Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Divided World Facing A Single Crisis: Veteran Foreign Correspondent Lyse Doucet Reflects On 2020

In this picture taken on Nov. 15, 2020 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara, Herat province. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)
In this picture taken on Nov. 15, 2020 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers take part in a military exercise at a base in Guzara, Herat province. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP via Getty Images)

The global coronavirus pandemic dominated this year, but there were so many other major stories in 2020.

President Trump was impeached and acquitted. The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked nationwide protests in the U.S.

BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet has covered conflicts all over the world — but never a crisis quite like the pandemic.

The pandemic showed that borders can’t contain the threats humanity faces today, she says, whether it’s the coronavirus, extremist groups, or migration. And people now understand the importance of public health and the key role scientists play in keeping everyone safe.

“I’ve never, ever covered a story where there is one threat, one danger, one crisis affecting our one world,” she says.

This year, Doucet received a letter from a man who said he might lose his job pushing carts at a supermarket because of the lockdown. He said that after hearing Doucet speak about Yemen and Afghanistan on a broadcast, he wanted to help people in other countries facing worse circumstances than his. The letter included £10 and asked Doucet to give it to someone there who needs it next time she visits.

“I think we should all try to end this year thinking of kindness when this cruel virus still continues to make its way through all of our lives,” she says.

Interview Highlights

On how the world responded to COVID-19

“Even a global crisis like this has also underlined that we are divided, which is why since the beginning of this pandemic, when it was absolutely clear it was a global pandemic, there was a mantra recited time and again by the world’s humanitarian leaders that ‘no one is safe until we are all safe.’ And I have to say that I saw this firsthand when I started the year. I spent three weeks in Yemen, where even before the pandemic, the health system was on the brink of collapse. And in the middle of the year, I went to Afghanistan, another country where the health system is in an absolutely perilous position. And we saw during these months when there was so much fear of the of the virus, that when countries like Afghanistan and Yemen, the most vulnerable of the countries, tried to get [personal protective equipment] on the world market, all of it had been bought up by the wealthier nations. The head of the [World Health Orginization] in Afghanistan told me he had sleepless nights because there were days where they simply did not have a single drop of reagents, which is a critical compound used in testing for COVID-19. They finally got it, but it was a real scramble. But it is again, back to that mantra, ‘no one is safe until everyone is safe.’ And yes, the institutions are not perfect. They have made mistakes. But unless we all pull in the same direction, these institutions will be weaker still.”

On the state of Afghanistan

“There is a joke we have in Afghanistan, but it’s an example of the black humor that Afghans are quite famous for, is that with every year, almost every year since the attacks of Sept. 11 in 2001 toppled the Taliban, Afghans and their allies have said, ‘This is a critical year.’ And the next year, ‘This is a critical year.’ Well, next year is the critical year of all critical years in the sense … this is according to the unprecedented deal signed between the United States and the Taliban in February of this year that all U.S.-led NATO forces, the remainder of them are to leave by May 1. But when I was in Afghanistan, I spent six weeks in Afghanistan a few months ago. And General [Austin S.] Miller, who’s the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, said that withdrawal is contingent on both sides keeping their commitment under that February deal. And the Taliban’s commitments include providing security guarantees that they will not allow Afghanistan to become a safe haven again. And the [United Nations] and, you know, members of Congress still say that the Taliban have not kept their word on that. I think it’s quite clear now next year, 2021 is going to be the year that either on the battlefield or through the negotiations, the Taliban are going to return to power. And, of course, Afghans and their allies, including the United States, are hoping that that process of a new political order will be achieved through the negotiations which began in September and not through another descent into the kind of chaos and violence that Afghanistan has seen time and again.”

On what world leaders expect from the Biden administration

“There is an expectation that now there will be a president in the White House with a team which believes in the transatlantic relationship. So there’s already been a sigh of relief at NATO headquarters, at the European Commission. But I think there is also a recognition that the United States has changed and the world has changed and that, yes, America maybe back speaking the same language, but that other countries will have to play their part. Because it was interesting, whenever the countries I visited in the last month, including Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, all of the leaders there said we know that President-elect [Joe] Biden’s main priority is going to be the United States of America, and then he will look at the rest of the world.”

On stories that didn’t get enough attention this year

“A lot of other stories were squeezed out this year. What was happening, as we’ve heard time and again from David Beasley, who’s the executive director of the World Food Program and now the organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize this year, that it was a hunger pandemic that would end up killing more people than the deadly coronavirus. Because, you know, back to my original point, that this is a virus which has crossed borders and affected so many of us around the world, no matter where we live or how we live. But it has affected people in different ways. And in many of the countries I visited, it was seen as certainly as the lesser threat. You couldn’t have a full lockdown in a place like Afghanistan because so many people live from hand to mouth. If they don’t work, their family does not eat. And it simply comes down to that terrifying arithmetic.”

Alex Ashlock produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Todd MundtAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit