23 Current Affairs
May 23, 2019
25 May Current Affairs
May 25, 2019
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24 May Current Affairs

The dispute between Britain and Mauritius over Chagos islands

In News:

The United Nation General Assembly (UNGA) has passed a non-binding resolution asking United Kingdom (UK) to return Chagos Archipelago in Indian Ocean to Mauritius.

Details:

The UK should end its control of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean as rapidly as possible. The islands are not lawfully separated from the former colony of Mauritius.

What’s the issue?

Britain detached the Chagos Islands from Mauritius in 1965, three years before Mauritian independence. From 1967 to 1973, some 1,500 Chagos islanders were gradually forced to leave their homes so that the largest island, Diego Garcia, could be leased to the US for a strategic airbase. Today, Diego Garcia hosts a major US military base.

In 2016, after several judicial challenges, Britain extended Diego Garcia’s lease until 2036 and declared that the expelled islanders would not be allowed to go back. In 2017, Mauritius successfully petitioned the United Nations to seek an ICJ advisory opinion on the legality of the separation.

Mauritius claims it was forced to give up the islands – now a British overseas territory – in 1965 in exchange for independence, which it gained in 1968.

Arguments by Mauritius:

Mauritius argues it was illegal for Britain to break up its territory. It claims sovereignty over the archipelago and demands the right to resettle former residents.

The crux of the Mauritian claim is the right of self-determination. In its submission to the court, the Mauritian government claimed that the separation of the islands from Mauritius was in clear breach of UN resolution 1514, also known as the Colonial Declaration. Passed in 1960, it enshrined the right of self-determination for colonial peoples and specifically banned the breakup of colonies prior to independence. This was intended to keep borders stable, and to prevent colonial powers from simply absorbing colonial territory into their overseas territory so as to retain their sovereignty.

Yet in spite of this resolution, a number of states (including France and the UK) kept possession of parts of their former colonies following the decolonisation process.

Source: The Hindu

China continues to use ozone depleting CFC-11 in violation of Montreal Protocol

In News:

China has been illegally emitting Trichlorofluoromethane or CFC-11 — the banned ozone-depleting chemical — according to the research published in the journal Nature recently.

Key findings:

CFC-11 was phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol. Despite being the signatory to the Montreal Protocol, and agreeing to phase out production of CFC-11 in 2010, China continued to emit the polluting gas.

Emissions of CFC-11 were on the rise since 2013. In fact, the emissions increased by 25 per cent since 2012. Between 2008 and 2012, eastern China emitted an average of about 6,400 metric tonnes of CFC-11 per year. That number increased to about 13,400 metric tonnes per year from 2014 to 2017.

Reasons behind:

China has the world’s largest polyurethane foam market, accounting for about 40 per cent of the world’s consumption.

Chinese foam manufacturers have been using CFC-11 illegally to save on the higher cost of alternatives, such as hydrochloro-fluorocarbons like HCFC-141b, which is to be phased out in China by 2026.

Why limit the use of CFC- 11?

The hole in the ozone is on the path to recovery according to the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO’s) assessment; and reduction in the atmospheric concentration of CFC-11 has made the second-largest contribution to the decline in the total atmospheric concentration of ozone-depleting chlorine since the 1990s. But this gas still contributes one-quarter of all chlorine reaching the stratosphere, and a timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline in CFC-11 concentrations.

Continued success of the Montreal Protocol in protecting stratospheric ozone depends on continued compliance and China must adhere to it.

What you need to know about the Ozone layer?

The ozone layer absorbs most of the Sun’s ultraviolet light which is harmful to human life and other life forms. The layer absorbs about 97 to 99% of ultraviolet rays and maintain the ozone-oxygen cycle. Dobson unit is a unit which is used to measure the ozone in the atmosphere at a standard temperature and pressure.

Montreal protocol:

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was designed to reduce the production and consumption of ozone depleting substances in order to reduce their abundance in the atmosphere, and thereby protect the earth’s fragile ozone Layer. The original Montreal Protocol was agreed on 16 September 1987 and entered into force on 1 January 1989.

The Montreal Protocol includes a unique adjustment provision that enables the Parties to the Protocol to respond quickly to new scientific information and agree to accelerate the reductions required on chemicals already covered by the Protocol. These adjustments are then automatically applicable to all countries that ratified the Protocol.

