Topic 1: Depleted Uranium Munitions
Context: The British government recently said that it would provide Ukraine with armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium.
What is depleted uranium?
- Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the process of creating enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.
- In comparison to enriched uranium, depleted uranium is much less radioactive and is incapable of generating a nuclear reaction.
- However, due to its high density (it’s more dense than lead) depleted uranium is widely used in weapons as it can easily penetrate armour plating.
- It’s got so much momentum that it just keeps going through the armour and it heats it up so much that it catches on fire.
Which countries have depleted uranium munitions?
- Apart from the US, Britain, Russia, China, France and Pakistan produce uranium weapons, which are not classified as nuclear weapons, as per the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons.
- Another 14 states are known to store them.
Risks of using such weapons
- Even though depleted uranium munitions aren’t considered nuclear weapons, such weapons emit low levels of radiation and can cause severe diseases.
- Ingesting or inhaling quantities of uranium – even depleted uranium – is dangerous.
- It depresses renal function and raises the risk of developing a range of cancers..
- According to the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons, depleted uranium munitions which miss their target can poison groundwater and soil.
Where have depleted uranium munitions been used?
- Depleted uranium munitions were used in the 1991 Gulf War to destroy T-72 tanks in Iraq.
- These weapons were again used in the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia and then during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
|The International Coalition to Ban Uranium WeaponsThe International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons (ICBUW) is a global coalition of 160 groups in 33 countries.ICBUW was formed in 2003 in Berlaar, Belgium.Aim:To promote a campaign based on reliable information on depleted uranium (DU) weapons.Headquarters:Until 2018 it was based in Manchester, England, then the office has been transferred from Manchester to Berlin.Working of ICBUW:ICBUW campaigns for a ban on the use, transport, manufacture, sale, and export of all conventional weapon systems containing uranium (usually called depleted uranium weapons).It also seeks health monitoring and compensation for communities affected by the use of uranium weapons and the environmental remediation of such sites.A draft convention:ICBUW has prepared a draft Convention for a ban on depleted uranium weapons.ICBUW’s Draft Convention contains a general and comprehensive prohibition of the development, production, transport, storage, possession, transfer, and use of uranium ammunition, uranium armour-plate, and of any other military use of uranium.The Convention also outlines obligations concerning the abolition of uranium weapons and the destruction of uranium weapons construction facilities.It obliges states to ensure a rapid decontamination of radioactive battlefields and test ranges, emphasising the protection of civilians living in these areas, and obliges states to compensate the victims.
Topic 2: Marburg virus disease
Context: Five people have died and three others are infected with the Marburg virus in Tanzania.
What is the Marburg virus disease?
- What is it?
- Marburg virus disease (MVD), earlier known as Marburg hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal hemorrhagic fever.
- Marburg, like Ebola, is a filovirus and both diseases are clinically similar.
- Rousettus fruit bats are considered the natural hosts for the Marburg virus.
- However, African green monkeys imported from Uganda were the source of the first human infection.
- First detection:
- It was first detected in 1967 after simultaneous outbreaks in Marburg and Frankfurt in Germany and in Belgrade, Serbia.
- Fatality rate:
- The disease has an average fatality rate of around 50%.
- However, it can be as low as 24% or as high as 88% depending on virus strain and case management.
- high fever,
- muscle aches
- severe headache
- abdominal pain,
- severe watery diarrhoea and cramping.
- bleeding from the nose and gums and
- blood appearing in vomit and faeces.
- It is difficult to clinically distinguish MVD from diseases such as malaria, typhoid fever and other viral haemorrhagic fevers.
- It is confirmed by lab testing of samples, which like Coronavirus and Ebola are extreme biohazard risks.
- There is no approved antiviral treatment or vaccine for MVD as of now.
- It can be managed with supportive care.
Topic 3: Nowruz
Context: The Parsi community in India, which follows Zoroastrianism, celebrated Nowruz on March 21, marking the beginning of the New Year.
- Nowruz begins on the first day of the Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar at the spring equinox, and continues for 12 days.
- In 1079 AD, a Persian king Jalaluddin Malekshah introduced this festival to generate revenue and collect taxes from people.
- It is celebrated on the spring equinox on or around 21 March on the Gregorian calendar.
