Stories We Heard Too Little About in 2006

Foreign Policy magazine has gone back through the year and compiled a list of the world's underreported stories. They call it the "Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2006."

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The unrest in Chad is one of a number of stories we're following this morning. There's the raid in Baghdad - one dead and one wounded - and the continuing instability between Fatah and Hamas as the Palestinians inch closer to civil war. Now these are things happening now and unfolding quickly, and we watched them because they're violent and bloody, and violence and bloodshed are always to be watched.

But often, attention fades as soon as the muzzle flashes do. Stories drop from consciousness, if they were even reported at all, and the headlines move on. Underreported is the term.

Foreign Policy magazine has gone back through the year and compiled a list of the world's underreported stories. They call it the Top 10 Stories You Missed In 2006. They'll release it Monday on their Web site. Will Dobson is the magazine's managing editor. He joins us in our studios. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. WILL DOBSON (Foreign Policy Magazine): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Avian influenza was an enormous story this year, but you've included another aspect of it in this list.

Mr. DOBSON: You can say that from the end of 2005 and then going into 2006, bird flu was sort of the killer pandemic that we feared most or feared would strike next. In fact, there were no confirmed - not one confirmed death from bird flu in developed countries. But that's not to say there weren't costs for the disease, because in fact the alarm and concern that Western media reports raised in people led to somewhat of an unexpected outcome, which was that there was a rash of abnormal behavior, hallucinations, and even deaths from the use or taking of Tamiflu, which is the key drug that was expected to be marketed against fighting the disease.

SIMON: A couple of other stories. The Taliban reportedly resurgent in southern Afghanistan this year. And of course nuclear proliferation is one of the themes in 2006 and concerns about programs in Iran, North Korea. But again, you have different angles you think we might have ignored.

Mr. DOBSON: Yes. In the case of Afghanistan, that's the story that I think the media should get very high marks for. It's been covered very closely, the rise in opium production; the surge in violence has been well covered. But what may have been missed is a report that came out last month that indicated that in fact a lot of the money that the United States is committing to reconstruction projects in southern Afghanistan is now ending up in the hands of Taliban fighters, the very people that we're trying to rebuild the society so that they can't take hold.

SIMON: Villagers will give money to the Taliban, sometimes as what seems to be what amounts to a protection racket.

Mr. DOBSON: Right. There are many reasons why it happens.

SIMON: As you would to a street gang.

Mr. DOBSON: Exactly. Taliban thugs, and also local mullahs who have given up on the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan and said, you know what, if you want security, it's best that we throw our lot in with these Taliban fighters. At least the place will be stable again.

SIMON: Now, you suggest when it comes to the nuclear proliferation question, the United States has looked the other way where an increasingly important ally in South Asia has been involved.

Mr. DOBSON: Washington takes a very hard line when it comes to assisting Iran with its nuclear program, and in the case of India it may be a bit of a double standard on the part of United States. As many people know, this past year the United States inked a nuclear technology deal with India. Right after, the House of Representatives voted on that deal. It was quietly announced by the administration that it was sanctioning two Indian companies for providing missile parts to Tehran. So in fact this information was certainly very relevant and suggests to some degree that Washington was willing to look the other way when it came to this particular close American ally.

SIMON: But they were - the companies were sanctioned.

Mr. DOBSON: They were sanctioned. They were sanctioned. But again, it's information that might have caused some members of Congress to pause before casting a vote in favor of a deal that would give India even greater access to nuclear technology.

SIMON: And perhaps, a different note. You say it was an awfully good year for gender equality around the world.

Mr. DOBSON: Yes. You know, it's nice to find something when you go back and look over a year that has some good news in it. And this is one of those stories, where in fact there was a report released in February by the Population Reference Bureau, which is based in Washington, and they found that the gender gap in secondary education is closing or has closed in most developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Asia. Girls are attending school at the same rate or higher than boys. This is a really positive story, not just for girls, because in fact much economic evidence suggests that when female education rates go up, the entire society benefits.

SIMON: Sub-Saharan Africa has seen an increase?

Mr. DOBSON: The increases are across the board.

SIMON: Afghanistan, for that matter.

Mr. DOBSON: Absolutely. Absolutely.

SIMON: Mr. Dobson, thanks very much.

Mr. DOBSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Will Dobson, managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Their complete list of the top 10 stories you missed in 2006 will be released on Monday.

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