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20th January Current Affairs

Houthis and the war in Yemen

(GS-II: International Relations)

In News:

The Houthi rebels of Yemen have claimed responsibility for the suspected drone attack in Abu Dhabi recently, which killed three people, including two Indians.

What’s the issue?

One of the Arab world’s poorest countries, Yemen has been devastated by a near seven-year civil war, which started after Houthis captured the capital Sana’a, following which Saudi-led forces intervened and fought the rebels with the aim of ending Iranian influence in the region and restoring the former government.

The UAE joined the Saudi campaign in 2015 and has been deeply involved in the conflict ever since, despite announcing the formal withdrawal of its forces in 2019 and 2020.

Who are the Houthis?

Founded in the 1990s by Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, a member of Yemen’s Shia majority.

It is a group of Zaidi Shia Muslims who ruled a kingdom in the province for nearly 1,000 years.

The war in Yemen: Background:

The conflict has its roots in the Arab Spring of 2011, when an uprising forced the country’s long-time authoritarian president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to hand over power to his deputy, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

The political transition was supposed to bring stability to Yemen, one of the Middle East’s poorest nations, but President Hadi struggled to deal with various problems including militant attacks, corruption, food insecurity, and continuing loyalty of many military officers to Saleh.

Fighting began in 2014 when the Houthi Shia Muslim rebel movement took advantage of the new president’s weakness and seized control of northern Saada province and neighbouring areas.

Why is Saudi Arabia in Yemen?

Saudi Arabia interfered in Yemen after the Shia Houthi rebels captured Sana’a, the capital city, and the internationally recognised government of President Hadi moved to the country’s south.

The rapid rise of the Houthis in Yemen set off alarm bells in Saudi Arabia which saw them as Iranian proxies.

Saudi Arabia started a military campaign in March 2015, hoping for a quick victory against the Houthis. But the Houthis had dug in, refusing to leave despite Saudi Arabia’s aerial blitzkrieg.

With no effective allies on the ground and no way-out plan, the Saudi-led campaign went on with no tangible result. In the past six years, the Houthis have launched multiple attacks on Saudi cities from northern Yemen in retaliation for Saudi air strikes.

How bad is Yemen’s humanitarian situation?

Since the Saudi intervention in 2015, at least 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen, according to the WHO. The widespread damage caused to infrastructure by the coalition airstrikes and lack of supplies of food and medicines due to the blockade have pushed Yemen into a humanitarian catastrophe. About 12 million people are at the risk of starvation if aid doesn’t reach them fast. The country has also seen a massive cholera outbreak. A child dies every 10 minutes in Yemen from preventable causes, says UNICEF.

Israel- Palestine issue

(GS-II: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora)

In News:

India, at the UN Security Council open debate on the Middle East, has reiterated its firm and unwavering commitment to the peaceful resolution of the Palestine issue and supported a negotiated two-state solution.

Details:

Resolution 2334 was adopted by this Council to reaffirm the international community’s firm commitment to preventing the erosion of the two-state solution.

Israel- Palestine conflict– Historical Background:

The conflict has been ongoing for more than 100 years between Jews and Arabs over a piece of land between Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

It was between 1882 to 1948, when the Jews from around the world gathered in Palestine. This movement came to be known as

Then in 1917, Ottoman Empirefell after World War 1 and the UK got control over Palestine.

The land was inhabited by a Jewish minority and Arab majority.

The Balfour Declarationwas issued after Britain gained control with the aim of establishing a home for the Jews in Palestine. However during that period the Arabs were in majority in Palestine.

Jews favored the idea while the Palestinians rejected it. Almost 6 million Jews lost their lives in the Holocaustwhich also ignited further demand of a separate Jewish state.

Jews claimed Palestine to be their natural home while the Arabs too did not leave the land and claimed it.

The international community supported the Jews.

In 1947, the UN voted for Palestine to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states, with Jerusalem becoming an international city.

That plan was accepted by Jewish leaders but rejected by the Arab side and never implemented.

The creation of Israel and the ‘Catastrophe’:

It was in the year 1948 that Britain lifted its control over the area and Jews declared the creation of Israel. Although Palestinians objected, Jews did not back out which led to an armed conflict.

The neighboring Arabs also invaded and were thrashed by the Israeli troops. This made thousands of Palestinians flee their homes. This was called Al-Nakba, or the “Catastrophe”.

Israel had gained maximum control over the territory after this came to an end.

Jordanthen went on a war with Israel and seized control over a part of the land which was called the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza.

Jerusalem was divided between Israel in the West and Jordan in the East.However, no formal peace agreement was signed, each side continued to blame each other for the tension and the region saw more wars.

Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank, various areas of Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula in the year 1967.

Present scenario:

Israel still occupies the West Bank, and although it pulled out of Gaza the UN still regards that piece of land as part of occupied territory.

Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Tensions escalated in recent month over Israel’s actions concerning Al-Asqa mosque in East Jerusalem.

Where is the West Bank?

It is a landlocked territory near the Mediterranean coast of Western Asia, bordered by Jordan to the east and by the Green Line separating it and Israel on the south, west and north. The West Bank also contains a significant section of the western Dead Sea shore.

What are the disputed settlements here? Who lives there?

