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26 August Current Affairs

Clouded Leopard

In News:

A recent research paper published on clouded leopards by over 20 researchers from across the globe has helped understanding the habitats, migration corridors and laid out the conservation strategies.

About: 

Sub Species: Classically considered a single species, the Clouded Leopard has recently been split into two species.

Neofelis Nebulosi: It is restricted to mainland Southeast Asia.

Neofelis Diardi: It is found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.

Physical description:

Clouds: It is named after the distinctive ‘clouds’ on its coat – ellipses partially edged in black, with the insides a darker colour than the background colour of the pelt.

Legs: It has relatively short legs and broad paws which make it excellent at climbing trees.

Range:

Historically, their range covered most of Southeast Asia from Nepal and southern China through Thailand, Indonesia, and Borneo. It is regionally extinct in Singapore and Taiwan.’

In India, it occurs in north-east and West Bengal. It is the state animal of Meghalaya.

Dampa tiger reserve in Mizoram has one of the highest population densities.

Habitat: Subtropical/Tropical Moist Forests.

Conservation status: Both the species are listed as Vulnerable in IUCN red list.

In 2018, India added clouded leopards to its Recovery Programme for Critically Endangered Species to aid more research and strengthen conservation efforts.

The Clouded leopard is one of the big cats occurring on the Indian subcontinent, apart from the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, snow leopard and Indian leopard.

Greenland

In News:

U.S. President Donald Trump wanted to buy Greenland, an autonomous province of Denmark. Upon being told that Greenland was not, in fact, for sale, Trump promptly cancelled a planned state visit to Denmark for what he termed the Danish PM’s “nasty” remarks.

About: 

Location: Greenland, an autonomous province of Denmark, is located to the north east of Canada.

Demography: Most of its inhabitants are Inuit whose ancestors migrated from Canada.

Capital: Nuuk.

Governance: The autonomous Danish dependent territory has limited self-government and its own parliament. While its government decides on domestic matters, foreign and security policy is handled by Denmark.

Economy: Denmark contributes two thirds of Greenland’s budget revenue, the rest coming mainly from fishing.

Significance:

The US President wants to buy the Danish territory as it is in a crucial strategic location in case tensions with Russia rise – but admits it’s not a No1 priority.

Potential oil, gas and rare earth mineral reserves have also attracted prospecting firms.

Legal Obstacles To Sale:

Any sale would require a change to Greenland’s legal status through an amendment to Denmark’s constitution. Since 2009 Greenland has held the right to declare independence from Denmark. If Greenland do so, it could choose to become associated with the United States.

But few Greenlanders see independence as viable given their economic dependence on Denmark, part of the affluent European Union.

Territories earlier purchased by USA? 

In 1803, the US struck a land deal with France to buy 827,000 square miles of land called the Louisana Purchase. It massively expanded the US’ territory.

In 1819, the US bought Florida from Spain.

The US bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2m in 1867.

ASIA/PACIFIC Group On Money Laundering

In News:

The Asia Pacific Group (APG) of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has put Pakistan in the Enhanced Expedited Follow Up List (Blacklist) for its failure to comply with terror funding standards.

Recent decision: 

it has also found that Pakistan was non-compliant on 32 of the 40 compliance parameters of terror financing and money laundering.

On 11 effectiveness parameters of terror financing and money laundering, Pakistan was adjudged as low on 10.

While the placing does not bring any new punitive measures on Pakistan, it will mean quarterly reporting to the group on improvement in its financial safeguards.

Now, Pakistan has to focus on avoiding the blacklist in October, when the 15-month timeline ends on the FATF’s 27-point action plan.

Asia/Pacific Group On Money Laundering? 

What is it? The Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering is an inter-governmental organisation, consisting of 41 member jurisdictions.

Purpose: To ensure that its members effectively implement the international standards against money laundering, terrorist financing and proliferation financing related to weapons of mass destruction.

Type: It is a part of global network of similar bodies, referred to as Financial Action Task Force-Style Regional Bodies (FSRBs) and is the largest in terms of membership numbers and geographical size.

Secretariat: Sydney, Australia

Established in: 1997.

Amazon Fires

In News:

Over the last several days, the Amazon rainforest has been burning – mostly caused by farmers clearing land – at a rate that has alarmed environmentalists and governments worldwide.

Trend this year: 

There have been more than 72,800 fires in Brazil this year, with more than half in the Amazon region — an 80% increase compared with the same period last year — according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Brazil’s Amazon has lost more than 344,500 hectares (1,330 square miles) of forest cover between January and June, according to INPE.

