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25 May Current Affairs

Measles outbreaks in USA

In News:

United States (US) is in the middle of its worst measles outbreaks since last 25 years. A paper, published in the Lancet, places India among seven countries that pose high risk for spread of the disease.

Observations made in the report:

The rise of measles in US is mainly because of two things- one, Reintroduction of the virus at individual localities through travel from countries experiencing outbreaks and two, low vaccination rates fueled by non-medical exemptions (NMEs).

These outbreaks are linked to travelers who brought measles back from other countries such as Israel, Ukraine and the Philippines — where large measles outbreaks are occurring.

The top countries ordered by risk (of spreading measles) posed are: India, China, Mexico, Japan, Ukraine, Philippines, and Thailand.

Measures suggested by the study:

Surveillance should be directed towards countries with high incoming passenger volume. Additionally, measures to improve public health in these countries should be considered. For instance, foundations that are committed to global health enhancement could allocate funding for vaccination efforts in these countries.

About Measles:

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease. It remains an important cause of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine.

Spread: Measles is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth or throat of infected persons.

Initial symptoms, which usually appear 10–12 days after infection, include high fever, a runny nose, bloodshot eyes, and tiny white spots on the inside of the mouth. Several days later, a rash develops, starting on the face and upper neck and gradually spreading downwards.

Vulnerability: Severe measles is more likely among poorly nourished young children, especially those with insufficient vitamin A, or whose immune systems have been weakened by HIV/AIDS or other diseases.

The most serious complications include blindness, encephalitis (an infection that causes brain swelling), severe diarrhoea and related dehydration, and severe respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Prevention: Routine measles vaccination for children, combined with mass immunization campaigns in countries with low routine coverage, are key public health strategies to reduce global measles deaths.

Preventive efforts: Under the Global Vaccine Action Plan, measles and rubella are targeted for elimination in five WHO Regions by 2020. WHO is the lead technical agency responsible for coordination of immunization and surveillance activities supporting all countries to achieve this goal.

Source: The Hindu

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)

In News:

The Second Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Mass Media Forum is being held at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Details:

The Forum aims to strengthen the exchange and cooperation in the field of mass media amongst SCO countries.

It offers a unique platform for active work through mass media to create an objective vision of the organization and strengthen its positive image in the global information space.

The representative of state bodies supervising mass media of the SCO countries (Member States, Observer Countries, Dialogue Partners); representatives of leading mass media of the SCO countries and representatives of the SCO Secretariat are participating in the Forum.

Background:

The first SCO Media Summit was held in Beijing on 1 June 2018. This event was held under the motto “Development of the “Shanghai Spirit” and opening of a new era in the mass media cooperation”, where over 110 media outlets from 16 countries participated, including the SCO Member States, Observer States and Dialogue Partners.

About SCO:

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, also known as the Shanghai Pact, is a Eurasian political, economic, and military organisation which was founded in 2001 in Shanghai.

Founding members: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The cooperation was renamed to Shanghai Cooperation Organisation after Uzbekistan joined the organisation in 2001.

The SCO’s main goals are: strengthening mutual trust and neighbourliness among the member states; promoting their effective cooperation in politics, trade, the economy, research, technology and culture, as well as in education, energy, transport, tourism, environmental protection, and other areas; making joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and moving towards the establishment of a democratic, fair and rational new international political and economic order. currently:

Presently, the SCO comprises eight member states, namely the Republic of India, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Tajikistan, and the Republic of Uzbekistan;.

The SCO counts four observer states, namely the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Republic of Belarus, the Islamic Republic of Iran and  the Republic of Mongolia.

The SCO has six dialogue partners, namely the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Republic of Armenia, the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, the Republic of Turkey, and the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka.

Source: The Hindu

Square Kilometre Array (SKA)

In News:

Scientists at Cambridge have finished designing the ‘brain’ of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest radio telescope.

Key facts:

It consists of a supercomputer that will process the enormous amounts of data produced by the SKA’s telescopes.

The total compute power will be around 250 PFlops — that’s 25 per cent faster than IBM’s Summit, the current fastest supercomputer in the world.

Significance:

When complete, the SKA will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.

The SKA Project:

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project is an international effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope, with eventually over a square kilometre (one million square metres) of collecting area.

