Looking back at 2020: The year we must not forget

Once upon a time there was no COVID-19; then came the last day of 2019. Exactly a year ago, on December 31, 2019, China flagged the threat with WHO and soon it cast a shadow so long that would define 2020. DTE followed the story through and through, as reflected in this rewind of the year via our covers, without losing focus on the issues that were already critical. We also added to the list with our own expose on how adulterated honey has permeated into millions of homes.

By DTE Staff
Published: Thursday 31 December 2020

Down To Earth
Sign up for newsletter Down To Earth spacer December 31, 2020
2020: The year
we must not forget
Dear readers, friends, supporters and colleagues,

As reporters of events we can say that this pandemic-year has been the biggest story of our times. We can also say that for all our readers it is the most devastating and disrupting year that we have lived through. This also means that we have the responsibility – and the promise – to both understand change as it has happened; and what this means for our future.

We need to listen to both voices of people and nature – and this is what we have done. We are giving below a quick recap of our biggest stories of 2020 so that we do not forget:

Down To Earth We began the year with three developments: 500-word news item on January 7 on a coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China (it was still not named); the locust infestation; and fires in Australia with its links to climate change. The first edition of January aptly took notes of developments that shaped the world in the decade just passed by (2010-2009). We said: “Growth has stumped environment. The decade of 2020 is the last chance we have to walk the talk and make it right.” This month was a precursor of the multiple crises that would unfold in the year ahead.  

Down To Earth In February we became the first magazine, not just in Asia where the virus was raging, but across the world to predict that the “once-in-a-century” pandemic could well be on our lives and as we put the coronavirus on the cover we asked if the world was prepared for it. The story concluded: “No. The world has not even made a start.”

Down To Earth In the first edition of April, our cover story with reportage from Asia and Africa was on how globalisation was punishing everybody for somebody else’s unpreparedness. It gave the verdict: “The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how fragile we are in the face of a globalised health emergency.” In an analysis, we brought out the fact that the pandemic could be the unknown disease X the World Health Organization warned about in 2018.

Down To Earth The second edition of April brought out the economic impacts of the pandemic on the poor, the people, who had lost their livelihoods because of the virus; who were doubly hit; more vulnerable because of infection and more devastated because of economic closure. With reportage from across India, the special edition vividly reported the reverse migration of people like never before. “Without social protection measures, it might overwhelm the fragile rural economy,” we said while warning the rural livelihood crisis. Partition migration was triggered by a newly drawn line between two nations whereas the present exodus highlighted another kind of divide, within the country. It’s between the rural and urban India.

Down To Earth In the first edition of May, our cover story focused on how the world was scrambling for medical support to tide over the surge in COVID-19 cases. The cover story exposed a serious fault line in the global pharmaceutical supply chain, created by an industry that flourished by putting profit before public health. Amid shortage of life-saving drugs, countries scrambled for self-sufficiency, but circumventing market dynamics was not that easy. “Chinese dominance in the pharmaceutical sector has been questioned across the world.” In this edition we flagged the concern over how patents for various therapies to treat COVID-19 could keep the drugs out of reach for many, mostly citizens of poor countries.

Down To Earth In the second edition of May the cover story was an in-depth dive into the zoonotic diseases, like COVID-19. The story brought out the fact that pathogens that trigger infectious zoonotic diseases are fast learning how to expand their realm. We took a critical look at the links between our food system and emerging diseases, our dystopian relation with nature and the global inability to take a holistic look at emerging diseases.

In June, we continued with our coverage of the pandemic. But, we also reported how the country was hit by another crisis: the climate emergency. Cyclone Amphan hit West Bengal. Since 1999, this is the third super cyclone to occur in the North Indian Ocean region, which includes the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea and the northern part of the Indian Ocean. Our story on this dealt with changing chemistry of cyclones. We reported on how cyclones like Amphan were intensifying rapidly making any forecast and preparation inadequate.

