Prelims Current Affairs UPSC CSE -Sept Week 2
- Nilgiri Tahr
- Iodised salt consumption rankings
- INS Khanderi
- The India Nepal Petroleum Pipeline
- Multi Modal Terminal on Ganga
- Aerosols and drought severity
- Registration of steel and iron imports
- Two new species of ginger discovered in Nagaland
- Desertification of Banni Grasslands and Prosopis juliflora
- India’s Oil demand to rise
- National Animal Disease Control Programme
- Various initiatives of Ministry of Civil Aviation
- Man Portable Antitank Guided Missile
- Hindi Wikipedia blitz
- Pension Scheme for farmers and shopkeepers
- Naval variant of LCA Tejas
- Eradicating malaria by 2050
- AB 5 Bill: California
- Cryodrakon Boreas
- Toolbox to mitigate drought risk
- Eurasian Economic Forum
- Pangong Tso Lake
Person in News
- Mithali Raj
- Jack Ma
- In more good news for the State animal, the Nilgiri tahr, its sightings in the Mukurthi National Park have risen from 568 in 2018 to 612 this year.
- Officials said this was the second consecutive year that an increase in the population of the animal had been recorded in the park, meaning the population of the Nilgiri tahr, also known as the Nilgiri ibex, has risen by 132 since 2016.
- According to officials, the almost 8% increase in the population of the iconic animal in 2019 follows a similarly significant increase in its population in 2018.
- There was a decrease in tahr numbers in 2017, when a population of only 438 was recorded, down from 480 in 2016.
About the Nilgiri Tahr:
- The Nilgiri tahr(Nilgiritragus hylocrius) known locally as the Nilgiri ibex or simply ibex, is an ungulate that is endemic to the Nilgiri Hills and the southern portion of the Western Ghats in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala in Southern India.
- It is the state animal of Tamil Nadu.
- Despite its local name, it is more closely related to the sheep of the genus Ovisthan the ibex and wild goats of the genus Capra.
- The Nilgiri tahr inhabits the open montane grasslandhabitat of the South Western Ghats montane rain forests
- At elevations from 1,200 to 2,600 metres (3,900 to 8,500 ft), the forests open into large grasslands interspersed with pockets of stunted forests, locally known as sholas.
- These grassland habitats are surrounded by dense forests at the lower elevations.
- The Nilgiri tahrs formerly ranged over these grasslands in large herds, but hunting and poaching in the nineteenth century reduced their population.
Iodised Salt Consumption rankings
- Tamil Nadu has the lowest consumption of iodised salt despite being the third biggest producer of salt in the country, according to a first-of-its-kind national survey to measure the coverage of iodised salt.
- The study shows that 76.3% of Indian households consumed adequately iodised salt, which is salt with at least 15 parts per million of iodine.
- The five worst performers were Tamil Nadu (61.9%), Andhra Pradesh (63.9%), Rajasthan (65.5%), Odisha (65.8%) and Jharkhand (68.8%).
- The survey was conducted by Nutrition International in collaboration with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and the Indian Coalition for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).
- The survey tested the iodine content in samples of cooking salt from households to estimate the coverage of iodised salt.
- Iodine is a vital micro-nutrient for optimal mental and physical development of human beings.
- Deficiency of iodine can result in a range of disabilities and disorders such as goitre, hypothyroidism, cretinism, abortion, still births, mental retardation and psychomotor defects.
- Children born in iodine deficient areas may have up to 13.5 IQ points less than those born in iodine sufficient areas.
- The survey covered a total of 21,406 households in 29 States and 7 Union Territories in India. The fieldwork was undertaken between October 2018 and March 2019.
- Rajasthan, which is the second largest producer of salt, also figured among the five worst covered States.
- Gujarat produces 71% of salt in the country, followed by Rajasthan at 17% and Tamil Nadu at 11%. The rest of the country accounts for a mere 1% of salt produced.
- The northeastern States are doing very well with respect to iodised salt consumption at the household level because of the distance they have from the three salt producing centres — Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
- By and large most States get their salt from Gujarat and Rajasthan and because of the distance, it is sent by rail.
- This salt is strictly monitored by the Salt Commissioner’s office and if it is inadequately iodised, they don’t allot rakes.
- Secondly, salt-producing States have access to common (or non-iodised) salt and, therefore, they start consuming it since it is readily available.
- India made fortification of salt with iodine mandatory for direct human consumption in 1992.
- This was relaxed in 2000 and then reimposed in 2005. In 2011, the SC, too, mandated universal iodisation for the control of iodine deficiencies.
- The key recommendation of the study is to sustain the momentum so that iodine coverage does not fall below current levels.
- It also recommends that the States and the Centre work together to address the current gaps and look into issues that vary from one State to another.
- India’s depleted underwater combat arm will finally get a much-needed boost when INS Khanderi, the second of the six French-origin Scorpene diesel-electric submarines under construction at Mazagon Docks, is commissioned later this month.
