll in Gaza has made Israel’s campaign the most destructive war.
The challenge of climate change
The attacks on Gaza has distanced Arab countries from the US while mobilising millions across the Free World against the war. The aftershocks will have a direct impact on the political processes in the West. It has already influenced the US presidential elections while creating reverberations across European capitals.
Overall, 2023 has proven to be difficult for millions across the globe. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives either to natural or man-made occurrences. For humanity to address such challenges, consensus and political will are needed. Neither is assured. Climate change is a challenge that must be addressed, but so are man-made conflicts that have brought humanity to the edge. From Ukraine to Gaza, a sober approach to conflict-solving is needed. The deaths of tens of thousands must not be overlooked. A reset of the world order is needed. Many more will die if leaders look the other way.
— Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and a political commentator based in Amman.