IASCLUB Daily Current Affairs : 11 September 2019

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Cryodrakon Boreas: A giant flying reptile, newly identified

Topic: GS-I:  History

Paleontologists have identified a new species, named it Cryodrakon boreas, and declared that it could be one of the largest flying animals.

More in news:

  • With a wingspan of over 10 metres, it is believed to have flown over the heads of dinosaurs. The reptile lived over 77 million years ago in what is western Canada today.
  • Its remains were, in fact, discovered 30 years ago from the Dinosaur Park Formation located in Alberta. Then, paleontologists had assumed that it belonged to an already known species of pterosaur, Quetzalcoatlus.
  • A new study by reseachers from the Queen Mary University of London, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, has concluded that the remains belong to a new species, which is also the first pterosaur to be discovered in Canada. The remains included a skeleton consisting of parts of the wings, legs, neck and a rib.
  • The researchers came to the conclusion after analysing the remains ago as well as additional, undocumented material that was uncovered over the years.

Bombay blood group

Topic: GS–II: Health

Context:

Over the last two weeks, the “Bombay blood group”, a rare blood type, has been at the centre of attention in Mumbai’s healthcare scene. Demand for the blood type has coincidentally spiked at hospitals, but supply has been scarce.

Blood types, common & rare

  • The four most common blood groups are A, B, AB and O.
  • The rare, Bombay blood group was first discovered in Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1952 by Dr Y M Bhende.
  • Each red blood cell has antigen over its surface, which helps determine which group it belongs to. The Bombay blood group, also called hh, is deficient in expressing antigen H, meaning the RBC has no antigen H. For instance, in the AB blood group, both antigens A and B are found. A will have A antigens; B will have B antigens. In hh, there are no A or B antigens.

Rare in India, rarer globally

  • Globally, the hh blood type has an incidence of one in four million. It has a higher incidence in South Asia; in India, one in 7,600 to 10,000 are born with this type.
  • Dr Arun Thorat, in-charge of Maharashtra State Blood Transfusion Council, said this blood type is more common in South Asia than anywhere else because of inbreeding and close community marriages. “It is genetically passed,” he said. Shared common ancestry among Indians, Sri Lankans, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis has led to more cases of hh blood phenotype in this region.

Testing for the group

  • To test for hh blood, an Antigen H blood test is required. Often the hh blood group is confused with the O group. The difference is that the O group has Antigen H, while the hh group does not.
  • If anyone lacks Antigen H, it does not mean he or she suffers from poor immunity or may be more prone to diseases. Their counts for haemoglobin, platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells are similar to the count of others based on their health index. Because of rarity, however, they do face problems during blood transfusion.

Transfusion limitations

  • A 2015 study in the Asian Journal of Transfusion Science observed: “The individuals with Bombay blood group can only be transfused autologous blood or blood from individuals of Bombay hh phenotype only which is very rare.” Rejection may occur if they receive blood from A, B, AB or O blood group. In contrast, hh blood group can donate their blood to ABO blood types.
  • An unofficial registry for Bombay blood group lists over 350 donors across India. “But at any time there are only 30 active donors available,” said Vinay Shetty of Think Foundation, an NGO. This group is generally not stored in blood banks, mainly because it is rare and the shelf life of blood is 35-42 days. So, whenever there is a demand for a Bombay blood group patient, a donor is required very urgently. Sometimes, facilities need to be created for transporting the donated blood from one city to another. Two weeks ago, a patient in Kota got hh blood from a Pune-based donor. The blood was flown to Jaipur and taken to Kota hospital by road.

Shortage in focus

  • The spike in demand is coincidental, said Shetty. Last week, he received requests from three hospitals in Mumbai for multiple hh blood type patients. Two of them are cancer patients in Tata Memorial Hospital.
  • Patients of this blood group could die for want of blood. In Sri Lanka in 2017, a cancer patient died for want of hh blood group negative.

A suicide every 40 seconds

Topic: GS–II: Health

A fact sheet released by the World Health Organization last week shows that close to 8 lakh people die due to suicide every year. In other words, suicides account for one death every 40 seconds. Another important fact that often gets missed is that behind every successful suicide, there are more than 20 attempts at taking one’s life.

More in news:

  • Chart 1 provides the regional spread of suicide rates. Against a global average of 10.53 deaths due to suicide (per 100,000 population) Europe tends to register the maximum deaths due to suicide while Eastern Mediterranean reports the lowest average. However, even within each region, there are wide disparities. For instance, as chart 2 shows, India and Pakistan report very different levels of suicide rates.