- The long-delayed 1,565-tonne submarine will follow INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene submarine that was commissioned in December 2017.
- The day will also witness the “launch” of the first of the seven stealth frigates slated for construction under Project-17A as well as inauguration of an aircraft carrier dry dock at the naval dockyard in Mumbai.
- The Scorpene submarine programme called Project-75 is running over five years behind schedule, with the overall cost now also escalating to over Rs 25,700 crore.
- The remaining four submarines will be commissioned at regular intervals by 2022-2023, say officials.
- The Navy currently has just 13 old conventional submarines, only half of them operational at any given time, apart from INS Kalvari and two nuclear-powered submarines in INS Chakra and INS Arihant.
- The commissioning of INS Khanderi has been delayed by over a year since the Navy insisted it would induct the vessel only after all the glitches and problems that came to the fore during the trials were fully rectified by MDL and its French technology partner- the Naval Group.
- The submarine, which has a speed of 20 knots, is equipped with sea-skimming SM-39 Exocet missiles and torpedoes to undertake stealthy offensive operations against enemy warships.
- India needs at least 18 diesel-electric and six nuclearpowered attack submarines (SSNs) as well as four SSBNs (nuclear submarines armed with long-range ballistic missiles) to guard against the two-front threat scenario from China and Pakistan as well as achieve credible nuclear deterrence.
- The commissioning of INS Khanderi has been delayed by over a year
The India-Nepal petroleum pipeline
From Barauni to Nepal:
- The pipeline will transport fuel from Barauni refinery in Bihar’s Begusaraidistrict to Amalekhgunj in southeastern Nepal, situated across the border from Raxaul in East Champaran district.
- The 69-km pipeline will drastically reduce the cost of transporting fuel to landlocked Nepal from India.
- The Amalekhgunj fuel depot will have the capacity to store up to 16,000 kilolitres of petroleum products.
- The Motihari-Amalekhgunj pipeline project was first proposed in 1996, but progress was slow.
- Things began to move after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Kathmandu in 2014.
- The following year, the two governments signed an agreement to execute the project; however, political tensions, including India’s alleged “economic blockade” of Nepal, acted as roadblocks in the implementation.
- In 2017, state-owned Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) signed a petroleum trade agreement to supply about 1.3 million tonnes of fuel annually to Nepal with a promise to double the volume by 2020.
- In July, the two countries successfully concluded a “testing transfer” through the oil pipeline.
Costs and Benefits:
- The project was initially estimated to cost Rs 275 crore, of which India was to bear Rs 200 crore.
- Subsequently, the NOC said the total project cost had escalated to almost Rs 325 crore.
Multi Modal Terminal on Ganga
- The Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation India’s second riverine Multi Modal terminal built at Sahibganj in Jharkhand recently.
- It is built at a cost of Rs 290 crores in a record time of about two years,
- This is the second of the three Multi Modal Terminals being constructed on river Ganga under Jal Marg Vikas Project (JMVP).
- Earlier, in November, 2018 the Prime Minister had inaugurated the MMT at Varanasi.
- The Multi-Modal terminal at Sahibganj will open up industries of Jharkhand and Bihar to the global market and provide Indo-Nepal cargo connectivity through waterways route.
- It will play an important role in transportation of domestic coal from the local mines in Rajmahal area to various thermal power plants located along NW-1.
- Other than coal, stone chips, fertilisers, cement and sugar are other commodities expected to be transported through the terminal.
- The multi-modal terminal will also help to create direct employment of about 600 people and indirect employment of about 3000 people in the region.
- The convergence of Road-Rail-River Transport at Sahibganj through the new multi-modal terminal will connect this part of the hinterland to Kolkata, Haldia and further to the Bay of Bengal.
- The MMTs are being built as part of the Jal Marg Vikas Project that aims to develop the stretch of River Ganga between Varanasi to Haldia for navigation of large vessels upto1500-2000 tonnes weight, by maintaining a drought of 2-3 metres in this stretch of the river and setting up other systems required for safe navigation.
- The objective is to promote inland waterways as a cheaper and more environment friendly means of transport, especially for cargo movement. Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the project Implementing Agency.
Aerosols and drought severity
- El Niño weakens the monsoon by transporting aerosols from lower altitudes in East Asian region up and into the higher altitudes, finds a new study
- A team of atmospheric scientists from India, USA and Canada have found that aerosols in the atmosphere can increase the severity of droughts over the Indian subcontinent by as much as 17 per cent during El Niño years.
- The team led by Suvarna S Fadnavis of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune reported this in a new study published in Scientific Reports.
- The El Niño phenomenon, which occurs when there is abnormal warming over the Pacific Ocean, is already considered as a deterrent for the Indian monsoon on the grounds that it blocks the flow of moisture bearing winds from the oceans to the Indian landmass.
- The new study has found that it further weakens the monsoon by transporting aerosols from the lower altitudes in East Asian region up and into the higher altitudes (12-18 km) forming an aerosol layer called Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer (ATAL) over South Asian region.