- Nowruz, across Central Asia, is celebrated by:
- weaving Toran, an ornated gateway;
- chalk making (similar to the Hindu tradition of making rangolis), and
- taking around the Loban (frankincense) in the act of ritual purity.
- It is known as Jamshed Navroz in India.
- It is inscribed in the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of India.
Topic 4: Earth Hour
Context: Lights at public places and some temples in different cities including Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi were turned off between 8.30 p.m. and 9.30 p.m. as part of the global ‘Earth Hour’ event.
What is Earth Hour?
- Earth Hour was launched in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund and its partners in Sydney, Australia.
- Earth Hour is described as the largest global grassroots movement for the environment.
- Earth Hour aims to increase awareness and spark global conversations on protecting nature, tackling the climate crisis, and working together to shape a brighter future for all.
- In Uganda it created the first “Earth Hour Forest” in 2013.
- Argentina used its 2013 Earth Hour campaign to help pass a Senate bill for 8.4 million acres of marine protected area in the country.
- What time is Earth Hour?
- To participate one has to turn off the lights in their home from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. in your local time zone.
- How turning off the lights helps the environment
- According to the WWF, turning off the lights is a symbolic way to raise awareness about climate change.
- The planet is on track to reach over 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming, in doing so risking irreversible environmental degradation and runaway climate change that will affect all our societies and economies.
- The organization encourages participants to use their lights-off hour“doing something positive for our planet.
- The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is a Swiss-based non-governmental organization.
- It was founded in 1961.
- It works in the field of wilderness preservation and the reduction of human impact on the environment.
- It is the world’s largest conservation organization.
- WWF is a foundation with:
- 65% of funding from individuals and bequests,
- 17% from government sources (such as the World Bank, DFID, and USAID) and
- 8% from corporations.
- WWF is a foundation with:
- The Living Planet Report is being published every two years by WWF since 1998.
- It is based on a Living Planet Index and ecological footprint calculation.
- Other initiatives:
- WWF has launched several notable worldwide campaigns, including Earth Hour and Debt-for-nature swap.
- The current presidency lies with India since 2018.
- The President is Pawan Sukhdev.
Topic 5: Quote – Mere faith and blind faith is dangerous: It dulls the brain and makes a man reactionary
- About the quote:
- This quote is part of a passage/essay written by Bhagat Singh.
- In this passage, Bhagat Singh outlines why reason, rather than blind faith, should drive anyone who believes in progress.
- Usage of the term faith:
- Singh uses the term ‘faith’ in two different ways:
- first, as a synonym for religious beliefs (‘old faiths’) and
- second, simply as faith (complete trust or confidence in someone or something) itself.
- Singh uses the term ‘faith’ in two different ways:
- Meaning of the quote:
- Bhagat Singh’s problem is not with faith itself but ‘blind faith’
- Singh writes that as long as reason is one’s ‘guiding star’, faith is welcome, even if it may be misplaced.
- This is because being reasonable presupposes being questioning and open to change one’s views.
- Our knowledge is fundamentally incomplete.
- There will always be more to know than what is known at present.
- This means that our faith has to reflect this.
- For instance, for the longest time, it was believed that the earth was at the centre of the universe.
- In fact people like Galileo who said otherwise were ridiculed and sometimes, even persecuted.
- Today, we know without a doubt that our planet is but a tiny, insignificant speck in the vast nothingness of the universe.
- This change in our belief came with advancements in science and humankind’s collective gathering of knowledge.
- Mere faith in Earth’s uniqueness amidst overwhelming evidence otherwise would be dishonest and nonsensical.
- Similarly, mere faith and blind faith in any fact, any religious teaching, in any god, is also dangerous.
- Why is blind faith dangerous?
- Religion and blind faith engender a certain kind of passivity in human beings.
- They make humans not question the injustice that surrounds them and blindly follow authority, even to their own detriment.
- It also makes them reactionary to criticism and censure.
- Even a completely reasonable challenge to someone’s beliefs can draw unreasonable, often violent, responses.
- The mark of a true revolutionary
- Criticism and independent thinking are the two indispensable qualities of a revolutionary.
- By no means is believing in something itself bad.
- But when it is blind, and unquestioning, this belief can be dangerous.
