A health official in the Nigerian town of Dikwa measures the arm circumference of a child as part of a drive to control malnutrition. Photograph: Florian Plaucheur/AFP/Getty Images


As Donald Trump cut funding for family planning and people from east Africa to Yemen went hungry, peace finally gained a foothold in Colombia...


The year began with the inauguration of Donald Trump and the reinstatement of the “global gag rule”, or Mexico City policy, which banned US federal funding for NGOs in countries that provide abortion services or advocacy.

When family planning funding was further reduced in April and May, concern intensified about the potential impact on maternal mortality and young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health information. Other donor countries responded with the She Decides initiative, led by Dutch minister Lilianne Ploumen, which set out to raise $600m (£450m) to compensate for the shortfall created by the Trump administration.

People in Brussels stage a women’s rights protest during the US presidential inauguration on 20 January 2017. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Setting the tone for a year when elections brought big changes in governance, Adama Barrow ended Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule in the Gambia. Jammeh, whose exit terms meant he avoided prosecution and was able to keep many assets, departed only after mediation by west African neighbours and the threat of armed intervention.

Data compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that six European countries – the UK, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Sweden – hit the 0.7% UN aid spending target.

Save the Children urged the British government to increase pressure on Saudi Arabia to protect children in Yemen from ongoing violations. With no improvement in humanitarian access, author Alex de Waal warned later in the year that Britain was in danger of becoming complicit in the use of starvation as a weapon of war in the country.

A malnourished boy is weighed at an intensive care unit in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida, Yemen. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

In a report published to coincide with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam said it was “beyond grotesque” that a handful of rich men are worth $426bn, equivalent to the wealth of 3.6 billion people.


Three UN agencies warned that Somalia was facing a “very real” risk of famine, with more than 6 million people – half the population – facing acute food insecurity. Humanitarian groups said there was a “small window” to stop a repeat of the 2011 famine, when an estimated 260,000 people starved to death in the country after a slow response from donors.

EU commissioner Neven Mimica pledged a €225m (£200m) support package for the Gambia, which he said was “virtually bankrupt”. Following in his footsteps, Boris Johnson became the first British foreign secretary to visit the country.

The fallout from Donald Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries was a recurrent theme of 2017. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

While Chad’s foreign minister, Moussa Faki Mahamat, was elected as the new head of the African Union, outgoing chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma condemned the proposed US travel ban on refugees from Somalia, Libya and Sudan. Morocco rejoined the AU after a row over the status of Western Sahara more than 30 years ago.

Tributes poured in for Hans Rosling, the data guru and development champion, who died aged 68.


Famine was formally declared in parts of South Sudan, and stretched aid agencies warned it was immininent in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen. David Miliband and Toby Lanzer argued that the global humanitarian system was under “unprecedented strain”.


Agencies warned that “countless lives” were at stake as they launched a major appeal for east Africa to help those facing hunger. Drought and conflict had left more than 16 million people in the region in need of food, water and medical treatment. Our podcast asked what could be done.

Ben Quinn, reporting from Burao and Hargeisa, said help was slow to arrive in the towns and villages he visited.

People forced to leave home because of drought walk towards a mobile medical unit at an impromptu camp set up near the town of Caynabo in Somaliland. Photograph: Kate Holt/Unicef

In South Sudan, Simona Foltyn found aid delivery under threat from armed fighters, while agencies rebuked the country over an extraordinarily timed move to raise fees for aid workers. Six aid workers and a driver were killed in the worst single attack on humanitarian staff since civil war broke out in December 2013.

International Women’s Day on 8 March included a call for a global strike. In New York, the Commission on the Status of Women ended with commitments by states to advance women’s economic empowerment by implementing equal pay policies, gender audits and job evaluations.

At a protest against mining at the legislative assembly in San Salvador, a woman holds a banner reading: ‘No to mining. Yes to life.’ Photograph: Marvin Recinos/AFP/Getty Images

El Salvador made history as the first nation to impose a blanket ban on metal mining. Campaigners celebrated a victory for “water over gold”.

A powerful video report showed how anti-slavery activists are often the only chance of escape for the thousands of vulnerable Russians lured from cities to the remote republic of Dagestan, where they are enslaved in rural brick factories and farms.

Médecins Sans Frontières hailed trials in Niger of a vaccine against rotavirus as a “game changer” in the battle against the virus, which claims the lives of an estimated 1,300 children daily, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.


Bidi Bidi, in Uganda, welcomed 800,000 people escaping conflict and famine in South Sudan, in the process becoming the world’s largest refugee camp. Tensions quickly rose as more new arrivals took the number closer to a million.

