See the rest of TIME’s Top 10 of Everything 2013 lists here
10. Supertyphoon Haiyan
The deadliest storm to hit the Philippines since at least Typhoon Tehlma in 1991, Haiyan smashed into the archipelago with wind speeds as high as 170 mph (more than 20 mph faster than Hurricane Katrina’s worst gusts) and surging sea levels up to 20 feet. Despite preparations, including the evacuation of nearly 800,000 people, more than 5,000 people were killed as the storm wreaked havoc in central Philippines and leveled entire parts of the coastal city of Tacloban. Nearly 2 million people were left homeless.
Money and supplies streamed in from the international community in a show of goodwill—and diplomacy. The Chinese, on unfriendly terms over disputed maritime territories, were criticized for offering, at first, a paltry $100,000, or one-seventeenth of what New Zealand was giving. Meanwhile the U.S. seized on an opportunity to put its geopolitical Asia “pivot” into action, promising $37 million in aid over the following days and dispatching an aircraft carrier to support relief efforts.
9. India’s Rape Epidemic
The furor over a shocking Delhi gang rape in at the end of 2012 overflowed into 2013. Mass protests at the time demanded greater protection for women and swift justice. The trial and sentencing of the culprits—four were given the death penalty—of the six suspects lasted through September. Subsequent incidents, including the rape of another 23-year-old girl in Mumbai, also drew widespread attention nationally and abroad, and the uproar has shone a necessary spotlight on India’s notoriously patriarchal society. It has also placed renewed scrutiny on the state of women’s rights in the developing world where more than 2 million girls give birth before the age of 14.
8. China’s Naval Tensions
One of the most vexing challenges presented by China’s emergence as a budding superpower has to do with the Asian giant’s ability to get along with its neighbors. The most glaring test lies in the waters surrounding the Chinese mainland: and Beijing has not quite passed with flying colors. In both the South China Sea and to China’s East, enduring disputes over maritime territory — often uninhabited spits of reef and rock — have threatened to blow up into a regional crisis this year.
In January the Philippines said it would take China to a UN arbitration court over heavily disputed claims — China considers the vast majority of the South China Sea (and likely the lucrative gas reserves beneath its waters) as its own immediate sphere of influence. That is hotly contested by a number of Southeast Asian states, especially neighboring Vietnam and the Philippines.
The situation is perhaps even more intense between rivals Japan and China, where a long-simmering contest over a string of islands administered by Japan in the East China Sea ignited massive anti-Japan protests in 2012. The quarrel came to a head in November when China declared an “East China Sea air-defense identification zone” over the mostly bare islands, which the Japanese Foreign Minister said could “trigger unpredictable events.” The U.S. entered the fray by flying two B-52 bombers, unannounced, through the zone just days later. The Chinese didn’t react, but the zone is still nominally—for now—in place. As are the geopolitical tensions simmering beneath.
7. Bangladesh’s Factory Disaster
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka on April 24 was the worst industrial disaster in recent memory, killing over 1,100 workers. It served as a horrific reminder of the poor conditions that define an essential industry, which employs about four million people in Bangladesh. The disaster forced discussions, domestically and internationally, of reform in factories that supply major retailers across Europe and America.
In November, groups representing Walmart, Gap and H&M among others, agreed tostricter standards for their employers. But progress has been limited—separate factory fires since the building collapse killed at least 18 people, and workers in Bangladesh are still fighting for a raise. They earn some of the lowest wages in the world.
6. Africa’s Ring of Terror
France’s January intervention in Mali to push back advancing Islamist forces was supposed to be a quick blow against a separatist insurgency. Instead, French involvement, though largely successful, has lasted through the year—and 2013 has seen a rise of Islamist extremist-fueled terrorism across Africa, including a hostage crisis at an Algerian oil field that left 39 foreigners dead; repeated ruthless attacks by the Boko Haram terror group in Nigeria; and the assault on an upscale Nairobi mall by al-Shabab, a Somali al-Qaeda affiliate, that killed at least 68 people.
The violence has drawn the attention of Western powers. The U.S. established a regional drone base for the Sahel in Niger in February and has attempted special operation raids in Libya and Somalia, including a failed attempt against a top al-Shabab commander who was said to be behind the Westgate Mall attacks. And in November, France announced that it would beef up its troop presence in another former colony, the Central African Republic, where the onslaught of rebel factions that are dominated by Muslim fighters has put the country on “the verge of genocide,” according to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.