- It is imperative for humans to continue to question what is in front of them, whether it be material conditions, seemingly infallible leaders or religion.
- In a country where Bhagat Singh remains one of the tallest national icons to date, it will be wise to think about his words and put them into action for once.
- In the face of the hold that dogma, superstition, and religious fundamentalism continue to have over the people of India, Bhagat Singh offers an alternative vision, one based on rationality and critical thought.
Topic 6: Some tigers from India may be sent to Cambodia
Context: India is considering translocating some tigers to Cambodia.
- MoU signed:
- India signed a memorandum of understanding with Cambodia to assist it with all technical details and knowledge regarding the reintroduction of the tiger in the country.
- How did tigers go extinct in Cambodia?
- Due to habitat destruction and poaching.
- The last tiger spotted on a camera trap in Cambodia was in 2007.
- In 2016, Cambodia announced that tigers were “functionally extinct”, meaning no breeding populations of the animal were left in the country.
- Tiger population:
- Thirteen countries make up the tiger range of the world:
- Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand and Vietnam.
- In 2010, these countries had met and adopted a goal to double their tiger population by 2022.
- India reached the goal before that year.
- With its current population of about 3,000 tigers, India harbours more than 70% of the global wild tiger population.
- The animal has gone extinct in Laos and Vietnam.
- Thirteen countries make up the tiger range of the world:
- Tiger species in the world:
- The Indochinese tiger found in Cambodia is smaller than the Royal Bengal tiger, but they are the same subspecies.
- Since 2017, IUCN has recognised two tiger subspecies, commonly referred to as the continental tiger and the Sunda island tiger.
- All remaining island tigers are found only in Sumatra, with tigers in Java and Balinow extinct.
- These are popularly known as Sumatran tigers.
- The continental tigers currently include the Bengal, Malayan, Indochinese and Amur (Siberian) tiger populations, while the Caspian tiger is extinct in the wild.
- The South China tiger is believed to be functionally extinct.
Topic 7: India rejected J&J’s patent on TB drug
Context: Recently, the Indian Patent Office rejected an application by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson (J&J) to extend its patent on the drug bedaquiline.
What is Bedaquiline?
- Bedaquiline is a drug in tablet form used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB).
What is drug-resistant TB?
- As of 2017, India accounted for around one-fourth of the world’s burden of multi-drug-resistant (MDR) TB and of extensively-drug-resistant (XDR) TB.
- MDR TB resists treatment by at least two frontline drugs in TB treatment, isoniazid and rifampicin.
- XDR TB resists these two drugs as well as fluoroquinolones and any second-line injectable drug.
- XDR TB is rarer than MDR TB.
- TB incidence in India has been on the decline, but MDR TB and XDR TB endanger initiatives to locally eradicate the disease.
How is drug-resistant TB treated?
- TB is an infection of the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the lungs, but often in other organs as well.
- It can be treated by strictly adhering to the doses and frequencies of drugs prescribed by a physician.
- Deviations from this schedule can lead the bacteria to become drug-resistant.
- The drugs often have side effects that diminish the quality of life and/or because patients haven’t been afforded access to the requisite drugs on time.
- Drug-resistant TB is harder to treat.
Significance of bedaquiline:
- One important option for those diagnosed with pulmonary MDR TB is bedaquiline.
- In 2018, the World Health Organization replaced two injectable drugs for MDR TB with an oral regimen that included bedaquiline.
- Bedaquiline hadn’t completed phase III trials.
- Studies until 2018 found that it could be toxic to the heart and the liver.
- Hence it is recommended only as a treatment of last resort.
- India’s Health Ministry has guidelines for bedaquiline use as part of the Programmatic Management of MDR TB under the National TB Elimination Programme.
Why was the patent application rejected?
- J&J’s patent application was for a fumarate salt of a compound to produce bedaquiline tablets.
- It was argued that J&J’s method to produce a solid pharmaceutical composition of bedaquiline is obvious, known in the art and doesn’t require an inventive step.
- According to the Indian Patent Act 1970, an ‘inventive step’ is an invention that is not obvious to a person skilled in the art.
Significance of the rejection:
- India has the largest population of people living with drug-resistant TB.