Reason: 

Forest fires are common in the Amazon during the dry season, which runs from July to October. They can be caused by naturally occurring events, such as by lightning strikes, but also by farmers and loggers clearing land for crops or grazing.

However activists also blame Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has encouraged such tree-clearing activities for agriculture and mining.

Concern:

The Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest, is roughly half the size of the United States and produces 20 per cent of the oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.

it is a repository of rich biodiversity and is also home to indigenous communities whose live is now under threat.

Carbon intake by the Amazon basin matches the emissions released by nations in the basin. The burning of forests, therefore, implies additional carbon emissions.

Amazon rainforest influences the water cycle not only on a regional scale, but also on a global scale. The rain produced by the Amazon travels through the region and even reaches the Andes mountain range.

Akademik Lomonosov

In News:

Russia launched the world’s first floating nuclear reactor, sending it on an epic journey across the Arctic, despite environmentalists warning of a “Chernobyl on ice.”

About: 

Loaded with nuclear fuel, the Akademik Lomonosov with a crew of 69 left the port of Murmansk to begin its 5,000 km voyage to Pevek in Siberia. The reactor’s trip is expected to last between 4 and 6 weeks.

When it arrives in Pevek, it will replace a local nuclear plant and a closed coal plant. It is due to go into operation by the end of year, mainly serving the region’s oil platforms as Russia develops the exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Arctic.

It follow the examples of submarines, icebreakers and aircraft carriers, which have long used nuclear power, and are intended for isolated areas with little infrastructure.

But environmental groups have long warned of the dangers of the project, dubbing it a potential “Chernobyl on ice” and a “nuclear Titanic.”

Big Data And Disaster Management

In News:

According to a report by the U.N.’s Asia-Pacific social agency (UNESCAP), use of big data can better predict increasingly complex disasters in the Asia-Pacific region.

Key findings of report: 

Since 1970, natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific region have killed two million people — 59% of the global death toll for that period.

Disasters also cause more damage in Asia and the Pacific, measured as a percentage of GDP, than the rest of the world, and this gap has been widening.

However, big data innovations reveal patterns of complex disaster risks which helps to understand and predict the risk of extreme and slow-onset events.

Flood and cyclone forecasting now relies on computer simulations. Sensor webs and the Internet of Things have enabled efficient earthquake early-warning systems. Remote sensing via satellites and drones provide quick assessments of damage and people affected, and help in relief efforts.

Big Data? 

Big data refers to the analysis of very large data sets to reveal patterns, trends and associations.

The data can come from a range of sources, including satellite imagery, drone videos, simulations, crowdsourcing, social media and global positioning systems.

Microplastics In Drinking Water

In News:

The World Health Organization (WHO) released its first report into the effects of microplastics on human health.

Key findings of the report:

In this report, WHO looked into the specific impact of microplastics in tap and bottled water.

The level of microplastics in drinking water is not yet a health risk for humans. Microplastics larger than 150 micrometres are not likely to be absorbed by the human body but the chance of absorbing very small microplastic particles, including nano-sized plastics, could be higher.

WHO has called on researchers to conduct a more in-depth evaluation into microplastics and the potential impact on human health.

What are microplastics (view of WHO)?

As a category, microplastics encompass a wide range of materials composed of different substances, with different densities, chemical compositions, shapes and sizes.

There is no scientifically-agreed definition of microplastics, although they are frequently defined as plastic particles < 5 mm in length.

However, this is a rather arbitrary definition and is of limited value in the context of drinking-water since particles at the upper end of the size range are unlikely to be found in treated drinking-water.

A subset of microplastics < 1 µm in length are often referred to as nanoplastics.

How do microplastics get into drinking-water?

Microplastics may enter drinking-water sources in a number of ways: from surface run-off (e.g. after a rain event), to wastewater effluent (both treated and untreated), combined sewer overflows, industrial effluent, degraded plastic waste and atmospheric deposition.

Plastic bottles and caps that are used in bottled water may also be sources of microplastics in drinking-water.

Fiscal Stimulus

In News:

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced a number of measures to boost growth.

Some of the steps announced are:

Controversial surcharge on Foreign Portfolio Investors (FPIs) to be withdrawn. But increased surcharge will apply to high net-worth individuals earning more than ₹2 crore a year.

Violations of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) rules will not be treated as criminal offences.

The government also decided to front-load the ₹70,000 crore of capital infusion in public sector banks that was announced in the Budget, a move that is further aimed at increasing private investment by facilitating greater credit disbursal by the banks.

The government had rescinded its ban on the purchase of new vehicles by its departments to replace old ones. Vehicles bought till March 31, 2020, will also be eligible for an additional 15% depreciation.