5. Francis, the Progressive Pope
White smoke rose to announce the new pope on March 13—habemus papam!—ending one saga and setting off a new era for the Vatican. A month earlier Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the office due to his old age, becoming the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to cede his post.
In his place the papal conclave voted for the Argentine cleric Jorge Bergoglio, who from the outset has fashioned himself a reformer of the Church and an advocate for the poor. He selected his name—the first Francis in the history of the papacy—after the champion of the poor Saint Francis of Assisi, and has since shaken things up, spearheading financial reform within the Vatican, challenging traditional Church views on homosexuality and women, and denouncing the rapacious nature of Western capitalism.
4. Snowden Shakes the World
The cache of documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden shed light on the extent of U.S. espionage operations in various parts of the world and threatened to damage U.S. relations with some key international players, who claimed in public to be furious with the U.S.’s snooping in their own countries. There was White House ally German Chancellor Angela Merkel, demanding answers on allegations that the NSA had tapped her cell phone, and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who canceled a trip to the U.S. and then, later, complained before a global audience at the UN about the “affront” to her country’s sovereignty.
The repercussions echoed far outside the intelligence community: U.S. web companies could lose billions of dollars as international users turn to products they think are less prone to spying eyes. And it does the already tetchy relationship between Washington and Moscow little good when the latter is giving asylum to America’s now best-known fugitive.
3. The End of Egypt’s Revolution?
In a televised speech July 3, Egyptian army chief Abdul Fatah el-Sisi told millions of Egyptians that the military had removed democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi. The move was welcomed by millions of Egyptians who had taken to the streets to protest the divisive, one-year rule of the Islamist president, who, critics said, exploited his position to simply consolidate the power of his Muslim Brotherhood.
But the ouster was followed by mass protests from Morsi’s backers that led to ongoing clashes between supporters of the two camps, polarizing Egyptian society. The military-backed interim government ultimately cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood leaders and their supporters in the streets, culminating in a raid on two camps of demonstrators Aug. 14 that left hundreds of people dead. As the dust settles, Sisi and the new technocratic regime have solidified their grip on power. While ostensibly preparing for the return of democracy, they have cracked down on dissent so harshly that many say the Egyptian revolution has come full circle since the dramatic, euphoric ousting of long-ruling dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. In an interview in November, Sisi left the door open to running in elections planned for next year.
2. Iran’s New Chapter
It was clear the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, elected in June, was trying a new strategy when he wished Jews, in atweet, a “blessed Rosh Hashanah” on the Jewish new year.
In the space of a few months, Rouhani and his new cabinet transformed the atmosphere surrounding Iran, a nation made into something of a pariah by the bellicose rhetoric of previous President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In September, after charming the international press corps at the U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani held a historic phone call with President Obama—the first direct dialogue between an American and Iranian head of state for three decades. In November, Iran reached a tentative agreement with the U.S. and other global powers to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for waiving billions of dollars worth of sanctions. Skeptics abound — Israel is at the head of the pack — but the deal could also jumpstart a new era of rapprochement with the Islamic Republic that will have repercussions across the region.
1. Syria’s Civil War — and the War That Didn’t Happen
On the morning of Aug. 21, reports emerged from a Damascus suburb of a sarin gas attack, a grim event in a civil war that had already cost the lives of 100,000 people and spurred the largest refugee crisis in a generation. Chilling videos of women and children, some twitching, others lifeless, brought out the strongest reactions yet from an international community that has sat on the sidelines for much of the country’s grinding two-year-long civil war.
Ten days later, after releasing to the public an intelligence report determining that Syrian President Bashar Assad fired the weapons and killed at least 1,429 people, President Barack Obama announced that he was going to ask Congress for authorization to strike Syrian chemical weapons installations. While Assad and his allies dismissed these allegations, the rebels seeking his overthrow appeared poised for a major breakthrough.
And then it never happened. US public opinion was dead set against another intervention in the Middle East. Russia, one of Assad’s closest backers, managed to convince Damascus to cede its chemical weapons stockpile to a UN Security Council mandate. The Assad regime has reportedly been cooperating with UN inspectors as it goes about now eradicating its stockpile.
All the while, the civil war rages, hollowing out cities and scattering communities. The rebels — a loose coalition of militias at the best of times — have grown more fragmented, with rival Islamist and secular-leaning factions even clashing with each other. Peace talks set for Geneva early next year could not come sooner, but few are optimist of what they will achieve.