- It remains hanging over there during monsoon. The thickening of this aerosol layer results in reduction in the amount of solar energy reaching the earth thus weakening the monsoon circulation and increasing the severity of drought conditions.
- Noting that in recent decades there has been an increase in the frequency of El Nino events and the frequency of droughts over India, the researchers warned against any further increase in industrial emissions and thus aerosols from both East and South Asia.
- It can lead to a wider and thicker aerosol layer in the upper troposphere and potentially further amplify the severity of droughts.
- When India is already vulnerable to hydrological and weather extremes, the combined effect of El Nino and aerosols in increasing drought severity will only subject India to more hydrological stress, while affecting agriculture and the livelihood of millions of people.
- Reducing aerosol emissions is not only essential for improving air quality, but also for reducing drought conditions and avoiding negative consequences for millions of people living in the Indian subcontinent.
Registration of steel and iron imports
- In a bid to clamp down on the dumping of iron and steel imports, and also the over-and under-invoicing of these products, the government has removed these items from the ‘free’ category and has made it mandatory for importers to apply in advance for a registration of their import.
- The new system will come into effect from November 1.
- This comes at a time when India has been at the receiving end of large amounts of steel dumping due to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China.
- According to a notification issued by the Directorate General of Foreign Trade, the import of 284 item lines under the steel and iron category has been re-designated from ‘free’ to ‘free subject to compulsory registration under Steel Import Monitoring System’.
- This Steel Import Monitoring System (SIMS) will require the importer to submit advance information on an online portal for the import of the items mentioned in the notification and obtain an automatic registration number.
- This number can be obtained by paying a minimum fee of ₹500 and maximum of ₹1 lakh, depending on the value of the imports.
- The importer can apply for registration not earlier than 60 days before and not later than 15 days before the expected date of arrival of the import, and the registration number will remain valid for 75 days.
- This import-export data will bring transparency and will help solve the issue of over-invoicing and under-invoicing
Two new species of ginger discovered in Nagaland
- Scientists from the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have discovered two new species of Zingiber, commonly referred to as ginger, in Nagaland.
- While Zingiber perenense has been discovered from the Peren district of Nagaland, Zingiber dimapurense was found in the Dimapur district of the State.
- Of the two species, Zingiber dimapurense is taller in size, with leafy shoots measuring 90-120 cm high, whereas the leafy shoots of Zingiber perenense reach up to 70 cm in height.
- The type specimens of Zingiber perenense were collected in September 2017, when botanists were working on the ‘State flora of Nagaland’ in the Peren district.
Desertification of Banni Grasslands and Prosopis juliflora
- Introduction of a non-native plant, Prosopis juliflora, in the region on the recommendation of the third Planning Commission to fight salinity, worsened the ecology and increased desertification.
- The Banni grasslandsused to look like an oasis in Kutch: The district’s usual dry and sandy terrain would transform into a green carpet. Not anymore.
- It is still referred to as Asia’s finest natural grassland, but all that’s left in Banni are a few green patches amid parched land.
- The locals noted that after every two good rainfall years, a drought year used to follow and they adapted accordingly.
- However, the last five to six years, especially 2017 and 2018 have seen extreme dry conditions, which have left Banni with almost no grass.
- The area was, in fact, covered by dense forests millennia ago.
- There have been climatic changes since then along with which the land has also changed.
- Several volcanic eruptions too contributed to the change and, more recently, a massive earthquake in the 1800s cleared a lot of forest.
- At Banni, while erratic rainfall has been a major reason for desertification, experts also blame anthropogenic reasons.
A non-native plant
- In 1960-61, the government introduced Prosopis juliflora — a non-native plant — in the region on the recommendation of the Planning Commission to fight salinity and to stop the advancement of the Rann of the Kutch on the northern fringes of Banni.
- The seeds were thrown from a helicopter over 31,550 ha.
- It was done without evaluating the ecological and socio-economic consequences, according to a report by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.
- The plant thrived in the non-saline and low saline soils and invaded the pristine grasslands of Kutch.
- In 1997, only six per cent area was under P juliflora; by 2009, it had covered 33 per cent; and by 2015, some 54 per cent.
- If experts are to be believed, grazing practices over time have contributed significantly to the degradation.
- Overgrazing essentially means that an animal comes and feeds on the grass before the seed is produced which leads to gradual natural reduction of seed bank in the area.
- The grass is divided into two parts: basal is called metabolic reserve and upper is epical reserve.
- An animal can graze till epical reserve safely.
- During overgrazing, the animal feeds on metabolic reserve and once it touches it, the plant dies.
- When that happens, land is exposed to soil erosion, eventually leading to desertification.
- Encroachment of grassland for agricultural activities by some Maldharis themselves served as another blow.
- As their main livelihood of livestock suffered, some of them shifted to experimenting growing agricultural crops, which left the land barren
India’s Oil Demand to rise
- India’s oil demand will rise at the fastest pace globally this year and the next, even as its economic expansion has slowed down, oil producers according to cartel OPEC.
