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23 Feb Current Affairs

Super-Efficient Air Conditioning programme

In News:

Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL) has launched its Super-Efficient Air Conditioning Programme for residential and institutional consumers in the BSES area.

Super-Efficient Air Conditioning Programme- key facts:

Under the programme, Super-Efficient Air Conditioners are distributed. They are 40% more efficient than, but priced comparably with, the 3-star ACs currently available in the market (ISEER 3.8).

EESL is working towards making this programme and its benefits available to all consumers across the nation with the other DISCOMs likely to partner with EESL in future.

Significance and benefits of the programme:

Besides promoting energy efficiency, the Super-Efficient AC programme will also help to reduce the peak power demand in South and West Delhi by 22MW, enabling the two organisations to harness synergies to promote energy security and sustainability.

The programme directly addresses the prospect of the nearly four-fold increase in energy consumption from buildings and cooling appliances in India by 2032, while also addressing goals of India’s Cooling Action Plan and Hydrochlorofluorocarbon Phase Out Management Plan, enabling achievement of India’s targets under the Kigali and Paris Agreements.

Funding:

EESL’s investment in the programme is partially supported by a grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Further, Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing necessary grant support and loan while United Nations Environment (UNEP) is providing technical assistance support to the Super-Efficient AC programme.

About GEF:

GEF is an independent financing mechanism that was established on the eve of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to address global environmental issues. The GEF is an international partnership of 183 countries, international institutions, civil society organizations and the private sector.

The World Bank serves as the GEF Trustee, administering the GEF Trust Fund.

It is a FINANCIAL MECHANISM for five major international environmental conventions: the Minamata Convention on Mercury, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

All India Citizens Survey of Police Services

In News:

Ministry of Home Affairs has commissioned the Bureau of Police Research and Development to conduct a pan-India survey called “ALL INDIA CITIZENS SURVEY OF POLICE SERVICES”.

Details:

Aim: The survey is aimed to understand public perceptions about Police, gauge the level of non-reporting of crimes or incidents to Police, the position on ground relating to crime reporting & recording, timeliness and quality of police response and action, and to assess citizens’ perception and experience about women and children’s safety.

Significance:

The outcome of the survey is expected to bring out useful suggestions for stakeholders in formulating and implementing appropriate policy responses and changes in the functioning of police at the cutting edge and for improving crime prevention and investigation, transformation in community policing, improvement in the access to the justice and increased appropriate resource allocation for police in a systematic manner.

Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

In News:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has decided to keep Pakistan on its grey list at the end of its week-long plenary meeting in Paris. India had lobbied hard to get the global financial body to blacklist Pakistan for non-compliance in curbing terror financing.

Background:

India wanted Pakistan to be put under “closer scrutiny immediately” and has demanded that “stronger implementation” be sought from Islamabad in curbing terror financing. India had even prepared a dossier for the watchdog nailing the culpability of Pakistan in the Pulwama terror strike, the worst such attack in J&K in decades.

Background:

Pakistan was placed on the grey list by the FATF in June for failing to curb anti-terror financing. It has been scrambling in recent months to avoid being added to a list of countries deemed non-compliant with anti-money laundering and terrorist financing regulations by the Paris-based FATF, a measure that officials here fear could further hurt its economy.

Implications of this move:

Pakistani analysts say being put on the FATF watchlist could deal a blow to Pakistan’s economy, making it harder for foreign investors and companies to do business in the country.

It would be counterproductive to put Pakistan on the watch list as it would hurt its capability to fight terrorism. Also, being put back on the grey list would heighten Pakistan’s risk profile and some financial institutions would be wary of transacting with Pakistani banks and counterparties.

Being placed on the FATF watchlist carries no direct legal implications but brings extra scrutiny from regulators and financial institutions that can chill trade and investment and increase transaction costs.

About FATF:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 on the initiative of the G7.  It is a “policy-making body” which works to generate the necessary political will to bring about national legislative and regulatory reforms in various areas. The FATF Secretariat is housed at the OECD headquarters in Paris.

Objectives: The objectives of the FATF are to set standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

Functions: The FATF monitors the progress of its members in implementing necessary measures, reviews money laundering and terrorist financing techniques and counter-measures and promotes the adoption and implementation of appropriate measures globally.  In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the FATF works to identify national-level vulnerabilities with the aim of protecting the international financial system from misuse.

What is blacklist and grey list?

FATF maintains two different lists of countries: those that have deficiencies in their AML/CTF regimes, but they commit to an action plan to address these loopholes, and those that do not end up doing enough. The former is commonly known as grey list and latter as blacklist.

Once a country is blacklisted, FATF calls on other countries to apply enhanced due diligence and counter measures, increasing the cost of doing business with the country and in some cases severing it altogether. As of now there are only two countries in the blacklist — Iran and North Korea — and seven on the grey list, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria and Yemen.