- J&J’s patent on bedaquiline meant the drug cost $340 per person, plus the cost of other drugs.
- The rejection is expected to lower the cost of bedaquiline by up to 80%.
- So far, the Indian government has directly procured the drug and distributed it through State-level TB programmes.
- After July 2023, manufacturers of generic drugs will be able to produce generic versions of bedaquiline.
Topic 8: India’s first cable-stayed railway bridge
Context: India’s first cable-stayed bridge and the first-of-its-kind in the country, is currently under construction and will soon be completed.
- The Anji Khad bridge is being constructed in the Reasi district of the Union territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
- This is a 80 km long bridge.
- The idea was first conceived in 2002 and was declared a “national project”.
- The Anji Khad bridge was initially proposed to be an arch bridge, a design similar to that of the Chenab Bridge.
- In 2016, Indian Railways decided to build a cable-stayed bridge taking the geographical concerns in mind.
- The bridge will connect the Katra and Reasi section of Jammu-Baramulla line.
- Other features:
- The asymmetrical cable-stayed bridge is balanced on the axis of a central pylon — a large vertical tower-like structure.
- It can withstand 213 kmph of winds.
- The bridge is a part of the national project of the Udhampur-Srinagar- Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) Project.
- The Anji Khad bridge, once completed, will become taller than the Eiffel Tower.
- The project was commissioned by the Northern Railways and is being executed by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd. (KRCL) and Hindustan Construction Company.
Topic 9: IMF bailouts
Context: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) confirmed a $3 billion bailout plan for Sri Lanka’s struggling economy.
What is a bailout?
- Bailout is a general term for extending financial support to a company or a country facing a potential bankruptcy threat.
- It can take the form of loans, cash, bonds, or stock purchases.
- A bailout may or may not require reimbursement and is often accompanied by greater government oversee and regulations.
Why do nations seek an IMF bailout?
- Macroeconomic issues:
- Countries seek help from the IMF usually when their economies face a major macroeconomic risk, mostly in the form of a currency crisis.
- For instance in the case of Sri Lanka and Pakistan, both countries have witnessed domestic prices rise rapidly and the exchange value of their currencies drop steeply against the U.S. dollar.
- Such currency crises are generally the result of gross mismanagement of the nation’s currency by its central bank.
- Creation of fresh money not a solution:
- Central banks may be forced by governments to create fresh money out of thin air to fund populist spending.
- Such spending eventually results in a rapid rise of the overall money supply, which in turn causes prices to rise across the economy and the exchange value of the currency to drop.
- A rapid, unpredictable fall in the value of a currency can destroy confidence in said currency and affect economic activity as people may turn hesitant to accept the currency in exchange for goods and services.
- Foreigners may also be unwilling to invest in an economy where the value of its currency gyrates in an unpredictable manner.
- A country’s domestic economic policies can also have an adverse impact on its currency’s exchange rate and foreign exchange reserves.
- In the case of Sri Lanka, a decrease in foreign tourists visiting the country led to a steep fall in the flow of U.S. dollars into the nation.
- Need for a bailout:
- In such a scenario, many countries are forced to seek help from the IMF to:
- meet their external debt and other obligations,
- to purchase essential imports, and
- to prop up the exchange value of their currencies.
- In such a scenario, many countries are forced to seek help from the IMF to:
How does the IMF help countries?
- The IMF basically lends money, often in the form of special drawing rights (SDRs) to troubled economies.
- SDRs simply represent a basket of five currencies, namely the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese yuan, the Japanese yen, and the British pound.
- The IMF carries out its lending to troubled economies through a number of lending programs such as:
- the extended credit facility,
- the flexible credit line,
- the stand-by agreement, etc.
- What the countries do with the money?
- Countries receiving the bailout can use the SDRs for various purposes.
- Currently, both Sri Lanka and Pakistan are in urgent need for U.S. dollars to import essential items and also to pay their foreign debt.
- So any money that they receive from the IMF is likely to go towards addressing these urgent issues.
Conditions to an IMF bailout
- The IMF usually imposes conditions on countries before it lends any money to them.
- Acountry may have to agree to implement certain structural reforms as a condition to receive IMF loans.