Montreal Protocol stipulates that the production and consumption of compounds that deplete ozone in the stratosphere-chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), halons, carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform-are to be phased out by 2000 (2005 for methyl chloroform). These compounds significantly deplete the stratospheric ozone layer that shields the planet from damaging UV-B radiation.

Outcomes:

The phaseout of controlled uses of ozone depleting substances and the related reductions have not only helped protect the ozone layer for this and future generations, but have also contributed significantly to global efforts to address climate change; furthermore, it has protected human health and ecosystems by limiting the harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the earth.

Source: The Hindu

WHO strategy on antivenoms

In News:

The World Health Organization has unveiled a new strategy to dramatically cut deaths and injuries from snakebites, warning a dearth of antivenoms could soon spark a “public health emergency”.

Need for a comprehensive strategy:

Each year, nearly three million people are bitten by poisonous snakes, with an estimated 81,000-138,000 deaths. Another 400,000 survivors suffer permanent disabilities and other after-effects, according to WHO figures.

Snake venom can cause paralysis that stops breathing, bleeding disorders that can lead to fatal haemorrhage, irreversible kidney failure and tissue damage that can cause permanent disability and limb loss.

Most snakebite victims live in the world’s tropical and poorest regions, and children are worse affected due to their smaller body size.

WHO has already categorised “snakebite envenoming” as a Neglected Tropical Disease.

WHO strategy:

Aim: to cut snakebite-related deaths and disabilities in half by 2030.

An important part of the strategy is to significantly boost production of quality antivenoms.

Reshape the market and employ greater regulatory control.

Restore a sustainable market for snakebite treatment. There is need for a 25-percent increase in the number of competent manufacturers by 2030.

Integrate snakebite treatment and response into national health plans in affected countries, including better training of health personnel and educating communities.

Challenges producing antivenoms:

A significant challenge in manufacturing of antivenoms is the preparation of the correct immunogens (snake venoms). At present very few countries have capacity to produce snake venoms of adequate quality for antivenom manufacture, and many manufacturers rely on common commercial sources. These may not properly reflect the geographical variation that occurs in the venoms of some widespread species.

In addition, lack of regulatory capacity for the control of antivenoms in countries with significant snake bite problems results in an inability to assess the quality and appropriateness of the antivenoms.

Poor data on the number and type of snake bites have led to difficulty in estimating needs, and deficient distribution policies have further contributed to manufacturers reducing or stopping production or increasing the prices of antivenoms.

Poor regulation and the marketing of inappropriate or poor quality antivenoms has also resulted in a loss of confidence in some of the available antivenoms by clinicians, health managers, and patients, which has further eroded demand.

Source: The Hindu

Coral bleaching

In News:

Researchers have found an alarming pattern of bleaching in the reefs in Mandapam, Keezhakkarai and Palk Bay in Gulf of Mannar regions.

Key findings:

Sea surface temperature ranged from 28.7°C to 31°C in the August 2018-February 2019 period and there was no bleaching seen then.

However, when the temperatures rose to between 32°C and 36°C between March 2019 and May 2019, researchers observed a pattern of bleaching in corals, which was different at different layers within the sea.

What are Coral reefs?

Coral reefs are important hotspots of biodiversity in the ocean. Corals are animals in the same class (Cnidaria) as jellyfish and anemones. They consist of individual polyps that get together and build reefs.

Significance:

Coral reefs support a wide range of species and maintain the quality of the coastal biosphere.

Corals control the level of carbon dioxide in the water by converting it into a limestone shell. If this process does not take place, the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean water would increase significantly and affect ecological niches.

Threats:

Coral reefs are threatened by climate change.

When the sea surface temperature increases beyond a tolerable limit, they undergo a process of bleaching.

What is bleaching?

Basically bleaching is when the corals expel a certain algae known as zooxanthellae, which lives in the tissues of the coral in a symbiotic relationship. About 90% of the energy of the coral is provided by the zooxanthellae which are endowed with chlorophyll and other pigments. They are responsible for the yellow or reddish brown colours of the host coral. In addition the zooxanthellae can live as endosymbionts with jellyfish also.