- In its monthly ‘World Oil Demand’ report, OPEC said India’s oil demand is projected to rise by 3.21% to 4.88 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2019 from 4.73 mb/d in the previous year.
- In 2020, it will further rise by 3.36% to 5.05 mb/d.
- This outpaces China’s oil demand growth of 2.73% in 2019 and 2.37% in 2020.
U.S. is biggest consumer
- China, however, is the world’s second-biggest oil consumer at 13.06 mb/d in 2019, behind only the U.S. whose consumption is projected at 20.94 mb/d.
- World oil demand in 2019 is expected to grow by 1.02 mb/d, which is 0.08 mb/d lower than the previous projection.
National Animal Disease Control Programme
Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently launched the National Animal Disease control Programme (NADCP), aimed at eradicating foot and mouth disease (FMD) and brucellosis in livestock.
Livestock of India:
- India has the world’s largest livestock population of 125-crore plus heads, but cattle productivity is low, and animal diseases are a major concern.
- The diseases have resulted in some overseas markets being shut to Indian dairy and meat products, and prevented the industry from realising its income potential.
- According to a government release, the programme aims to vaccinate over 500 million livestock heads, including cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats and pigs, against FMD, and some 36 million female bovine calves annually against brucellosis.
- The programme has received 100% funding from the Centre, amounting to Rs 12,652 crore for five years until 2024.
- The NADCP aims to control these two diseases by 2025, and to eradicate them by 2030.
- It is a highly infectious viral disease of cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and other cloven-hooved ruminants.
- FMD is generally not fatal in adult animals but leaves them severely weakened, and results in a drastically reduced production of milk and can, therefore, be financially ruinous for dairy farmers.
- Infected animals get a fever, sores in their mouth, on their teats, and between their hooves.
- FMD spreads through excretions and secretions; infected animals also exhale the virus.
- According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the intergovernmental organisation responsible for improving animal health worldwide, FMD is endemic in several parts of Asia, most of Africa, and the Middle East.
- Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Central and North America, continental Western Europe, and most Latin American countries are FMD-free.
- Measures to stop outbreaks and check FMD transmission include controlled introduction of new animals into existing herds, regular cleaning and disinfection of livestock areas, monitoring and reporting of illness, and use of effective vaccination strategies.
- This is a zoonotic disease that, according to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying, is endemic in most parts of the country.
- Brucellosis causes early abortions in animals, and prevents the addition of new calves to the animal population.
- The control the disease, the World Health Organisation recommends the vaccination of cattle and, in some cases, testing and culling.
- The government told Parliament in July that the Brucellosis Control Programme component of the NADCP envisages 100% vaccination coverage of female cattle and buffalo calves (4-8 months of age) once in their lifetimes.
Various initiatives of Ministry of Civil Aviation
- India’s tallest Air Traffic Control tower was inaugurated earlier this month at the Indira Gandhi International Airport which will ensure up-scaled services and systems for efficient, smooth and uninterrupted air traffic management.
- The airports of Ahmedabad, Lucknow and Mangaluru have been awarded to a private concessionaire through Public Private Partnership (PPP) to bring efficiency in delivery, expertise, enterprise and professionalism apart from harnessing the needed investments in the public sector.
- ‘Aviation Jobs’ is a unique web-based portal launched by Ministry of Civil Aviation, which seeks to bring together job seekers and prospective employers in the Indian civil aviation sector.
- It is a common platform for enabling candidates to register their job interests across various sub-sectors.
- At the same time it facilitates sourcing of information about candidates available in the market by prospective employers with a view to improve prospects for employment or re-employment in the civil aviation ecosystem.
- DigiSky–An online portal to regulate the entire gamut of activities relating to governance and operation of Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS)/Unmanned Aircraft Vehicles (UAVs)/drones has been made operational. While ensuring safety and security in drone operations, it will also help in promotion of drone technologies.
- Esahaj–100% of security clearances pertaining to the Ministry have been made online on Esahaj online portal launched by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The portal is operational for granting clearances in respect of 24 categories.
- DigiYatra –Trial for rollout of DigiYatra initiative has been started at Bangalore and Hyderabad airports. The initiative envisages seamless and hassle free passenger travel using bio metric technologies to improve passenger experience, reduce queue waiting time as passengers can walk through e-gates by using advanced security solutions. It will remove redundancies at check points and enhance resource utilization.
Man Portable Antitank Guided Missile
- In a major boost for Indian Army, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) successfully flight tested indigenously developed low weight, fire and forget Man Portable Antitank Guided Missile (MPATGM) in the ranges of Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh.
- The missile was launched from a man portable Tripod launcher and the target was mimicking a functional tank.
- The missile hit the target in top attack mode and destroyed it with precision. All the mission objectives were met.
- This is the third series of successful testing of MPATGM. The missile is incorporated with state-of-the-art Infrared Imaging Seeker along with advanced avionics.