  • Chart 2 shows country-specific rates of a wide variety of countries both in terms of geography and resource allocation as well as in terms of economic prosperity. It ranks India next to some of the other countries most comparable to it such as Indonesia, Brazil and China. Russia’s data stands out for being over four times the global average.
  • The report said that while suicide happens throughout the lifespan, it was the second leading cause of death among 15- to 29-year-olds. Chart 3 shows the break-up of the number of suicides globally among young people. The leading cause for death in this age group is road injury (for men) and maternal conditions (for women).
  • While the link between suicide and mental disorders, especially depression and alcohol use, is well established, WHO finds that many suicides happen during a crisis and because of an individual’s inability to deal with stress. However, by far, WHO states, “the strongest risk factor for suicide is a previous suicide attempt”.
  • As far as methods of suicides are concerned, almost 20 per cent of all suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning. The use of pesticide points to the setting where such suicides happen – rural agricultural areas in low- and middle-income countries. Other common methods are hanging and firearms.

Afghan deal

Topic: GS –II: International relations

Context:

On September 8, President Donald Trump posted on Twitter that he had “cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations” because the Taliban had, “in order to build false leverage”, admitted to a terrorist attack in Kabul in the middle of the “very important peace talks”.

What does this mean?

  • In effect, Trump upended a nine-month pas de deux in Doha between Zalmay Khalilzad, the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, and the Taliban to close a deal for US troops to leave Afghanistan, in return for a commitment that the Taliban would not allow terrorist activities. A draft agreement was ready by the end of August.
  • Khalilzad, who had flown to Kabul to brief President Ashraf Ghani — the Taliban had insisted that the Afghan government would not participate in the talks — on the details on August 31, said an agreement had been reached in principle, and Trump would have to greenlight the draft. He made it seem like this was a formality.

Why did Trump back out?

  • The immediate reason he gave was the September 5 suicide car bombing in central Kabul. The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, killed 12 people including a US serviceman and a Romanian soldier, and left 40 injured. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo offered the same justification.

But few are convinced that this was the real reason.

  • There had been a steady increase in the number of Taliban attacks from January, when the talks began. Indeed, on September 2, while Khalilzad was in Kabul, the Taliban set off a tractor bomb near a heavily guarded compound for foreigners, killing 16 people and injuring 119 others.
  • Time magazine said Pompeo, who was to be one of the two signatories on the deal — the other was the Taliban’s chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar — had second thoughts about putting his name to a deal that contained no guarantees from the Taliban, including on a ceasefire, or an agreement to participate in the “intra-Afghan talks”. Trump may have been looking for a way out, and the September 5 bombing may have given him an opening.

What would have happened at the Camp David meeting (that Trump cancelled)?

  • Trump’s tweet disclosed for the first time that he had invited the Afghan President and the Taliban for separate talks at Camp David, the US President’s retreat. The New York Times reported that Trump’s plan was to bring them together in a “grand announcement”. However, several US media outlets reported that this secret meeting, scheduled for September 9, had in fact been called off two days before the President posted his tweet.
  • It appears that the Taliban did not want to attend the meeting before the agreement had been signed. They feared being forced into talks with Ghani, and into accepting a ceasefire.
  • Ghani, for his part, was preparing to fly to Washington, and knew of the cancellation a day before the tweet. Trump went public with the secret meeting, appearing to cancel it on Twitter, apparently to take charge of the narrative.
  • The meeting, if it had actually happened, may not have gone down well with Trump’s domestic constituencies.
  • His hosting the Taliban, who sheltered Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda, two days before the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, would have been terrible optics. Camp David was also where the historic Egypt-Israel accord was reached, which brought for Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize.

So are the talks with the Taliban dead?

  • It is difficult to say this with certainty. Trump famously resumed his talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un after cancelling them. The Khalilzad camp hopes there will be a resumption in a month or two. But if that happens, US negotiators would have to get more out of the Taliban than the draft agreement seems to contain. If the talks are finished, so is Khalilzad, who saw the Afghan deal as a stepping stone to a bigger profile in a possible Trump 2.0.
  • Pakistan, which played a proactive role to bring the Taliban to the table, and was praised by Trump for it, too has expressed hope for “optimised engagement following earliest resumption of talks”.
  • But then again, it is also possible that Trump may decide to withdraw US troops without an agreement. The Washington Post reported this was the view that National Security Advisor John Bolton, who was opposed to a deal with the Taliban, held — however, in an iteration of the US President’s remarkable unpredictability, Bolton himself was fired on Tuesday.

How have the Taliban reacted?

  • They issued an angry statement on the letterhead of the Islamic Emirate, simultaneously claiming a commitment to peace and warning of more violence. “…We had selected 23 September as the first day for the intra-Afghan talks after the agreement had been signed and announced… Now, the announcement by the President of the United States of an end to negotiations with the Islamic Emirate will harm America more than anyone else; it will harm its credibility, and further expose its anti-peace stance to the world; it would [result in] an increase in financial damage and casualties to its forces; it would demonstrate its political interactions as untrustworthy…” (Translated statement from the Afghan Analysts Network).

