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The humanitarian news you couldn’t get enough of in 2020

Our 12 most popular stories of the year.

Believe it or not, 2020 was only one year long. 

Here’s a snapshot, in the form of our top articles from the year. It’s a look at the coverage you found most compelling, from the unfolding of coronavirus to how the Black Lives Matter movement reverberated through the humanitarian sector.

Proclaiming which articles are “most compelling” is more of an art than a science, to be honest. Yes, we have statistics in the form of unique pageviews; the list below is in order of the most-viewed articles first. Why you gravitated to these particular reports, and just what impact those stories had on you, is often little more than conjecture, though. 

Sex, conspiracy theories, and allegations of corruption always attract clicks, and our coverage is no exception. It’s no surprise that coronavirus-themed coverage was a big draw, as the world scrambled for information. The need to find bright spots in a particularly trying year perhaps accounts for the interest in coverage that upended usually dire pandemic news, such as our piece on potentially positive changes in the works in South Africa. And there’s comfort perhaps in counting on the appearance of a perpetual favourite: our 10 crises and trends to watch list. 

If you missed any of these stories the first time around, there’s still time to catch up before the countdown to 2021 (and our 10 Crises and Trends to Watch list, to be published in mid-January) begins. And as we round off our 25th anniversary year, take a look too at our 25 most popular articles of all time.

(Compiled by TNH Audience Engagement Editor Whitney Patterson.)

How a tech NGO got sucked into a COVID-19 conspiracy theory

TNH Senior Editor Ben Parker breaks down why Bill Gates is not trying to tag you, in this explainer that joins the dots on a public health conspiracy theory. As the coronavirus was making landfall in the West, the scale and speed of a “vortex” of COVID-19 misinformation swept up a small nonprofit. 

Tanzanian doctors sound alarm over hidden coronavirus cases

The Tanzanian government’s tepid response to COVID-19 and seeming lack of transparency over coronavirus cases fuelled concern that it was covering up the true extent of the pandemic.

Six ways COVID-19 is changing South Africa

As people around the world found themselves glued to dire headlines, they also craved some silver linings to the global pandemic. This article explored some of the positives that emerged from South Africa’s coronavirus experience, and the potential for longer-lasting changes as the government uses the crisis to drive controversial economic and social reforms. 

UN probes ‘abhorrent’ car video

As Page Six as The New Humanitarian gets, this article piqued the interest of readers when a blurry video showed a woman straddling a man suggestively in a UN car in Tel Aviv. The UN has strict rules about sexual abuse and exploitation, including a ban on paying for sex, but has struggled to stamp out sexual misconduct by its staff and peacekeepers. No wonder people were paying attention.

A health worker checks the temperature of a traveller in coronavirus screening at Kotoka International Airport, Accra, Ghana.

Which African countries are most vulnerable to the coronavirus?

As the coronavirus spread beyond mainland China, April Zhu looked at a study ranking the vulnerability of African countries to the highly contagious respiratory disease.

A busy street in Arusha

When coronavirus came to Tanzania

In chronicling the arrival of COVID-19 in Tanzania, Jaclynn Ashly wanted to demonstrate the challenges faced by less wealthy countries in dealing with coronavirus. This diary unfolds in real time as people in Tanzania navigate what would become the new normal – a situation that is likely recognisable to readers around the world.


Nigerian doctors go on strike as coronavirus cases rise

Nigeria successfully managed an Ebola outbreak, but COVID-19 is a very different matter. From the early days of the virus, doctors in Nigeria took a difficult stance and our readers took note.

A boy carries food aid he received from the local charity, Mona Relief, on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen.

Ten humanitarian crises and trends to watch in 2020

Don’t call it a ranking. All year long we have our eyes on humanitarian crises large and small, but once a year we take a step back and try to distil trends to keep your eye on. We truly hate to be proven right. Stay tuned for 2021’s list in mid-January.

Coronavirus cases have been reported in more than two dozen countries.

Map: Where the coronavirus is spreading

2020 was a year of many things, and one of those things was definitely a hunger for coronavirus data, updates, and mapped information. Starting in the early days of the outbreak, we kept a running tally of country-by-country infections. This page is still updated with global trends and country-level info.

An artist's illustration of a room in Hotel Classic

More than 50 women accuse aid workers of sex abuse in Congo Ebola crisis

Our joint investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a year in the making, shed light not only on these women’s stories but on structural failures of safeguarding, whistleblowing, and reporting mechanisms in the aid sector. Governments, UN agencies and NGOs, local residents, and readers were called to attention.

Man walking across open concrete space

Institutional racism in the aid sector up close

Arnab Majumdar, a former MSF-er, shared his perception  of what institutional racism looks like in this first-person opinion essay. His piece spurred much reaction from Médecins Sans Frontières, the sector, and readers alike.

A camp for internally displaced people in the eastern town of Minova

Congo aid scam triggers sector-wide alarm

Aid funds believed to total several million dollars were diverted from displaced people and vulnerable communities in a scam that shocked senior humanitarian officials and exposed deep-rooted problems with the way aid organisations fight corruption in Congo and beyond. In an investigation that spanned more than nine months, TNH traced the anatomy of the scam using leaked documents and interviews with fraud ringleaders, aid workers, IDPs, and anti-corruption specialists. Our reporting explores the impact such scams may have on the future of communities and aid organisations working in one of the world’s longest-running humanitarian crises.

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