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Suicide attacks down, Predator drone exits, and other overlooked stories in 2010

Here are some stories in 2010 that you may have overlooked, including a global decline in suicide attacks and the phasing out of the Predator drone.

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The drone (the military prefers UAV – "unmanned aerial vehicle") that has carried out most of the attacks is the General Atomics-designed Predator, equipped with Hellfire missiles and first used in a strike in Afghanistan on Feb. 4, 2002. It was the beginning of a new kind of warfare.

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The Predator is now giving way to the next generation of drone – the "Reaper," which is already in use: It flies faster and farther, and carries far more munitions and surveillance gear. There's debate about the ethics of battle by remote control, but it's getting easier all the time.

3 A decline in global hunger

The global recession continues. Ireland and Greece had to be bailed out by their wealthier neighbors. Portugal or even Spain may follow suit. In poorer nations like Egypt, the rising cost of food far outstripped wage growth or job creation. Drought in Russia, a major wheat producer, led to its banning grain exports, creating fear about global food supplies.

But it appears that the ranks of the chronically malnourished fell in 2010. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said in September that 2010 probably saw the first decline of malnourished people in 15 years.

Why? A number of poorer nations saw strong economic growth. The Inter­na­tional Monetary Fund estimates that the global economy grew 4.6 percent, after declining by 0.6 percent in 2009. And despite Russia's agricultural prices, other parts of the globe had bumper crops. US grain production hit a record in 2010.

To be sure, vast numbers of people are still hungry. The 10 percent decline in the "chronically malnourished" in 2010 leaves 925 million undernourished – still – and the number is higher than before the economic shock of 2008. The FAO warns that this year's gains are fragile.

4 Change in one-child China?

Many had expected this year to mark the end of China's 30-year-old "one child per family" policy. In September, however, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Council announced that China will stick with the policy for "decades."

Something is afoot. China has ended the requirement that parents must get a permit to have their first child, and for years it has generally tolerated two children or more in rural areas. Since the rules eased, analysts estimate that only about 35 percent of China's 1.3 billion people live in areas where it's enforced.

To be sure, China's estimated fertility rate per woman is 1.6 children, well below the 2.1 needed to keep a population stable, and there may be other factors reining in China's population. Some predict that up to 30 million Chinese men won't have brides available to them by 2020 because the policy spurred selective abortion of girls. Others worry about the economic effect the policy will have, given an aging population.

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