To curb the discretionary powers of the tax authorities, from October 1, all notices and summons by the Income Tax Department would be generated by a centralised computer and would carry a unique code. Any notices not carrying these codes would be considered invalid.

Public sector banks have also decided to increase their repo rate-linked loan offerings.

Government has announced an additional ₹20,000 crore of liquidity to the housing finance companies, over and above the ₹10,000 crore earlier announced.

FEDOR

In News:

Russia launched an unmanned rocket carrying life-sized robot to the International Space Station (ISS) from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

About: 

The robot, named Fedor – short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research – is the first ever sent into space by Russia. Fedor is also known as Skybot F850.

In order to test a new emergency rescue system, the robot was the Soyuz rocket’s only passenger.

During its 10 days at the ISS, Fedor will learn new skills such as connecting and disconnecting electric cables, using standard items from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher.

Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth to carry out tasks while the humans are strapped into an exoskeleton. Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks.

Composite Water Management Index 2.0

In News:

NITI Aayog has released the second Round of Composite Water Management Index (CWMI 2.0).

About: 

NITI Aayog first launched the Composite Water Management Index in 2018 as a tool to assess and improve the performance of States/ UTs in efficient management of water resources.

This has been done by NITI Aayog in partnership with Ministry of Jal Shakti, Ministry of Rural Development and all the States/ Union Territories.

CWMI 2.0 ranks various states for the reference year 2017-18 as against the base year 2016-17.

Rankings:

Gujarat hold on to its rank one in the reference year (2017-18), followed by Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

In North Eastern and Himalayan States, Himachal Pradesh has been adjudged number 1 in 2017-18 followed by Uttarakhand, Tripura and Assam.

The Union Territories have first time submitted their data and Puducherry has been declared as the top ranker.

In terms of incremental change in index (over 2016-17 level), Haryana holds number one position in general States and Uttarakhand ranks at first position amongst North Eastern and Himalayan States.

On an average, 80% of the states assessed on the Index over the last three years have improved their water management scores, with an average improvement of +5.2 points.

Rice Fortification Pilot Scheme

In News:

In a meeting held between Vice Chairman, NITI Aayog and Union Minister of Consumer Affairs, it was decided that the Department of Food and Public Distribution will prepare a roadmap for extending the pilot scheme of Rice Fortification all over the country so as to tackle Malnutrition.

About: 

Government of India has approved the Centrally Sponsored Pilot Scheme on “Fortification of Rice and its Distribution under Public Distribution System” on 14.02.2019 – rice to be fortified with Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin B-12.

The Pilot Scheme has been approved for a period of three year beginning 2019-20.

The Pilot Scheme at present focusses on 15 districts during the initial phase of implementation.

The operational responsibilities for implementation of the Pilot Scheme lie with the States/UTs.

National Agricultural Cooperative Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED)

In News:

Government to substantially increase the daily supply of onions from its buffer stock held with NAFED.

About NAFED:

National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd.(NAFED), established in 1958, is registered under the Multi State Co-operative Societies Act.

Nafed was setup with the object to promote Co-operative marketing of Agricultural Produce to benefit the farmers.

Composition: Agricultural farmers are the main members of Nafed, who have the authority to say in the form of members of the General Body in the working of Nafed.

The objectives of the NAFED shall be to organize, promote and develop marketing, processing and storage of agricultural, horticultural and forest produce, distribution of agricultural machinery, implements and other inputs, undertake inter-state, import and export trade etc.

Price Stabilisation Fund (PSF)

It refers to any fund constituted for the purpose of containing extreme volatility in prices of selected commodities.

The amount in the fund is generally utilised for activities aimed at bringing down/up the high/low prices say for instance, procurement of such products and distribution of the same as and when required, so that prices remain in a range.

India first created a price stabilisation fund for some export oriented plantation crops in 2003, and this ceased to exist in 2013. Another fund was created in 2015 for perishable agricultural and horticultural commodities, but initially limited to support potato and onion prices only.

PSF mechanism is a part from the Minimum Support Price (MSP) based initiatives already existing in the country for certain agricultural goods.

The MSP system has some price tempering properties, but it is from the perspective of the growers / farmers and becomes operative when prices fall below the cost of production.

The output thus procured by the Government at MSP is later distributed at affordable rates through the public distribution system.

A Price Stabilization Fund of Rs. 500 Crore for agricultural commodities was announced in the Union Budget 2014-15 with a view to mitigate volatility in the prices of agricultural produce.

The Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) was set up under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Famers Welfare (DAC&FW),Ministry of Agriculture. The PSF scheme was transferred from DAC&FW to the Department of Consumer Affairs (DOCA) w.e.f. 1st April, 2016.

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