Source: The Hindu

RUCO (Repurpose Used Cooking Oil) initiative

In News:

Dehradun-based Indian Institute of Petroleum has successfully finished a pilot test to convert used cooking oil into bio-aviation turbine fuel (Bio-ATF), which can be blended with conventional ATF and used as aircraft fuel.

Details:

The test assumes importance as the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has launched the Repurpose Cooking Oil (RUCO) initiative to collect and convert used cooking oil into bio-fuel.

About RUCO:

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had launched RUCO (Repurpose Used Cooking Oil), an initiative that will enable collection and conversion of used cooking oil to bio-diesel.

Under this initiative, 64 companies at 101 locations have been identified to enable collection of used cooking oil. For instance: McDonald’s has already started converting used cooking oil to biodiesel from 100 outlets in Mumbai and Pune.

FSSAI wants businesses using more than 100 litres of oil for frying, to maintain a stock register and ensure that UCO is handed over to only registered collecting agencies.

Significance of the initiative:

FSSAI believes India has the potential to recover 220 crore litres of used cooking oil for the production of biodiesel by 2022 through a co-ordinated action. While biodiesel produced from used cooking oil is currently very small, but a robust ecosystem for conversion and collection is rapidly growing in India and will soon reach a sizable scale.

Background:

The initiative has been launched nearly a month after the food safety regulator notified standards for used cooking oil. According to FSSAI regulations, the maximum permissible limits for Total Polar Compounds (TPC) have been set at 25%, beyond which the cooking oil is unsafe for consumption.

What are Total Polar Compounds (TPC)?

In many countries, TPC is used to measure the quality of oil. The level of TPC increases every time oil is re-heated. Some of the studies show that TPC accumulation in oil without food is slower than that in oil frying with food.

Higher level of TPC in cooking oil leads to health issues like hypertension, atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and liver disease. One of the studies also noticed high levels of glucose, creatinine and cholesterol with declined levels of protein and albumin in cooking oil.

Need for regulation:

Currently, used cooking oil is either not discarded or disposed of in such a manner that it chokes drains and sewerage systems. Apart from setting quality standards, the new regulation addresses the way this oil is discarded. As used cooking oil is considered the most reasonable feedstock for biodiesel production, the FSSAI is planning to redirect the used cooking oil from the food business operators. It has already started collecting used oil in small quantities either through a barter arrangement or at cost.

About FSSAI:

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has been established under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which consolidates various acts & orders that have hitherto handled food related issues in various Ministries and Departments.

It was created for laying down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.

Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India is the Administrative Ministry for the implementation of FSSAI.

Composition: The Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are appointed by Government of India. The Chairperson is in the rank of Secretary to Government of India.

Source: The Hindu

India to launch a public DNS server

In News:

The government will soon launch a public domain name system (DNS) server that could protect users from any malware or phishing with enhanced security features as well as faster response time.

Key features:

The new platform is an upgraded version with enhanced in-built security features compared to the earlier created by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and has a capability to host as many as 5 million users that can be scaled up further if needed.

If a user inadvertently accesses a malicious or phishing site, the new public system would immediately open up a page or popup to alert the user of such potential threat so that the suspicious resource could be avoided, the official who is aware of the initiative.

The new DNS will be placed across the country to minimise outage and would be available round the clock. Users can simply use it by typing the IP number into the Internet browser.

Need:

DNS is an important tool that requires to be fool-proof and has a major role in browsing the Internet. The Centre is eyeing a new and robust platform in the wake of critical digital services being delivered online requiring enhanced security to discourage cyber-attacks and a quicker site loading time.

What is Domain name system?

DNS is a system that translates domain names to Internet Protocol or IP addresses that allows browsers to load websites sought.

It is a database that stores all of the domain names and corresponding IP numbers for a particular top-level domain (TLD) such as .com or .net. The DNS identifies and locates computer systems and resources on the Internet.

Source: The Hindu

Why Bangladesh sees golden rice as a threat

In News:

Bangladesh farmers and environment groups are angry over the government’s decision to allow commercial cultivation of the controversial genetically modified (GM) rice, popularly called as the golden rice.

Details:

Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI), Gazipur, in early 2017. It has already allowed commercial production of BT Brinjal in the country.

Locals fear that the introduction of golden rice will impact their traditional agriculture system.

It is alleged that field trials were marred with controversy over the lack of transparency and credible independent safety studies. Even claims made after field trial concerns remain as on the lack of credible and independent safety studies, transparency and public participation.