- The test paves the way for the Army to have developed 3rdgeneration man portable Anti-Tank Guided Missile indigenously.
Hindi Wikipedia blitz
- Concerned that there isn’t sufficient representation of scientific topics on Wikipedia in Indian languages other than English, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) is planning to translate — via a combination of artificial intelligence-based software, translators and scientists — scores of articles into Hindi.
- There are about 50 lakh Wikipedia articles in English and only 125,000 comparable ones in Hindi, according to the DST, the nodal agency that funds civilian science research.
- The Wikipedia project will first involve translating a large number of science-based wikis and eventually move on to creating original content in Indian languages.
- Hindi would be the beginning but it would branch out to other languages, Mr. Sharma added.
- Machine learning would be used to train software to rapidly translate large tracts of text and for creating new articles, and the services of scientists as well as subject experts would be employed.
- The choice of articles to translate would be the most popular science articles.
- According to an entry in Wikipedia on Hindi language entries, the Hindi Wikipedia had 55,000 unique categories.
- The maximum number of articles were in the “Nature” (27%) and “Science” (16%) category.
- In Hindi Wikipedia, articles related to ‘Business and People’ had the highest average quality.
Pension scheme for farmers & shopkeepers
- Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched ambitious pension schemes for farmers, shopkeepers and self-employed persons.
- The ‘Pradhan Mantri Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana’ will help small and marginal farmers by providing a minimum pension of ₹3,000 per month, on attaining the age of 60.
- Farmers who are currently between 18 and 40 years of age can apply for the scheme.
- The ‘Pradhan Mantri Laghu Vyapari Maan Dhan Yojana’, a pension scheme for shopkeepers and retail traders was also launched.
- Another ‘Swarojgar’ pension scheme was also rolled out for self-employed persons. Under both the schemes, beneficiaries between 18 and 40 years will get ₹3,000 per month after completing 60 years of age.
- Modi also inaugurated a newly constructed building of Jharkhand Assembly at Kute gram in Jharkhand.
- The three-storey building has been constructed at a cost of ₹465 crore. It is dubbed as the first paperless Assembly in the country.
Naval variant of LCA Tejas
- The naval variant of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas made a successful short arrested landing on the Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) in Goa recently.
- This is a big step forward in the delayed project for the LCA to eventually operate from an aircraft carrier.
- The LCA made its maiden successful trap on the SBTF with the tail hook of the aircraft connecting with the arrestor wire on the deck and coming to halt within a short distance.
- The naval LCA made its maiden flight in April 2012 and two prototypes have been flying as part of the development.
- The first prototype (NP1) made a successful first flight in 2014.
- The aircraft, Naval Prototype (NP)-1, is a twin seater.
Tough landing gears
- The SBTF, which replicates the flight deck of an aircraft carrier was specifically built to train naval pilots in the complex manoeuvres of landing on the short flight deck of an aircraft carrier before they move on to the actual carrier.
- The naval LCA is designed with stronger landing gears to absorb forces exerted by the ski jump ramp during take-off, to be airborne within 200 m and land within 100 m, as against 1,000 m required for normal runways.
- Its special flight control law mode allows hands-free take-off, relieving the pilot workload, as the aircraft leaps from the ramp and automatically puts the aircraft in an ascending trajectory.
- The Navy is currently operating Russian MiG-29K fighters from INS Vikramaditya.
- They will also fly from the first Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Vikrant once it enters service.
Eradicating malaria by 2050
A report in The Lancet concludes that it is possible to eradicate malaria as early as 2050 — or within a generation — with the right strategies and sufficient funding. The report, published by The Lancet Commission on malaria eradication, used existing evidence with new epidemiological and financial analyses.
Lower incidence, many cases
- Since 2000, global malaria incidence and death rates declined by 36 and 60 per cent, respectively.
- In 2017, 86 countries reported 219 million cases and 4,35,000 malaria deaths, down from 262 million cases and 8,39,000 deaths in 2000.
- Today, more than half of the world’s countries are malaria-free.
- However, there are over 200 million cases of malaria reported each year, claiming nearly half a million lives.
- Malaria cases are rising in 55 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
- There is also inequity, with 29 countries (27 in Africa) accounting for the large majority of new cases and 85 per cent of global deaths in 2017.
- Two countries (Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo) account for 36 per cent of global cases.
- On the other hand, 38 countries had incidences of fewer than ten cases per 1,000 population in 2017 and reported just 5% of total malaria deaths.
Modelling a world free from malaria
- The report used new modelling to estimate plausible scenarios for the distribution and intensity of malaria in 2030 and 2050.
- Analyses indicate that socioeconomic and environmental trends, together with improved coverage of malaria interventions, will create a world in 2050 with malaria persisting in pockets of low-level transmission in equatorial Africa.
- To achieve eradication by 2050, the report identifies three ways to accelerate the decline in malaria cases.
- First, the world must improve implementation of malaria control programnes.
- Second, they must develop and roll out innovative new tools to overcome the biological challenges to eradication.