What has the Afghan government said?

  • It cannot be displeased. It was excluded from the entire process on the say-so of the Taliban, and feared the commitments that Khalilzad was making to the Taliban. Afghans who had invested in the building of a democratic country, feared that the US withdrawal would be followed by a repeat of 1996 when the Taliban simply outgunned others to return to power. They also feared this was Pakistan’s plan to take control of Afghanistan through a proxy.
  • The government considers the Taliban’s obstinacy to increase violence against Afghans as the main obstacle to the ongoing peace negotiations. We have consistently stressed that genuine peace is possible when the Taliban stop the killing of Afghans, embrace an inclusive ceasefire, and enter into direct negotiations with the Afghan government. The government of Afghanistan reiterates its stance on holding the presidential elections on September 28…,” the government said in a statement.
  • Before the deal fell through, Amrullah Saleh, who is a candidate for vice-president as a running mate of President Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the deal. He had told The Indian Express in an interview: “[The Americans] are breaking norms by trying to sign a deal with a terrorist entity, a non-state malign actor and an insurgent group. We don’t know how they will give it legal justification.”

India had no role in the Afghan talks. Has it now got a chance to get back in the Great Game?

  • India has not reacted yet to the failure of the Afghan talks. But it was unhappy at Pakistan’s role in the process, and the possibility that the Taliban would return to power. India had no official contact with the Taliban. The break in the talks could be the opening that New Delhi was looking for to make contact with at least those sections of the Taliban that are not under the thumb of Pakistan.

United Nations Human Rights Council

Topic: GS –II: International relations

Context:

The United Nations High Comissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, and the communications blackout and detention of political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir.

The UNHRC

  • the Human Rights Council decribes itself as “an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them”. The UNHRC has “the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention throughout the year”. The Human Rights Council replaced the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).

HRC Meetings

  • The Human Rights Council holds no fewer than three regular sessions a year, for a total of at least 10 weeks. The meetings take place for four weeks in in March, for three weeks in June, and for another three weeks in September. The sessions are held at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • The first session took place from June 19-30, 2006, three months after the Council was created by United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/251 on March 15 that year. If one-third of the Member States so request, the HRC can decide at any time to hold a special session to address human rights violations and emergencies.

Membership

  • The Council is made up of 47 UN Member States, which are elected by the UNGA through a direct and secret ballot. The General Assembly takes into account the contribution of the candidate states to the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as their voluntary pledges and commitments in this regard.

Seats on the Council are distributed as follows:

  1. African States: 13 seats
  2. Asia-Pacific States: 13 seats
  3. Latin American and Caribbean States: 8 seats
  4. Western European and other States: 7 seats
  5. Eastern European States: 6 seats
  • Members of the Council serve for a period of three years, and are not eligible for immediate re-election after serving two consecutive terms. As of January 1, 2019, 114 UN Member States have served on the HRC. Both India and Pakistan are on this list.
  • The HRC has a Bureau of one President and four Vice-Presidents, representing the five regional groups. They serve for a year, in accordance with the Council’s annual cycle.

 ‘zero-budget’ farming

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

Context:

Addressing the 14th Conference of Parties (COP14) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) on Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that India was “focusing on Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)”.

More in news:

  • In her Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had spoken of the need to “go back to basics”, and to “replicate this innovative model (that) can help in doubling our farmers’ income”.
  • The National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), India’s premier academic body of agricultural scientists has, however, criticised the “unproven” technology of ZBNF, which it says brings no incremental value gain to either farmers or consumers. NAAS has written to the Prime Minister, expressing the scientific community’s reservations.

So, what is ZBNF?

  • ZBNF is a farming technique that seeks to bring down input costs for farmers by encouraging them to rely upon “natural products”, rather than spending money on pesticides and fertilisers. Proponets claim this system is also more environment-friendly, since it does not require chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
  • The concept behind ZBNF is that over 98 per cent of the nutrients required by crops for photosynthesis — carbon dioxide, nitrogen, water, and solar energy — are already available “free” from the air, rain, and Sun.
  • Only the remaining 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent nutrients need to be taken from the soil, and converted from “non-available” to “available” form (for intake by the roots) through the action of microorganisms.
  • To help the microorganisms act, farmers must apply ‘Jiwamrita’ (microbial culture) and ‘Bijamrita’ (seed treatment solution), and take up ‘mulching’ (covering plants with a layer of dried straw or fallen leaves) and ‘waaphasa’ (giving water outside the plant’s canopy) to maintain the right balance of soil temperature, moisture, and air.
  • To manage insects and pests, ZBNF recommends the use of ‘Agniastra’, ‘Brahmastra’ and ‘Neemastra’, which, like ‘Jiwamrita’ and ‘Bijamrita’, are based mainly on urine and dung of Indian cow breeds. The idea is that since these too, need not be purchased, farming remains practically “zero-budget”.
  • Proponents of ZBNF say that apart from increasing crop yield and leading to healthier produce, this model can also help prevent farmer suicides. Farmers fall into the debt trap mainly because input cost of agriculture is high, they claim, and ZBNF brings it down.

