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Seven good things that happened around the world in 2015

Yes, there has been some good news in 2015. Plenty of it, actually. 

Saudi businesswoman Rasha Hifzi, who won a seat in Jeddah in municipal elections that took place on December 12, sits on a desk at her office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
REUTERS/Susan Baaghil

It has been an unsettling year. Globally, the news has been dominated by terrorism, the humanitarian disaster in Syria, and a flood of refugees into Europe, where far-right and nationalist politicians are on the rise. Ukraine has settled into a stalemate. China’s economy looks a bit shaky. There have been assassinations, recessions and epidemics.

But there has been some good news in 2015, too. Plenty of it, actually. It might manifest itself in the inspiring actions of common people. Or it might be a matter of governments doing the right thing. Sometimes the news emerges from a mountain of U.N. statistics. 

Lest we miss them, here is a brief list. Some are small stories; some illuminate a positive long-term trend. The list is by no means comprehensive. In fact, the only common denominator is that they’ve either happened, or a report about them has surfaced, in recent days.

1. Taking a stand against terrorists in Somalia 
According to this BBC report published Monday, the Somali extremist group al Shabaab ambushed a bus in northeast Kenya, and tried to separate the passengers by religion. Shabaab terrorists in the area have used that tactic in the past, and then killed many Christians – notably in April in an attack on a college in which 148 people died. As a result of the attacks, many teachers and health workers have left the area. This time, Muslim bus passengers refused to be separated from the Christians, telling the attackers to “kill them together, or leave them alone.” At least two people did die – including one who was shot trying to run away. But when they couldn’t separate Christian from Muslim, the attackers left.

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2. Success against malaria
On Dec. 9, the World Health Organization released its annual report on the fight against one of the world’s deadliest diseases. Success is still far off, but some real progress is being made. Consider: Between 2000 and 2015, the number of new malaria cases dropped 37 percent. In Africa, the worst-affected area, the number fell 42 percent. And the number of malaria deaths fell by 60 percent. Malaria still killed almost 300,000 African children under 5, but that number is down more than 70 percent over the past 15 years. Among the most effective tactics right now? Using mosquito nets treated with insecticide and spraying indoors.

3. Scotland’s example 
While Europe struggles to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and other global trouble spots, Scotland has quietly gotten on with resettlement. The first group of Syrians arrived Nov. 17, only days after the Paris terror attacks. According to a report Monday in the Guardian, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish government’s only Muslim minister and the head of its refugee task force, says he’s “deeply proud” of how Scotland has reacted. The number of refugees so far isn’t huge – only a few hundred – but neither is Scotland. Yousaf cited instances of people walking up to refugees in the street to give them welcoming hugs, providing food and clothes, or arranging film screenings. Protests have been met with counterprotests, and one newspaper publicly shamed anti-immigrant Internet trolls. On the sparsely populated island of Bute, one official said the refugees might actually fit in better than they do in the big cities, because most of them come from small towns or rural areas, too.

4. Ending decades of conflict in Colombia 
The government of Colombia and rebels continue to make progress on ending the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running civil war. The conflict has been going on since 1964, and has killed more than 200,000 people. The two sides have been negotiating for more than three years. In September, they cracked what they said was the most difficult problem: imposing justice on those responsible for the violence. Last week, they filled out details in another agreement. Their final deadline is March 23.

5. Voting in Saudi Arabia
Say what you will (and there are plenty of reasons to be highly critical of Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women), but it’s striking that the kingdom held an election Dec. 12 in which women were able to vote – and run as candidates. A small number of them actually won seats on local councils. The 284 councils used to be purely advisory, but will now have limited power over local issues. About 900 women and nearly 6,000 men ran. About 18 women won seats. 

6. Making art – and friends – in Russia
Sure, Vladimir Putin and his confrontational approach to the West are highly popular in Russia. But just as it was in Soviet times, Russia is a lot more complicated than that. This little story published a few days ago in the Moscow Times focuses on Austrian diplomat Simon Mraz, his search for Russia’s next generation of artists, and his efforts to put them together with their Western counterparts.  His efforts have taken him north of the Arctic Circle, south to the Caucasus mountains and into Russia’s rust-belt cities – places, he says, that are integral to European, as well as Russian, culture.

7. A better quality of life around the globe
The U.N.’s Human Development Index, updated annually, is meant to be a comprehensive measurement of quality of life, defined by such factors as longevity, income and education. Its terminology can be bureaucratic (and maddening), but if you set that aside, the latest report released this month, tells quite a tale of human progress in the past quarter-century: a full 2 billion people moving up out of what the U.N. considers low levels of human development. What does that mean? The Economist dug into some of the numbers and found that a resident of Rwanda can expect to live almost 32 years longer than he or she could have expected in 1990. And today’s Chinese live about as well as South Koreans did 25 years ago.