Activists fear that commercial cultivation would lead to the loss of Bangladesh’s rich bio-diversity. This could further push for public acceptance of genetically-modified crops and erode our food diversity and our local and traditional seeds, as well as increase corporate control on our agriculture system.

What is Golden rice?

In 1999, a group of European scientists led by Dr Ingo Potrykus tried to change traditional rice by developing genetically-engineered rice that contains beta-carotene — by inserting bacteria and daffodil and maize genes into it. This is the golden rice, called so because of the golden colour of its grains.

The golden rice was introduced in 2000 and argued to be the panacea for world’s malnutrition problem. It was claimed that the rice is bio-fortified, and is supposedly high in Vitamin A, Iron and Zinc.

It was considered as a significant breakthrough in biotechnology, with its first field trials conducted by the agriculture centre of Louisiana State University in 2004. Later, it has been claimed that field trials were conducted in the Philippines, Taiwan and Bangladesh.

What is a GM crop?

A GM or transgenic crop is a plant that has a novel combination of genetic material obtained through the use of modern biotechnology.

For example, a GM crop can contain a gene(s) that has been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring it through pollination. The resulting plant is said to be “genetically modified” although in reality all crops have been “genetically modified” from their original wild state by domestication, selection, and controlled breeding over long periods of time.

GM is a solution to hunger problem:

Data from a large number of peer-reviewed publications have shown that, on average, GM technology adoption has reduced pesticide use by 37%, increased crop yield by 22%, and increased farmer profits by 68%.

Data from a billion animals fed on GM corn have not indicated any health hazards. Those in the Americas and elsewhere consuming Bt corn or soybean for over 15 years have not reported any health issues.

Genetically modified (GM) crops can withstand pests and droughts. Genetic modification in crops involves altering a seed’s DNA in order to increase its resistance to pests and insects. These changes can mean a huge boost to productivity and overall food supply.

Adopting technology that will lead to higher crop productivity is essential to feeding the growing Indian population.

Higher crop yields, reduced farm costs, increased farm profit and improvement in health and the environment are some of the benefits of introducing GM crops.

There are some concerns as well:

GM food involves taking genes (DNA) from different organisms and inserting them in food crops.

There are concerns that this ‘foreign’ DNA through Genetically Modified products may lead to risks such as toxicity, allergic reactions, and nutritional and unintended impact.

It costs people’s health and our national food and health sovereignty.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India [FSSAI], the apex food regulator, has failed to curb the illegal sales of GM food.

Its draft regulations on GM food labelling are weak and impractical to implement.

Lack of clarity: It is clear that the technology of genetic engineering is an evolving one and there is much, especially on its impact on human health and environment that is yet to be understood properly. The scientific community itself seems uncertain about this.

There is also a potential for pests to evolve resistance to the toxins produced by GM crops and the risk of these toxins affecting nontarget organisms. There is also the danger of unintentionally introducing allergens and other anti-nutrition factors in foods.

Source: Down to Earth

Global Health Expenditure Database (GHED)

In News:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a new report on global health expenditure. The Global Health Expenditure Database (GHED) provides internationally comparable data on health spending for close to 194 countries, since 2000.

Details:

Health spending consists of government expenditure, out-of-pocket payments (people paying for their own care), and sources such as voluntary health insurance, employer-provided health programmes, as well as activities by non-profits.

Highlights of the report:

According to the report, global spending on health has increased in low- and middle-income countries by 6% and in high income countries by 4%. However, worryingly, people are still paying too much out of their own pockets.

In low- and middle-income countries, health spending is undergoing a transformation. The reliance of people on public funding has increased. In most regions, reliance on out-of-pocket spending is gradually going down and has also been associated with a reduction in the share of domestic government revenues allocated to health.

While the total amount of aid that middle-income countries receive has increased, aid per capita, has fallen. In 2016, lower- and upper middle-income countries still received close to 57% of global aid, and certain middle-income countries still received large amounts of aid in absolute terms. Therefore, there is an inverse relationship between a country’s income levels and the share of external aid as a health funding source.

According to the report, the roles of external and domestic funding are evolving; however, external funding is declining in middle-income countries. Governments account for less than 40 per cent of primary health care spending.

There are huge variations across countries in public spending on primary health care, which is intended to give people access to quality care, including access to medicines, as needed. Governments would be expected to pay for these medicines from domestic sources.

The data indicates that nearly half of donor funds for health and about 20% of public spending on health went to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. About one-third of domestic public spending went towards injuries and non-communicable diseases, which received comparatively little external funds.

Significance of public spending on health:

Public spending on health is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for health through sustainably funding common goods and subsidising services to the poorest segments of society.

A health system that relies mainly on high levels of government funding, as well as a high share of public sources in overall health spending, generally provides better and more equitable access to services and better financial protection.