- Third, malaria-endemic countries and donors must provide the financial investment needed.
AB 5 Bill: California
- In a major legislative development that could have a profound impact on the gig economy, California’s State Senate passed, a Bill requiring ride hailing companies like Uber and Lyft to treat their contract workers as employees.
- The Bill, which is likely to pass the State Assembly and get the Governor’s signature to become law, will enhance workers’ rights, increase costs for gig economy companies and potentially have knock-on effects in other States.
- The Bill, known as AB 5, is a consequence of a California Supreme Court 2018 ruling on employee status and could cost Uber and Lyft $3,625 per driver as per a report from Barclays, released in June.
- Overall, the legislative changes could cost Uber $500 million and Lyft $290 million, by giving their workers paid leave, minimum wages, health benefits, collective bargaining rights and so forth.
- Uber and Lyft have been opposed to the Bill and had, on August 29, announced a $60 million fund to support a 2020 State ballot measure — a mechanism that asks eligible voters whether they approve or reject a proposed law.
- The companies’ drivers work as independent contractors and do not get paid medical leave, minimum wage and other benefits that employees are entitled to.
- Uber and Lyft have said that their ballot measure would seek to maintain drivers in independent contractor status but give them some protections and rights as regards minimum wage, collective bargaining and health care.
- DoorDash — a food delivery company — said it would contribute $30 million to the fund.
- Scientists recently unveiled a new species of pterosaur, the plane-sized reptiles that lorded over primeval skies above T-rex, Triceratops and other dinosaurs of the late Cretaceous.
- With a wingspan of 10 m and weighing 250 kg, Cryodrakon boreas rivals another pterosaur as the largest flying animal of all time, researchers reported in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.
- Its remains were first discovered more than 30 years ago in Alberta, Canada, yet elicited scant excitement because of the misclassification.
- But a closer look at the fossil remains left no doubt that a new species had been discovered.
- Like other winged reptiles living at the same time, about 77 million years ago, C. boreas was carnivorous and probably fed on lizards, small mammals and even baby dinosaurs.
Toolbox to mitigate drought risk
- The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) recently launched a ‘drought toolbox’, a kind of knowledge bank that may be used by vulnerable countries, including India, to reduce drought risk through better preparation and effective responses.
- Unveiled on sidelines of its ongoing conference (COP14) in Greater Noida, the ‘toolbox’ is basically a web page that provides the stakeholders easy access to case studies and other resources to support action on drought preparedness with the aim of boosting the resilience of people and the ecosystems to such conditions.
- The drought toolbox will help countries frame or finetune their respective national drought policies in due course based on monitoring, forecast, and early warning.
- The ‘drought toolbox’ provides solutions organised in three key pillars: monitoring and early warning systems, vulnerability and risk assessment, and risk mitigation.
- A range of methods, resources, technical instruments, and guidance documents are labelled as ‘tools’ or ‘solutions’.
Eurasian Economic Forum
India recently skipped a meeting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), which was organised by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) at Xi’an in China. India has been a member of the SCO since 2017.
The EAEU and the Belt and Road Initiative
- In November 2018, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met in Beijing for the 23rd annual meeting between Chinese and Russian heads of government, and the two sides agreed to enhance trade and economic ties.
- After the meeting, a press release by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that China would “synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union.”
The Belt and Road Initiative and India’s opposition
- The BRI is a mammoth infrastructure project unveiled by China in 2017, which plans to connect the three continents of Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- The ‘Belt’ part refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt, consisting of three overland routes.
- First, a link between China, Central Asia, Russia and Europe. Second, a link through Central Asia and West Asia linking China with the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea.
- And third, a connection from China to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean.
- The ‘Road’ part refers to the 21st century Maritime Silk Road, creating maritime trade channels from China through the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific.
- The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, an important part of the BRI, passes through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
- In May 2017, India strongly opposed the BRI, and the Ministry of External Affairs said: “No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The SCO, and India’s stance on the BRI at the Bishkek summit
- The SCO, an intergovernmental body for security and economic coo
peration in the Eurasian region, was formed in 2001 by the ‘Shanghai Five’ (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan), in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.
- Uzbekistan joined the SCO in 2001, with India and Pakistan following suit in 2017.
- The SCO has traditionally prioritised on counter-terrorism, listing terrorism, separatism and extremism as “the three evils”.
- However, since its formation, the SCO’s domain has expanded to include subjects such as culture and economics.
- Since the BRI’s launch in 2017, India has remained firm on not singing it off at the SCO’s annual summits in 2018 and 2019.
- The summit’s declarations of both years reflected the endorsement of the controversial project by all members but India.
At least three lots of MDH sambar masala were recalled from retail stores in California recently after tests by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed positive for salmonella.
What is Salmonella?
- Salmonella is a group of bacteria that can cause food-borne illnesses known as salmonellosis.
