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Build Back Better

The year we want to forget? Looking back on 2020

Trócaire CEO Caoimhe de Barra reflects on what has been an incredibly challenging year. She looks at how Covid affected some of the poorest people on the planet, but also she shares some hope in the fight against climate change and success stories in struggles against injustice across the world.

We will end this year with a Christmas like no other. While you are hopefully going to connect with your families and loved ones in some form, we all know this year won’t be the same as usual.

This will be painful and challenging for us, and in many ways that’s the story of this incredibly difficult and unprecedented year. A year most of us simply want to forget about and move on.

A year like no other

Covid dominated our lives this year. Our whole way of life has been disrupted, in ways that we could never have imagined possible. Over 1.5 million people have lost their lives to the virus, an enormous human tragedy.

Global lockdowns have put the brakes on the world’s economy and this has had devastating effects for people, especially in the poorest countries of the world.

This Christmas over 270 million people are facing hunger, that’s double the number since last year, due to the impact of Covid and drought.

Women and girls have been particularly affected as violence against women has increased during the pandemic. Calls to helplines have reportedly increased by five times in some countries as violence increased during Covid lockdowns.

The pandemic has also been used as a ‘smokescreen’ by many repressive regimes to clamp down on human rights, as we recently exposed in our documentary ‘Never Waste a Crisis’.

Despite calls for a global ceasefire during Covid, conflicts have continued apace and violence and oppression have forced people to flee for their lives. This year we passed a grim new milestone, for the first time there are over 80 million people in the world who have been forced from their homes.

On top of all of this, we also faced unexpected catastrophes this year such as the explosion in Beirut which made 300,000 people homeless in an instant and caused untold destruction. Two devastating hurricanes hit Central America within the space of just three weeks.

Yet there is cause for hope.

The fact that we now have Covid vaccines means that we can begin to hope that the end is in sight for the pandemic. Vaccine development is usually a long and complex process that typically takes a decade. Yet an incredible effort has resulted in a Covid vaccine in less than one year.

This is an inspiring story of human ingenuity and collective effort. It shows that if we have enough energy, political will and shared resources, we could rally together to tackle other global issues such as hunger and climate change.

Beirut Explosion : A frontline responder from our local partner Caritas Lebanon stands in front of a house that has been reduced to rubble. Trócaire is supporting Caritas Lebanon to respond to the emergency needs of people affected by the devastating explosion in Beirut.  Photo: Stefanie Glinski for Catholic Relief Services Beirut Explosion : A frontline responder from our local partner Caritas Lebanon stands in front of a house that has been reduced to rubble. Trócaire is supporting Caritas Lebanon to respond to the emergency needs of people affected by the devastating explosion in Beirut. Photo: Stefanie Glinski for Catholic Relief Services

The year the planet got a rest?

As the global economy slowed down, people stopped getting on planes, working from home started to replace daily commutes for many, and the planet got a much needed rest. Our carbon footprints are probably looking a lot more sustainable this year, and globally carbon emissions are down 7% for 2020.

Many breathed a sigh of collective relief when US President elect Joe Biden reconfirmed he would bring the USA back into the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Closer to home, the Irish general election resulted in a programme for government with the strongest commitments ever seen on Climate Change.

However there is a danger that public stimulus funds to recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic will support polluting sectors and fossil fuel industries. ‘Building back better’ post Covid should be based on a just transformation that protects the planet from further harm. Bailout funds should be used to transition economies towards renewable energy sectors, not propping up the fossil fuel industry.

While the planet got somewhat of a rest this year, the drop in carbon emissions may just be a blip if we don’t take considered action to protect our futures.

Climate change is hitting countries like Zimbabwe hard. Drought has affected Zimbabwe for three years in a row. This is Angelina Mhlanga’s homestead where she lives with her three grand-daughters, Lethukuhle, Nomagugu and Buhlebenkosi. Photo : Ben Mahaka Climate change is hitting countries like Zimbabwe hard. Drought has affected Zimbabwe for three years in a row. This is Angelina Mhlanga’s homestead where she lives with her three grand-daughters, Lethukuhle, Nomagugu and Buhlebenkosi. Photo : Ben Mahaka

Moments of hope

Despite the challenges of this year, there were many causes for hope and celebration.

In DR Congo, after two years, a devastating outbreak of ebola was finally halted. Trócaire played its part by reaching a quarter of a million people with hand-washing stations, water tanks, latrines, and water pumps to provide safe water to people and prevent spread of the disease.

In Honduras, there has been good news in the struggle against corporate exploitation. The community of Azacualpa stood up against a gold mining corporation that was digging up bodies from their cemetery to get to the gold underneath. Our local partner took a case all the way to the Supreme Court and won. The company now have to stop their activities and let the dead rest in peace.

There have been many other successes this year, including getting Palestinian farmers back on their land, growing crops that are drought resistant in Zimbabwe, and providing incredible mental health supports to people affected by violence.

After 18 years, they can access their land again: Palestinians farmers Muhammad Sabah (58), and Salim Sabah (67). Photo : Garry Walsh After 18 years, they can access their land again: Palestinians farmers Muhammad Sabah (58), and Salim Sabah (67). Photo : Garry Walsh
Ebola outbreak ended : children from the mbuti community of bahaha in Ituri province, which was badly affected by the ebola outbreak. Photo : Garry Walsh Ebola outbreak ended : children from the mbuti community of bahaha in Ituri province, which was badly affected by the ebola outbreak. Photo : Garry Walsh

Looking ahead

As we end this year, we can start to envision not just what a better, fairer world should look like, but how we can use the collective pooling of ingenuity, resources and political will that delivered a vaccine in record time to tackle the major problems of our times. As Nelson Mandela said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’.

As always, Trócaire continues to support some of the poorest people in the world to achieve change locally, while also campaigning to challenge the root causes and global rules that prevent people from living lives free from poverty, injustice, gender inequality and human rights abuses.

Thank you for being with us on our journey for justice.

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Nollaig shona.

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