Whose idea is it?

  • The creator of the ZBNF model currently being practised in India is 70-year-old Subhash Palekar, a B.Sc in Agriculture, who has farmed his own land for decades in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, and has also worked with farmer organisations in Karnataka and other states.
  • In 2016, the Indian government honoured him with the Padma Shri. A year later, then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu appointed him an adviser, and allocated Rs 100 crore to promote ZBNF in the state.
  • Palekar says that in ZBNF, farmers use only local seeds, and need around 10% of the water required in conventional farming. He says his experience in his own fields — where he saw the yield depleting due to use of chemical fertilisers, modified seeds and pesticides — led him to develop this model, which he now calls “Zero Budget Spiritual Farming”.

What is the criticism?

  • Scientists say there isn’t much evidence to support Palekar’s claims of the efficacy of ZBNF, and that giving up modified high-value seeds and fertilisers can actually hurt agriculture.
  • Panjab Singh, president of the NAAS, says: “We reviewed the protocols and claims of ZBNF and concluded that there is no verifiable data or authenticated results from any experiment for it to be considered a feasible technological option.”
  • Another scientist from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) told The Indian Express: “78 per cent of air is nitrogen, but it is not freely available to plants. Being non-reactive, atmospheric nitrogen has to be fixed into a plant-usable form such as ammonia or urea. He (Palekar) is saying that ZBNF is effective only if dung and urine from black-coloured Kapila cows is used, and farmers sow traditional varieties/landraces. It means that all the high-yielding varieties and hybrids developed by us, which have trebled India’s rice production to 116 million tonnes, and increased it more than eight times to 102 million tonnes for wheat in the last 50 years, are useless.”

Where is this headed?

  • ICAR, India’s national network of agricultural research and education institutes, has appointed a committee under Praveen Rao Velchala, Vice-Chancellor of the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University to study the viability of ZBNF.
  • “We are examining if there is any science behind it, and its strengths and weaknesses, including vis-à-vis normal organic farming. Currently, experiments in growing crops using ZBNF are taking place in five research station locations, and we are also going to the fields of farmers who have supposedly adopted this technique. All this can be confirmed through analysis of soil data and fertility status,” Velchala told The Indian Express.

Two new species of ginger discovered in Nagaland

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

Scientists from the Botanical Survey of India (BSI) have discovered two new species of Zingiber, commonly referred to as ginger, in Nagaland.

More in news:

  • While Zingiber perenense has been discovered from the Peren district of Nagaland, Zingiber dimapurense was found in the Dimapur district of the State.
  • Details of both discoveries were published in two peer-reviewed journals earlier this year. Of the two species, Zingiber dimapurense is taller in size, with leafy shoots measuring 90-120 cm high, whereas the leafy shoots of Zingiber perenense reach up to 70 cm in height.
  • The type specimens of Zingiber perenense were collected in September 2017, when botanists were working on the ‘State flora of Nagaland’ in the Peren district. “The plant was found growing in moist shady places on the bank of a small steam in the hilly terrain forest of the Tesen village under the Peren subdivision,” the publication authored by four botanists said.

Collection of specimen

  • The specimen of Zingiber dimapurense was collected in October 2016 from the Hekese forest under the Medziphema subdivision. Some rhizomes of this plant collected along with field data were planted in the Botanical Survey of India’s Eastern Regional Centre garden in Shillong, where itself they began flowering in June 2018.
  • The genus Zingiber has 141 species distributed throughout Asia, Australia and the South Pacific, with its centre of diversity in Southeast Asia. More than 20 species have been found in northeastern India. Over the past few years, more than half a dozen species have been discovered from different States of northeast India only.

Start-up scenario is not rosy: report

Topic: GS -III: Economic Development

Not everything is good with the start-up ecosystem in the country, according to a report by TiE Delhi-NCR and consulting firm Zinnov released on Tuesday.

More in report:

  • The report pointed out that the pace of new start-ups being founded has slowed over the past two years across India.
  • The trend is also reflected in the new start-ups coming up in Delhi NCR region.
  • From a record 6,679 start-ups founded across India in 2015, the pace slowed to 5875 start-ups in 2016; 3,478 in 2017 and 2036 in 2018.In the first half of 2019, the number stood at 800.

Editorial section:

The drumbeaters of dystopia-The Hindu

Factoring in safety-The Hindu

The larger picture about inclusive programming-The Hindu

Hard-fought glory-The Hindu

Facing up to reality-The Hindu

 

 

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