- The existence of the pathogen has been known since at least 1880, but it came to be called Salmonella from around 1900, after the veterinary pathologist and surgeon Daniel Elmer Salmon, who headed the US Department of Agriculture at the time one of the depatment’s scientists discovered what would be later known as Salmonella enterica.
- According to estimates by the US Centers for Disease Control and Preve
ntion (CDC), Salmonella causes 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalisations and about 450 deaths in the United States every year.
- In a majority of these cases — roughly 1 million — food is the source of the illness.
- Individuals who develop salmonellosis may show symptoms such as nausea, diarrhoea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after contracting the infection. Usually, the illness lasts for 4-7 days, and most people recover without treatment.
- In some cases the diarrhoea is severe, and there is risk of it spreading from the intestines to the bloodstream and to other parts of the body.
- In such cases, the infection (enteric fever) may result in death if the infected individual is not treated with antibiotics on time.
- According to the CDC, children under the age of 5 are at highest risk for Salmonella infection.
- Older adults and people with weakened immune systems too, are likely to have severe infections.
Stand of WHO
- The World Health Organisation (WHO) identifies Salmonella as one of four key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases.
- Diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from unsafe food, the WHO says, with 550 million people falling ill each year, including 220 million children under the age of 5 years.
- Every year almost 1 in 10 people fall ill and 33 million of healthy life years are lost due to foodborne diseases, according to the WHO.
- Salmonella bacteria are widely distributed in domestic and wild animals.
- They are prevalent in food animals such as poultry, pigs, and cattle, as well as in pets, including cats, dogs, birds, and turtles.
- The WHO says Salmonella can pass through the entire food chain from animal feed, primary production, and all the way to households or food-service establishments and institutions.
- “Salmonellosis in humans is generally contracted through the consumption of contaminated food of animal origin (mainly eggs, meat, poultry, and milk), although other foods, including green vegetables contaminated by manure, have been implicated in its transmission. Person-to-person transmission can also occur through the faecal-oral route,” the WHO says.
- Water has been discovered for the first time in the atmosphere of an exoplanet with earth-like temperatures that could support life.
- Eight times the mass of earth and twice as big, K2-18b orbits in its star’s “habitable zone” at a distance — neither too far nor too close — where water can exist in liquid form, it has been reported in the journal Nature Astronomy.
- Of the more than 4,000 exoplanets detected to date, this is the first known to combine a rocky surface and an atmosphere with water.
- Most exoplanets with atmospheres are giant balls of gas, and the handful of rocky planets for which data is available seem to have no atmosphere at all.
- Discovered in 2015, K2-18b is one of hundreds of so-called “super-earths” — planets with less than ten times the mass of ours — spotted by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft.
- Working with spectroscopic data captured in 2016 and 2017 by the Hubble Space Telescope, Mr. Tsiaras and his team used open-source algorithms to analyse the starlight filtered through K2-18b’s atmosphere.
- They found the unmistakable signature of water vapour.
- Exactly how much remains uncertain, but computer modelling suggested concentrations between 0.1 and 50 %.
- By comparison, the percentage of water vapour in earth’s atmosphere varies between 0.2% above the poles, and up to 4% in the tropics.
- K2-18b orbits a red dwarf star about 110 light years distant — a million billion kilometres — in the Leo constellation of the Milky Way.
Pangong Tso lake
Indian and Chinese soldiers had a heated exchange in Ladakh near the Pangong Tso lake recently. However, the issue has now been resolved.
- The report said the exchange happened after Chinese Army personnel objected to patrolling by Indian soldiers.
- Differing perceptions about the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was responsible for the incident, the PTI report said, quoting unnamed Army sources.
- The incident recalls a similar incident almost exactly two years ago, in the same area in Eastern Ladakh. Differing perceptions of where exactly the LAC lies has often been the reason for such incidents.
The area around Pangong Tso, the long, thin Himalayan lake that was made famous by Aamir Khan’s film 3 Idiots, is contested between the two countries.
The 2017 Incident
- On August 19, 2017, a video was posted online that appeared to be visual confirmation of reports of an alleged scuffle that had taken place a few days earlier between Indian and Chinese soldiers on the banks of Pangong lake.
- The video showed the two sides kicking and punching, throwing stones, using sticks and rods against each other.
- In the normal course, the two patrols, after coming face to face, would have been expected to engage in what is called a “banner drill”, displaying a banner asking the other side to vacate its territory.
- Such a drill might last a few minutes to an hour — but barring some occasional jostling, the two sides would disengage quietly.
- The fact that the Chinese chose to initiate violence against the Indians was at the time suspected to have been linked to the state of heightened tensions between the two armies due to the then ongoing standoff at Doklam on the Sikkim border.
- In the Ladakhi language, Pangong means extensive concavity, and Tso is lake in Tibetan. Pangong Tso is a long narrow, deep, endorheic (landlocked) lake situated at a height of more than 14,000 ft in the Ladakh Himalayas.
- The western end of Pangong Tso lies 54 km to the southeast of Leh.