When a coral bleaches, it does not die but comes pretty close to it. Some of the corals may survive the experience and recover once the sea surface temperature returns to normal levels.

Source: Down to Earth

Currency chest

In News:

The Reserve Bank of India is planning to allow large modern currency chests to increase the service charges on cash deposited by non-chest bank branches from the existing rate of ₹5 per packet of 100 pieces to a higher rate subject to a maximum of ₹8 per packet. For this, only a currency chest (CC) that fulfils the minimum standards will be eligible to be classified as a large modern CC.

Details:

Currency chests are branches of selected banks authorised by the RBI to stock rupee notes and coins.

Who determines the number of notes and coins to be printed?

The responsibility for managing the currency in circulation is vested in the RBI.

The central bank advises the Centre on the number of notes to be printed, the currency denominations, security features and so on. The number of notes that need to be printed is determined using a statistical model that takes the pace of economic growth, rate of inflation and the replacement rate of soiled notes.

The Government has, however, reserved the right to determine the amount of coins that have to be minted.

Role of currency chests:

The RBI offices in various cities receive the notes from note presses and coins from the mints. These are sent to the currency chests and small coin depots from where they are distributed to bank branches.

The RBI has set up over 4,075 currency chests all over the country. Besides these, there are around 3,746 bank branches that act as small coin depots to stock small coins.

Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently issued new guidelines for banks to set up new currency chests. They include:

Area of the strong room/ vault of at least 1,500 sq ft. For those situated in hilly/ inaccessible places, the strong room/ vault area of at least 600 sq ft.

The new chests should have a processing capacity of 6.6 lakh pieces of banknotes per day. Those situated in the hilly/ inaccessible places, a capacity of 2.1 lakh pieces of banknotes per day.

The currency chests should have Chest Balance Limit (CBL) of Rs 1,000 crore, subject to ground realities and reasonable restrictions, at the discretion of the Reserve Bank.

Source: The Hindu

Artemis Mission

In News:

NASA has unveiled the calendar for the “Artemis” program that will return astronauts to the Moon for the first time in half a century, including eight scheduled launches and a mini-station in lunar orbit by 2024.

Key facts:

Artemis 1 will be an uncrewed mission around the Moon planned for 2020.

Next will come Artemis 2, which will orbit Earth’s satellite with a crew around 2022; followed finally by Artemis 3 that will put astronauts on lunar soil in 2024, including the first woman.

The three will be launched into space by the biggest rocket of all time, the Boeing-led Space Launch System (SLS), which is currently under development but has seen numerous delays and has been criticized in some quarters as a bloated jobs program.

About Artemis:

NASA’s next mission to the Moon will be called Artemis. ARTEMIS stands for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun.

The mission was named Artemis after the Greek mythological goddess of the Moon and twin sister to Apollo, namesake of the program that sent 12 American astronauts to the Moon between 1969 and 1972.

Objective: It consists of spacecraft to measure what happens when the Sun’s radiation hits our rocky moon, where there is no magnetic field to protect it.

Background: The ARTEMIS mission uses two of the five in-orbit spacecraft from another NASA Heliophysics constellation of satellites (THEMIS) that were launched in 2007 and successfully completed their mission earlier in 2010. The ARTEMIS mission allowed NASA to repurpose two in-orbit spacecraft to extend their useful science mission, saving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars instead of building and launching new spacecraft.

Source: ToI

‘Shaheen-II’

It is a land-based ballistic missile of Pakistan.

Shaheen missile series is named after a Falcon (bird) species that lives in Pakistan’s mountains.

It is a land-based supersonic intermediate-range surface-to-surface guided ballistic missile.

It is capable of carrying all kinds of warheads i.e. both conventional (high explosive) as well as nuclear warheads.

It is capable of hitting targets up to 1,500-2000 kilometers. Thus is capable of reaching major cities in neighbouring India.

The white-throated rail

New research has found that the white-throated rail had once gone extinct, but rose from the dead thanks to a rare process called “iterative evolution”.

Iterative evolution means the repeated evolution of similar or parallel structures from the same ancestor but at different times.

The white-throated rail is the only flightless bird known in the Indian Ocean area. It is a chicken-sized bird, indigenous to Madagascar. Migrating to Aldabra, the rails evolved so that they lost the ability to fly.