Four months after the peace deal that finally ended Colombia’s long-running civil war, our podcast investigated how you solve half a century of bloodshed and go about building lasting peace. In a video, we followed the stories of women and couples in the Farc guerrilla army who are now free to become parents.

Peace in Colombia meant women from the Farc guerrilla army were able to celebrate International Women’s Day for the first time. Photograph: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda/EPA

British MPs urged development secretary Priti Patel to tackle a “global learning crisis” by spending more of the overseas aid budget on education.

The World Health Organization (WHO) lauded record-breaking progress in tackling sleeping sickness, elephantiasis and other tropical diseases that affect one in six people globally.


G20 health ministers in Berlin called for a faster response to global health risks, such as infectious disease outbreaks and antimicrobial resistance.

Research by a coalition of UK and African campaigners showed that more wealth leaves Africa every year than enters it – by more than $40bn.

Delegates filter into the main hall at the African Union’s headquarters in Addis Ababa for a two-day summit. Photograph: Zacharias Abubeker/AFP/Getty Images

Uganda and the US ended a six-year hunt for the fugitive warlord Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army; others continued their quest for justice.


The UK held a general election on 8 June triggered by the outcome of the referendum on whether to leave the EU. Despite continued sniping from the hard right, the government maintained its commitment to 0.7% of gross national income for development aid.

World Food Programme staff in Mogadishu demonstrate a biometric food aid ID system, used to track distribution, to British politician Priti Patel. Photograph: Kabir Dhanji/WFP

On a visit to Mogadishu, Priti Patel announced further funding for the crises in Somalia and Ethiopia. Against the global backdrop of ongoing food insecurity, we asked why people still go hungry.

Supermarkets in the UK pulled corned beef off shelves after the Guardian and Brazilian journalists found the products could contain meat linked to slave labour on cattle farms.


As Chancellor Merkel tried to keep the focus on her compact with Africa initiative, some saw the G20 as marking the end of the US as a global leader, while the Trump-Putin meeting stole the show. The compact pairs up African countries that have committed to economic reforms with private investors for job and business development.

The British Government published its first annual report on how funds were spent through the conflict, stability and security fund which some consider a symptom of the increasing militarisation of aid.

On the eve of London’s family planning summit, Liz Ford asked if the resumption of the “global gag rule” would make 2017 the year we lost control of the global population surge? Top officials from more than 50 countries convened at the summit, which coincided with world population day, to discuss how to rejuvenate languishing family planning efforts in places like Mbale, Uganda. Sarah Boseley reported on how Trump had effectively signed a global death warrant for women.

Aisha Mugoya Mutonyi, right, a member of the village health team in Mbale, Uganda, administers a contraceptive to a rural woman. Photograph: Juozas Cernius/For The Guardian

The painstaking steps in women’s long fight to access family planning and abortion, and reduce maternal mortality, are reflected in a timeline of the struggle’s landmarks.

In the Philippines, a country where fewer than 35% of women use contraceptives and terminating pregnancy is illegal, botched abortions kill three women a day.

Backed by Graça Machel and her fellow Elders, the Tanzanian government is introducing healthcare reforms that could revitalise its economic prospects. As the new WHO director general and the sustainable development goals seek to reinvigorate the dream of healthcare for everyone, we asked whether that ambition is achievable.

If you are old enough to carry a gun, you are old enough to be a soldier,” Jason Burke was told when he visited South Sudan, where efforts are being made to reintegrate Africa’s largest contingent of child soldiers into society.


South Sudanese refugees waiting to be relocated prepare to board a truck at Imvepi reception centre in north Uganda. Photograph: Isaac Kasamani/ECJ

Meanwhile, Kenyans queued to vote in fraught elections and the president of Sierra Leone called for urgent help after a mudslide engulfed houses near the capital, Freetown. Storm Harvey’s ravaging of southern states of America dominated headlines, while in south Asia, water and mud were also overwhelming homes on a massive scale. Simon Tisdall wrote on the apparent hierarchy of suffering.

A flood-affected area of Bangladesh’s Lalmonirhat district. Photograph: Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images

One year on from the Olympics, we revisited Rio de Janeiro to hear from residents Thaís Cavalcante, Michel Silva and Daiene Mendes.

On the international day of the disappeared, campaigners called on the UN to bring the world’s attention to the terrible plight of Assad’s detainees.


With conflict and climate change undermining food security, causing chronic undernourishment and threatening to reverse years of progress, UN agencies warned that world hunger was rising for first time this century.

In the first fight, a series on early childhood development, Jay Rayner’s video animation explored what the first 1,000 days can mean for a child’s future. Karen McVeigh reported on the heavy toll hunger has taken on Madagascar’s children, while Lucy Lamble looked at possible solutions.