- The 135 km-long lake sprawls over 604 sq km in the shape of a boomerang, and is 6 km wide at its broadest point.
- The brackish water lake freezes over in winter, and becomes ideal for ice skating and polo.
- The legendary 19th century Dogra general Zorawar Singh is said to have trained his soldiers and horses on the frozen Pangong lake before invading Tibet.
- The LAC cuts through the lake, but India and China do not agree on its exact location.
- As things stand, a 45 km-long western portion of the lake is in Indian control, while the rest is under China’s control.
- Most of the clashes between the two armies occur in the disputed portion of the lake.
- By itself, the lake does not have major tactical significance.
- But it lies in the path of the Chushul approach, one of the main approaches that China can use for an offensive into Indian-held territory.
- Indian assessments show that a major Chinese offensive, if it comes, will flow across both the north and south of the lake.
- During the 1962 war, this was where China launched its main offensive — the Indian Army fought heroically at Rezang La, the mountain pass on the southeastern approach to Chushul valley, where the Ahir Company of 13 Kumaon led by Maj
- Not far away, to the north of the lake, is the Army’s Dhan Singh Thapa post, named after Maj. Dhan Singh Thapa who was awarded the country’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra. Maj.
- Thapa and his platoon were manning Sirijap-1 outpost which was essential for the defence of Chushul airfield.
- The award was announced posthumously for Maj. Thapa, as reflected in the citation, but he was subsequently discovered to have been taken prisoner by the Chinese.
- He rejoined his unit after being released from the PoW camp.
- Over the years, the Chinese have built motorable roads along their banks of the Pangong Tso.
- At the People’s Liberation Army’s Huangyangtan base at Minningzhen, southwest of Yinchuan, the capital of China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, stands a massive to-scale model of this disputed area in Aksai Chin.
- It points to the importance accorded by the Chinese to the area.
- The difference in perception over where the LAC lies on the northern bank of the lake, makes this contested terrain.
- In 1999, when the Army unit from the area was moved to Kargil for Operation Vijay, China took the opportunity to build 5 km of road inside Indian territory along the lake’s bank.
- The August 2017 skirmish took place in this area.
- The 1999 road added to the extensive network of roads built by the Chinese in the area, which connect with each other and to the G219 Karakoram Highway.
- From one of these roads, Chinese positions physically overlook Indian positions on the northern tip of the Pangong lake.
- The mountains on the lake’s northern bank jut forward in major spurs, which the Army calls “fingers”.
- India claims that the LAC is coterminous with Finger 8.
- On the water, the Chinese had a major advantage until a few years ago, but India purchased better boats some seven years ago, leading to a quicker and more aggressive response.
- Although there are well-established drills for disengagement of patrol boats of both sides, the confrontations on the waters have led to tense situations in the past few years.
- The induction of high-speed boats has ostensibly provoked the Chinese, who have responded by increasing the number of transgressions in this area in recent years.
PERSON IN NEWS
- Mithali Raj has retired from T20 Internationals.
- The former India T20 captain announced that she wanted to focus on the 2021 ODI World Cup.
- Mithali Raj was thefirst Indian cricketer to reach the landmark of 2000 T20I runs.
- Mithali Raj had captained India in 32 T20Is, including three women’s T20 World Cups in 2012 (Sri Lanka), 2014 (Bangladesh) and 2016 (India).
- Mithali Raj had also captained the Indian side when India played itsfirst-ever women’s T20 International in Derby in 2006.
- In a press release issued by the BCCI, Mithali Raj stated that she wished to retire from T20Is after representing India in T20 Internationals since 2006 to focus her energies on preparing herself for the 2021 One Day World Cup.
- Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma will step down from his position on September 10, 2019.
- Jack Ma’s retirement will mark the end of an era for Alibaba and mark a new beginning.
- Daniel Zhang, Alibaba’s CEO, will replace Jack Ma as Executive Chairman of the group.
- Jack Ma, had co-founded Alibaba in 1999 and under his leadership, the company grew up to become one of Asia’s most valuable listed company.
- The current market capitalization of Alibaba is around $460 billion.
- Jack Ma had announced his decision to retire from the Chairman position in September 2018.
- He had handpicked Daniel Zhang as his successor. It is rare for a founder of such a big tech firm to retire so early.
- Jack Ma planned to retire on his 55th birthday.
- Alibaba is the world’s largest retailer and e-commerce company and one of the largest Internet and AI companies.
- It is also one of the world’s biggest venture capital firms and investment corporations in the world.
- The company hosts the largest online marketplace, Alibaba and Taobao and Tmall marketplaces.
- The online sales and profits of Alibaba have surpassed all US retailers including Amazon, Walmart and eBay combined since 2015.
- Alibaba employs over 100,000 people and has now expanded into financial services, cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
- It is also expanding into the media industry.
- Recently, Alibaba announced investments worth $2.7 billion in luxury goods retail platform Kaola and a music streaming firm.
- The move demonstrates the firm’s flexibility in adopting new strategies.
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