Way ahead:

Health is a human right and all countries need to prioritise efficient, cost-effective primary health care as the path to achieving universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Increased domestic spending is essential for achieving universal health coverage and the health-related Sustainable Development Goals. But health spending is not a cost, it’s an investment in poverty reduction, jobs, productivity, inclusive economic growth, and healthier, safer, fairer societies.

Source: Down to Earth

Hayabusa2

In News:

Japan Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced that a probe, Hayabusa2, had successfully landed on an asteroid- Ryugu– 300 million km from Earth.

Details:

Notably, Hayabusa2 is the second Japanese spacecraft to land on an asteroid, after Hayabusa achieved a similar feat back in 2005.

Hayabusa:

In mid-September 2005, Hayabusa landed on the asteroid Itokawa, and managed to collect samples in the form of grains of asteroidal material. It returned to Earth with the samples in June 2010, thereby becoming the first spacecraft to return asteroid samples to Earth for analysis.

Hayabusa2:

It is an asteroid sample-return mission operated by the Japanese space agency, JAXA.

It was launched on 3 December 2014 and rendezvoused with near-Earth asteroid 162173 Ryugu on 27 June 2018.

It is in the process of surveying the asteroid for a year and a half, departing in December 2019, and returning to Earth in December 2020.

Hayabusa2 carries multiple science payloads for remote sensing, sampling, and four small rovers that will investigate the asteroid surface to inform the environmental and geological context of the samples collected.

The Hayabusa2 payload incorporates multiple scientific instruments:

Remote sensing: Optical Navigation Camera (ONC-T, ONC-W1, ONC-W2), Near-Infrared Camera (NIR3), Thermal-Infrared Camera (TIR), Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR).

Sampling: Sampling device (SMP), Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI), Deployable Camera (DCAM3).

Four rovers: Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT), Rover-1A, Rover-1B, Rover-2.

The scientific objectives of Hayabusa2 mission are twofold:

To characterize the asteroid from remote sensing observations (with multispectral cameras, near-infrared spectrometer, thermal infrared imager, laser altimeter) on a macroscopic scale

To analyse the samples returned from the asteroid on a microscopic scale.

What is the significance of the mission?

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid – a relic from the early days of the Solar System. Scientists think that C-type asteroids contain both organic matter, and trapped water, and might have been responsible for bringing both to Earth, thereby providing the planet with the materials necessary for life to originate.

Source: ET

Seoul Peace Prize

In News:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has received the prestigious Seoul Peace Prize for 2018 for his contribution to international cooperation and fostering global economic growth.

Details:

Modi is the 14th recepient of the award and the past laureates included former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and renowned international relief organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam.

About Seoul Peace Prize:

Established in 1990 to commemorate success of the 24th Olympic Games held in Seoul, South Korea.

Established to crystallize Korean people’s yearning for peace on Korean Peninsula and in the rest of the world.

Awarded biennially to those individuals who have made their mark through contributions to harmony of mankind, reconciliation between nations and world peace.

Velayat 97

It is a navy drill being conducted by Iran. It aims to evaluate the navy’s equipment, practice launching weapons and enable the troops to gain readiness for a real battle.

World’s largest bee spotted for the first time since 1981

In News:

The world’s largest bee — a giant insect roughly the size of a human thumb — has been rediscovered in a remote part of Indonesia in its first sighting in nearly 40 years.

Details:

The Wallace’s giant bee (Megachile pluto), which lives in the Indonesian island region of North Moluccas, makes its nest in termite mounds, using its large fang-like mandibles to collect sticky resin to protect its home from the termites.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the bee as “vulnerable”, meaning that while its numbers are relatively solid, the remoteness of its population makes it hard to study.

Beresheet- Israel’s First Lunar Lander Launched

In News:

Israel’s First Lunar Lander-  Beresheet– was recently launched on board Falcon 9.

Details:

Beresheet will attempt to become the first Israeli spacecraft, and the first privately-operated mission, to land on the Moon.

If successful, it will make the Jewish state only the fourth nation to ever to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon’s surface. So far, only three other nations have carried out controlled “soft” landings on the moon – the United States, the former Soviet Union and China. Spacecraft from several countries, including India’s Moon Impact Probe, Japan’s SELENE orbiter and a European Space Agency orbital probe called SMART 1, have intentionally crashed on the lunar surface.

Beresheet would mark the first non-government lunar landing. The 1,290-pound (585-kg) spacecraft was built by Israeli nonprofit space venture SpaceIL and state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with $100 million furnished almost entirely by private donors.

Beresheet is designed to spend just two to three days using on-board instruments to photograph its landing site and measure the moon’s magnetic field. Data will be relayed via the US space agency NASA’s Deep Space Network to SpaceIL’s Israel-based ground station Yehud.

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