The West Bank was captured by Jordan after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Israel snatched it back during the Six Day War of 1967, and has occupied it ever since. During this war, the country defeated the combined forces of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.

It has built some 130 formal settlements in the West Bank, and a similar number of smaller, informal settlements have mushroomed over the last 20-25 years.

Over 4 lakh Israeli settlers — many of them religious Zionists who claim a Biblical birthright over this land — now live here, along with some 26 lakh Palestinians.

The territory is still a point of contention due to a large number of Palestinians who live there and hope to see the land become a part of their future state.

When Israel took control of the land in 1967 it allowed Jewish people to move in, but Palestinians consider the West Bank illegally occupied Palestinian land.

Are these settlements illegal?

The United Nations General Assembly, the UN Security Council, and the International Court of Justice have said that the West Bank settlements are violative of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Under the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), an occupying power “shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

Under the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court in 1998, such transfers constitute war crimes, as does the “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”.

Bacterial resistance to drugs

(GS-III: Biotechnology related issues)

In News:

A comprehensive estimate of the global impact of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), covering 204 countries and territories, was published recently in The Lancet.

Details:

The report is titled- Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance (GRAM) report.

Highlights:

27 million people died in 2019 as a direct result of AMR.

AMR is now a leading cause of death worldwide, higher than HIV/AIDS or malaria.

Besides, another 49.5 lakh deaths were indirectly caused by AMR (a drug-resistant infection was implicated, but resistance itself may or may not have been the direct cause of death).

Pathogens analyzed:

Of the 23 pathogens studied, drug resistance in six (E coli, S aureus, K pneumoniae, S pneumoniae, A baumannii, and P aeruginosa) led directly to 9.29 lakh deaths and was associated with 3.57 million.

One pathogen-drug combination – methicillin-resistant S aureus, or MRSA – directly caused more than 1 lakh deaths.

Resistance to two classes of antibiotics often considered the first line of defence against severe infections – fluoroquinolones and beta-lactam antibiotics – accounted for more than 70% of deaths caused by AMR.

What is Antibiotic resistance?

It is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.

Why is Antimicrobial resistance a silent threat of the future?

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives till date. Unfortunately, they are now becoming ineffective as many infectious diseases have ceased to respond to antibiotics.

Even though antimicrobial resistance is a natural process, the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.

A large number of infections such as tuberculosis, pneumonia and gonorrhea are becoming very difficult to treat since the antibiotics used for their treatment are becoming less effective.

Globally, use of antibiotics in animals is expected to increase by 67% by 2030 from 2010 levels. The resistance to antibiotics in germs is a man-made disaster.

Irresponsible use of antibiotics is rampant in human health, animal health, fisheries, and agriculture.

Complex surgeries such as organ transplantation and cardiac bypass might become difficult to undertake because of untreatable infectious complications that may result post-surgery.

Anti-defection law

(GS-II: Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions and basic structure)

In News:

Last week, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati called for a more stringent anti-defection law amid a string of politicians switching parties ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election beginning next month.

What’s the issue?

The practice of politicians deserting parties just ahead of elections is not unusual. And every time there are defections, the anti-defection law, which penalises individual lawmakers for switching parties, comes into the picture.

Relevance: the Tenth Schedule of the Indian Constitution:

Popularly known as the anti-defection law.

It specifies the circumstances under which changing of political parties by legislators invites action under the law.

It was added to the Constitution by the 52nd Amendment Act.

It includes situations in which an independent MLA, too, joins a party after the election.

The law covers three scenarios with respect to shifting of political parties by an MP or an MLA. These include:

When a member elected on the ticket of a political party “voluntarily gives up” membership of such a party or votes in the House against the wishes of the party.

When a legislator who has won his or her seat as an independent candidate joins a political party after the election.

In the above two cases, the legislator loses the seat in the legislature on changing (or joining) a party.

Relates to nominated MPs. In their case, the law gives them six months to join a political party, after being nominated. If they join a party after such time, they stand to lose their seat in the House.

Matters related to disqualification:

Under the anti-defection law, the power to decide the disqualification of an MP or MLA rests with the presiding officer of the legislature.

The law does not specify a time frame in which such a decision has to be made.

Last year, the Supreme Court observed that anti-defection cases should be decided by Speakers in three months’ time.

However, Legislators may change their party without the risk of disqualification in certain circumstances. Exceptions:

The law allows a party to merge with or into another party provided that at least two-thirds of its legislators are in favour of the merger.

On being elected as the presiding officer of the House, if a member, voluntarily gives up the membership of his party or rejoins it after he ceases to hold that office, he won’t be disqualified.

Loopholes in the law:

Those against say that voters elect individuals in the election and not parties and hence the Anti-Defection law is infructuous.

Can the courts intervene?

Courts have, in certain cases, intervened in the workings of a legislature.

In 1992, a five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court held that the anti-defection law proceedings before the Speaker are akin to a tribunal and, thus, can be placed under judicial review.

In January 2020, the Supreme Court asked Parliament to amend the Constitution to strip legislative assembly speakers of their exclusive power to decide whether legislators should be disqualified or not under the anti-defection law.

In March 2020, the Supreme Court removed Manipur minister Thounaojam Shyamkumar Singh, against whom disqualification petitions were pending before the speaker since 2017, from the state cabinet and restrained him “from entering the legislative assembly till further orders”.