- The IMF may demand a country affected by high price inflation to ensure the independence of its central bank.
|About IMFThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international organization that:promotes global economic growth and financial stability,encourages international trade, andreduces poverty.Quotas of member countries are a key determinant of the voting power in IMF decisions.Votes comprise one vote per 100,000 special drawing rights (SDR) of quota plus basic votes.SDRs are an international type of monetary reserve currency created by the IMF as a supplement to the existing money reserves of member countries.It is based in Washington, D.C.The organization is currently composed of 190 member countries.The IMF was originally created in 1945 as part of the Bretton Woods agreement, which attempted to encourage international financial cooperation by introducing a system of convertible currencies at fixed exchange rates.One of the IMF’s most important functions is to give loans to countries that are experiencing economic distress to prevent or mitigate financial crises.IMF funds come from two major sources: quotas and loans.Quotas, which are pooled funds of member nations, generate most IMF funds.The size of a member’s quota depends on its economic and financial importance in the world.Nations with greater economic significance have larger quotas.The quotas are increased periodically as a means of boosting the IMF’s resources in the form of special drawing rights.Special drawing rights are supplementary foreign exchange reserve assets maintained by the International Monetary Fund.SDRs are units of account for the IMF, and not a currency per se.They represent a claim to currency held by IMF member countries for which they may be exchanged.
Topic 10: Biotransformation technology
Context: A U.K.-based startup claims to have developed biotransformation technology that can alter the state of plastics and make them biodegradable without leaving behind any microplastics.
What is biotransformation technology?
- Biotransformation technology is a novel approach to ensure plastics that escape refuse streams are processed efficiently and broken down.
- Plastics made using this technology are given a pre-programmed time during which the manufactured material looks and feels like conventional plastics without compromising on quality.
- Once the product expires and is exposed to the external environment, it self-destructs and biotransformsinto bioavailable wax.
- This wax is then consumed by microorganisms, converting waste into water, CO2, and biomass.
- This biotransformation technology is the world’s first that ensures polyolefins fully biodegrade in an open environment causing no microplastics.
Need for such technology in India:
- The country is generating 3.5 billion kgs of plastic waste annually.
- Per capita plastic waste generation has doubled in the past five years.
- Of this, a third comes from packaging waste.
- In 2019, plastic packaging waste from e-commerce firms was estimated at over a billion kilograms worldwide.
- Amazon (e-commerce site) generated nearly 210 million kgs of plastic from packaging waste in 2019.
- They also estimated that up to 10 million kgs of Amazon’s plastic packaging ended up in the world’s freshwater and marine ecosystems as pollution in the same year.
(However, Amazon India has now eliminated single-use plastics across its fulfilment centers. Flipkart has also done the same in 2021 across its supply chain.)
Where can this technology be used?
- Food packaging and health care industries are the two prime sectors that could use this technology to reduce waste.
Is this being used in India?
- Some well-known Indian firms in food and packaging industries deploy such technologies.
- Within healthcare and pharma industries, this technology provides biodegradable solutions for non-woven hygiene products like diapers, sanitary napkins, facial pads, etc.
Initiatives by Indian Government:
- The Indian government has launched multiple initiatives to move the country towards sustainability.
- They have introduced a plastic waste management gazette to help tackle the ever-growing plastic pollution caused by single-use plastics.
- The government imposed a ban on single-use plastics to bring a stop to its use in the country.
- The National Dashboard on Elimination of Single Use Plastic and Plastic Waste Management brings all stakeholders together to track the progress made in eliminating single-use plastic and effectively managing such waste.
- An Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) portal helps in improving accountability traceability, and facilitating ease of compliance reporting in relation to EPR obligations of the producers, importers and brand-owners.
- India has also developed a mobile app to report single use plastics grievances to check sale, usage or manufacturing of single use plastics in their area.
Alternatives to reducing plastic waste
- A switch to jute or paper-based packaging could potentially cut down plastic waste.
- This could also build sustainability within the paper industry, and save on the import bill on ethylene solutions.
- The wooden packaging is yet another alternative, but that will make the packaging bulkier and increase cost.
- The Government of Tamil Nadu organised a National Expo and Conference of Startups to raise awareness on alternatives to single-use plastics.
- The alternatives showcased were made using coir, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute and cloth.