Down To Earth The first edition of June carried a cover story demystifying the debate over testing for COVID-19; what was being done and how would we best track and trace cases. Testing is no doubt the cornerstone of the fight against COVID-19. Our cover story made sense of the fact that the world’s growing obsession with tests might weaken our response to the pandemic; instead what was needed was more nuanced approaches that would focus on providing health care facilities, while testing and tracking the infected.  

Down To Earth The second edition of June covered the fresh attacks of locusts in India. The attacks were not only overwhelming, locusts spread to new territories as well. Our cover story explored the linkage of rising frequency of locust attacks to climate change – as we said, these were the impacts that were hitting the very poor in our world and went unnoticed and unspoken. 

Down To Earth In July, we dealt with a little talked about aspect of the pandemic – the blue-skies and clear lungs that were gained during the lockdown and how we could sustain this beyond. The nationwide lockdown unwittingly gave us a glimpse of what our cities could look like if we weaned away from polluting vehicles and industries. Our cover story argued that the pandemic offered a chance to reform our public transport and also to make way for walking and cycling.

Down To Earth In August, we covered the frequent outbreaks of “mysterious” diseases in India. These unidentified, mysterious diseases are like terrorists with unknown motives and unpredictable moves. They might lead to epidemics, creating a situation worse than COVID-19 where scientists are at least familiar with the pathogen. We looked at the country’s disease surveillance systems and heard from top infectious disease experts and epidemiologists on what needed to be done to fix this system for future outbreaks.

Down To Earth The second edition of August carried an extensive coverage on how Dharavi in Mumbai tackled outbreak of COVID-19. Dharavi proved the doomsday predictions wrong and is now hailed as a global model to combat the pandemic. Our correspondent spent a week in the slum there to answer a few questions: How did one of the world’s biggest slums curtail the spread of the pandemic, when at least 10 people live in a cramped 1-2-metre shack?

Down To Earth In September, we extensively covered the economic impacts of the pandemic on informal and rural economies. We had some good news to share. Demands for jobs under the MGNREGA spiked like never before. Our cover story reported on how this rural job programme helped millions of informal workers who returned to villages tide over the economic crisis. We also reported on the productive assets like water harvesting structures, which the programme created, had the potential to regenerate village economy and build resilience – the opportunity post-COVID-19 economies should grasp and build upon.

Down To Earth In November, we carried two cover stories that the pandemic brought into focus: the world of virus and the confounding topic of human immunity. “Immunity” has become the buzzword in this time of pandemic. As individuals we seek to make our bodies more immune – it has also became a powerful USP for many healthcare products. Our cover story on immunity was to understand what immunity is all about – what differentiates the poor from the rich in this case. Similarly the cover story on virus delved deep into the world of virus, the debate over its evolution, and most importantly how we have unleashed a facilitative environment for virus to mutate and trigger epidemics and pandemics.

Down To Earth The December first edition carried our investigation into the adulteration of honey with sugar syrup. The pandemic made us to look for “immunity boosting” products; and honey is the tried and tested one. But as our cover story – supported by laboratory testing, an undercover operation and extensive field reportage on state of bee-keeping in India – found out most of top honey processors were diluting the nectar with sugar. In the times of COVID-19, when our honey consumption was increasing, this would make us more vulnerable as sugar increases chances of obesity and over-weight is linked to COVID-19 risks.

Down To Earth By the end of the year, we already had over 4500 stories, 100 multimedia features, and 150 data-driven stories on our website on the pandemic. Each story has allowed us to bring to you the understanding of the world of the virus; its science, its sociology and its economic impact. It has told us that we must not forget – this world that collapsed around us - the scale of the disruption we have seen has disproportionate impacts on the poor of the world. It has exacerbated the existing divides in our world.

As we now move to 2021 – with a hope and a prayer that it will be different – we must know what will make it different – our ability to understand reality; to speak truth to power and to tell it as it is; as it happens.

This gives us the courage to continue to report, to analyse and to bring you the news and perspectives. All these, with that cardinal promise that your magazine “arms you with knowledge critical to shaping a better world”.

Sunita Narain, Richard Mahapatra and all of us at Down To Earth
  Down To Earth  


The stories that defined 2020



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