Children at a primary school in Madagascar’s Bemanonga commune stand beneath a chalk line indicating how tall eight-year-olds should be. Photograph: Kate Holt/WaterAid

Brazil investigated the alleged slaughter of Amazonian tribespeople by gold miners, while the scale of the “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya in Myanmar became more apparent to the world.

As key Islamic State strongholds fell, the country held the Kurdish referendum, dealt with an earthquake on the border with Iran, and counted the cost of fighting on civilians and the environment.

Elsewhere, aid workers in Haiti and the Dominican Republic tasked with responding to Hurricane Irma described the situation as overwhelming.

Damage caused by Hurricane Maria in Roseau, Dominica, in late September. Photograph: Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

In what was hailed at the time as a landmark decision, the Kenyan supreme court annulled Uhuru Kenyatta’s election victory.

The UK Department for Exiting the European Union published a future partnership options paper on foreign policy, defence and development, while Priti Patel introduced a new code of conduct for suppliers and Department for International Development (DfID) staff after some private sector organisations were accused of profiteering, excessive charges and unscrupulous practices.


The Kenyan elections were rerun minus Raila Odinga as opposition candidate. While Odinga branded the polling a “sham” due to the lack of reform, Kenyatta was declared the winner.

In a dispatch from Togo, reporter Mawuna Koutonin talked about what changed when the government turned off the internet in an effort to hold back the mobilisation of young activists. In Zimbabwe, governance tensions rose more visibly to the surface.

On international day of the girl, research revealed the 10 worst countries for girls to get an education. Women in Tanzania shared their moving experiences of giving birth without access to pain relief or running water.

Girls carry water away from a privately owned shallow well on the edge of Nyarugusu, in Tanzania’s Geita district. Photograph: Sameer Satchu/WaterAid

Our podcast reported from Mozambique on an initiative opening up opportunities for people with disabilities, who face stigma and discrimination from school to the workplace. Award-winning Ethiopian activist Yetnebersh Nigussie recalled the moment when, aged 12, she realised she was different because no one wanted to play with the blind girl.


Penny Mordaunt, who succeeded Priti Patel as British development secretary, has pledged more UK support for Yemen. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

Fourteen unofficial meetings with officials during a 13-day holiday in Israel proved the undoing of Priti Patel, who departed DfID to be replaced by Penny Mordaunt.

Following a military coup by any other name, and the opening of an impeachment hearing against him, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe finally resigned as president, bringing an end to 37 years of rule and sparking celebrations in the streets. The ruling Zanu-PF party appointed former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking had triggered the political crisis, to replace Mugabe. It remains to be seen if free and fair elections will be achieved in 2018.

Bollywood star Akshay Kumar’s latest film, about a woman who left her husband because he refused to build her a toilet, made him a lover of the loo. He’s now on a mission to promote better sanitation in India, a country where half the population still defecates in the open.

In Hyderabad, an Indian man urinates on a roadside wall bearing a poster for the Hindi film Toilet. Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence reminded UN member states that they had promised to end abuse by 2030. The executive director of UN Women told Rebecca Ratcliffe that the response to the widespread use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts was still inadequate.

In a year when allegations of sexual harassment and abuse were widespread across many industries, members of the aid community also revealed shocking experiences.

On world children’s day, 14-year-old Bilal Rwaeh, a young Syrian refugee now living in the UK, joined the Global development team.


At the annual Radi-Aid awards, Ed Sheeran’s Comic Relief film was branded “poverty porn” and campaigns fronted by Tom Hardy and Eddie Redmayne were also called out for reinforcing stereotypes.

Our podcast explored the scale of the humanitarian situation in Cox’s Bazar and the politics of the Rohingya crisis.

Roshida Begum, a 22-year-old Rohingya Muslim who says she narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Myanmar military. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

The cruel absurdity of the kafala system was evident once again in the tragic story of a Sri Lankan family who had moved to the Gulf in search of a better life.

There was a sense of deja vu about a report on women in sub-Saharan Africa being forced to have sex to pay off their medical bills, an issue that remains perennially under-addressed.

While the citizens of DRC still await their moment at the polls, Liberia is due to hold its delayed presidential run-off on 26 December. The final round of voting, between vice-president Joseph Boakai and former world footballer of the year George Weah, was postponed after the third-placed candidate alleged fraud, a claim since dismissed by the supreme court.

Finally, if you’re ready to settle down for some reflective end-of-year reading, do try the world library series. You might like to start with a country rarely out of the headlines this year: North Korea.

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