Objectives: The SKA will eventually use thousands of dishes and up to a million low-frequency antennas that will enable astronomers to monitor the sky in unprecedented detail and survey the entire sky much faster than any system currently in existence.

Significance: Its unique configuration will give the SKA unrivalled scope in observations, largely exceeding the image resolution quality of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will also have the ability to image huge areas of sky in parallel a feat which no survey telescope has ever achieved on this scale with this level of sensitivity.

Whilst 10 member countries are the cornerstone of the SKA, around 100 organisations across about 20 countries are participating in the design and development of the SKA.

Location: Thousands of SKA antenna dishes will be built in South Africa (in the Karoo), with outstations in other parts of South Africa, as well as in eight African partner countries, namely Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia. Another part of the telescope, the low-frequency array, will be built in Western Australia.

Source: The Hindu

Athena and LISA missions

In News:

Researchers have proposed to combine the observing power of two future ESA missions, Athena and LISA, to study the effects when two supermassive black holes collide. Currently in the study phase, both missions are scheduled for launch in the early 2030s.

Background:

Supermassive black holes, with masses ranging from millions to billions of Suns, sit at the core of most massive galaxies across the Universe. We don’t know exactly how these huge, enormously dense objects took shape, nor what triggers a fraction of them to start devouring the surrounding matter at extremely intense rates, radiating copiously across the electromagnetic spectrum and turning their host galaxies into ‘active galactic nuclei’.

Athena, the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics:

Athena will be the largest X-ray observatory ever built, investigating some of the hottest and most energetic phenomena in the cosmos with unprecedented accuracy and depth.

It is designed to answer two fundamental questions: how supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies form and evolve, and how ‘ordinary’ matter assembles, along with the invisible dark matter, to form the wispy ‘cosmic web’ that pervades the Universe.

Objectives: Athena is going to measure several hundreds of thousands of black holes, from relatively nearby to far away, observing the X-ray emission from the million-degree-hot matter in their surroundings.

LISA, the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna:

LISA will be the first space-borne observatory of gravitational waves—fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime produced by the acceleration of cosmic objects with very strong gravity fields, like pairs of merging black holes.

LISA will detect low-frequency gravitational waves, such as the ones released when two supermassive black holes collide during a merger of galaxies.

LISA will detect the gravitational waves emitted by the spiralling black holes about a month before their final coalescence, when they are still separated by a distance equivalent to several times their radii.

Significance: Scientists expect that a fraction of the mergers found by LISA, especially those within distances of a few billion light years from us, will give rise to an X-ray signal that can be eventually seen by Athena.

Source: ToI

EQUIP project

In News:

Ministry of Human Resource Development plans to launch an ambitious ₹1.5 lakh crore EQUIP project to improve the quality and accessibility of higher education over the next five years.

Key features:

EQUIP stands for the Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme and was crafted by ten committees led by experts within the government.

Aims: EQUIP is meant to bridge the gap between policy and implementation. The project is made to bring transformation in the higher education system in the upcoming 5 years.

Objectives: To improve access to higher education, especially for underserved communities; improve the gross enrolment ration; improve teaching and learning processes; build educational infrastructure; improve the quality of research and innovation; use technology and online learning tools; and work on accreditation systems, governance structures and financing.

Source: The Hindu

None of The Above (NOTA) votes

In News:

Election Commission has release a report on NOTA votes cast in recent elections.

Key findings:

Bihar registered the maximum None of The Above (NOTA) votes of about 8 lakh, with the highest share of 5.04% reported from the Gopalganj constituency.

The high NOTA percentage was an indicator that people were frustrated with the state of affairs in their constituency, did not find any of the candidates worthy enough and therefore, even after reaching the polling station, decided to press the NOTA button.

In Andhra Pradesh, the fourth highest NOTA figure of 4.46%, involving 47,977 voters, was recorded in Araku and in only five constituencies of the State, was it below 1%.

Gujarat, where the highest of 3% was seen in Dahod, had only eight constituencies where the NOTA share was below 1%; while in Haryana, nine of the 10 seats registered less than 1% voters rejecting all candidates.

In as many as 23 constituencies of Karnakata, NOTA vote share was again less than 1% and the highest of 1.39% was in Uttara Kannada in the State. In Kerala and Delhi, all the constituencies had below 1% NOTA share.

The use of NOTA in elections:

The option of NOTA for Lok Sabha and assembly elections was prescribed by the SC in 2013. The option of NOTA in RS polls was introduced by the EC in 2014. Thus, India became the 14th country to institute negative voting.

How is a NOTA vote cast?

The EVMs have the NOTA option at the end of the candidates’ list. Earlier, in order to cast a negative ballot, a voter had to inform the presiding officer at the polling booth. A NOTA vote doesn’t require the involvement of the presiding officer.

Why have NOTA if there’s ‘no electoral value’?

NOTA gives people dissatisfied with contesting candidates an opportunity to express their disapproval. This, in turn, increases the chances of more people turning up to cast their votes, even if they do not support any candidate, and decreases the count of bogus votes. Also, the Supreme Court has observed that negative voting could bring about “a systemic change in polls and political parties will be forced to project clean candidates”.

Why NOTA is good?

NOTA option will force the political parties to select the honest candidates, i.e with no criminal records.

NOTA ensures people’s ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’.

This will increase the polling percentage.

Source: The Hindu

Open market operations (OMO)

In News:

The Reserve Bank of India is planning to inject Rs. 15,000 crore into the financial system next month through purchase of government bonds via the auction route.

Details:

The government securities will be bought under open market operations (OMO). The decision has been taken in view of the evolving liquidity situation.

What is OMO?

Open market operations is the sale and purchase of government securities and treasury bills by RBI or the central bank of the country.

The objective of OMO is to regulate the money supply in the economy.

RBI carries out the OMO through commercial banks and does not directly deal with the public.

Features: When the RBI wants to increase the money supply in the economy, it purchases the government securities from the market and it sells government securities to suck out liquidity from the system.

Source: The Hindu

Unlawful activities (Prevention) Act

In News:

Bangladesh-based terror outfit — the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) — has been banned by the Centre under the anti-terror law UAPA.

About the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA):

This law is aimed at effective prevention of unlawful activities associations in India.

Its main objective is to make powers available for dealing with activities directed against the integrity and sovereignty of India.

The Act makes it a crime to support any secessionist movement or to support claims by a foreign power to what India claims as its territory.

The UAPA, framed in 1967, has been amended twice since: first in 2008 and then in 2012.

The law is contested for few draconian provisions:

The Act introduces a vague definition of terrorism to encompass a wide range of non-violent political activity, including political protest.

It empowers the government to declare an organisation as ‘terrorist’ and ban it. Mere membership of such a proscribed organisation itself becomes a criminal offence.

It allows detention without a chargesheet for up to 180 days and police custody can be up to 30 days.

It creates a strong presumption against bail and anticipatory bail is out of the question. It creates a presumption of guilt for terrorism offences merely based on the evidence allegedly seized.

It authorises the creation of special courts, with wide discretion to hold in-camera proceedings (closed-door hearings) and use secret witnesses but contains no sunset clause and provisions for mandatory periodic review.

Source: The Hindu

BrahMos Missile

In News:

Eastern Command Unit Test- Fired BrahMos Missile from Car Nicobar Islands.

About BrahMos:

The BrahMos is the fastest cruise missile of its class in the world.

BrahMos missile flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8 and has a range of 290 km.

The missile has been jointly developed with Russia and is named after the rivers Brahmaputra and Moskva in Russia.

The BrahMos is extremely difficult to be intercepted by surface to air missiles deployed on leading warships around the world.

The range of the BrahMos missile can be extended up to 400 km as certain technical restrictions were lifted after India became a full member of the Missile Technology Control Regime or MTCR in 2016.

Dissolution of Lok Sabha

In News:

The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has given its approval to the Resolution advising the President to dissolve the Sixteenth Lok Sabha, which was constituted on 18.05.2014.

Details:

In India, the Lok Sabha has a five-year term, but can be dissolved earlier. According to Article 83(2) of the Constitution, completion of five years from the first day of its meeting amounts to dissolution of the Lower House. In this case, an election is held to elect the new Members of Parliament. The Lower House can also be dissolved earlier by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. It can also be dissolved if the President feels that no viable government can be formed after the resignation or fall of a regime.

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