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Current Affairs 13 & 14 December 2020 for UPSC Exam

Contents

  1. Climate Ambition Summit
  2. Plasmodium ovale malaria
  3. Polavaram project
  4. How epigenetics alters inherited genetics’ message?
  5. Israel and Bhutan establish diplomatic ties
  6. Bringing life back to Western Ghats grasslands
  7. Using camera traps more ethically in wildlife research
  8. Rare Myristica swamp treefrog found

CLIMATE AMBITION SUMMIT

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

  • The United Nations, United Kingdom and France co-hosted the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, held virtually, which marked the fifth year of adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
  • The UN General Secretary highlighted that the international community might be able to reach the carbon neutrality which is set out in the Paris Agreement only if global emission will be reduced by 45% by 2030 compared with the levels of 2010

Details of Climate Ambition Summit

  • The Summit has the objective to set out new and ambitious commitments under the three pillars of the Paris Agreement that are mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments.
  • The Summit will provide a meaningful platform for businesses, cities and other non-state actors who are rallying together and collaborating to support governments and accelerate the systemic change required to reduce emissions and build resilience.

Highlights of the Indian PM’s address at the summit

  • India has reduced its carbon emission intensity by 21% over 2005 levels.
  • India’s renewable energy capacity is the 4th largest in the world and it will reach 175 GigaWatts in 2022.
  • India’s solar capacity has grown from 2.63 Gigawatts to 36 Gigawatts in 2020.
  • India has pioneered two major initiatives ‘Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure’ and ‘International Solar Alliance’.
  • A United Nations report released earlier this year stated that India’s per capita emissions are actually 60% lower than the global average.

Paris agreement and Climate Change

  • The Paris Agreement was adopted under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015.
  • The central aim of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping the global temperature rise, in this century, well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • China who is the largest emitter, has recently stated in UN that its CO2 emissions will peak before 2030 and will achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.
  • The US has become the first nation in the world to formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. This weakens the global fight against climate change as US is the second largest emitter (~15%).

Current Status of Global Emissions

  • Five years after the Paris agreement, all states have submitted their national contributions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
  • The contributions are radically insufficient to reach the well below 2 degrees Celsius limit and are even further from the 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature limit identified in the Paris Agreement.
  • Besides India, only Bhutan, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Morocco and Gambia were complying with the accord.
  • China has the highest GHG emissions (30%) while the US contributes 13.5% and the EU 8.7%.

-Source: Indian Express


PLASMODIUM OVALE MALARIA

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

Plasmodium ovale – a very uncommon type of malaria, has been identified in a soldier in Kerala – who was posted in Sudan where Plasmodium ovale is endemic.

Types of malaria

Malaria is caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito, if the mosquito itself is infected with a malarial parasite.

There are five kinds of malarial parasites —

  1. Plasmodium falciparum,
  2. Plasmodium vivax (the commonest ones),
  3. Plasmodium malariae,
  4. Plasmodium ovale and
  5. Plasmodium knowlesi.

Current State of Malaria infections in India

  • In India, out of 1.57 lakh malaria cases in the high-burden states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Madhya Pradesh in 2019, 1.1 lakh cases (70%) were cases of falciparum malaria, according to a statement by the Health Ministry on December 2.
  • In 2018, the National Vector-borne Disease Control Programme (NVBDCP) estimated that approximately 5 lakh people suffered from malaria (63% were of Plasmodium falciparum); researchers writing in the Malaria Journal of BMC felt the numbers could be an underestimate.
  • The recent World Malaria Report 2020 said cases in India dropped from about 20 million in 2000 to about 5.6 million in 2019.

More about P ovale in the world

  • P ovale malaria is endemic to tropical Western Africa. According to scientists at NIMR, P ovale is relatively unusual outside of Africa and, where found, comprises less than 1% of the isolates.
  • It has also been detected in the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, but is still relatively rate in these areas.
  • In a 2016 study on the China-Myanmar border, it was found that P ovale and P malariae occurred at very low prevalence, but were often misidentified.
  • In another study, carried out in China’s Jiangsu Province, indigenous malaria cases decreased significantly over 2011-14, but imported cases of P ovale and P malariae had increased, and were often misdiagnosed.

More about Malaria

  • Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that affects humans and other animals.
  • Malaria causes symptoms that typically include fever, tiredness, vomiting, and headaches and in severe cases it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma, or death.
  • Malaria is caused by single-celled microorganisms of the Plasmodium group. – (Neither Bacteria, nor Virus)
  • The disease is most commonly spread by an infected female Anopheles mosquito.
  • The risk of disease can be reduced by preventing mosquito bites through the use of mosquito nets and insect repellents, or with mosquito control measures such as spraying insecticides and draining standing water.
  • The disease is widespread in the tropical and subtropical regions that exist in a broad band around the equator – This includes much of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
  • One of the complications is the emergence of drug-resistant malaria parasites. Certain malaria-endemic countries have even abandoned chloroquine for P. vivax treatment. Fortunately, chloroquine is still effective in India.

Click Here to read more about WHO World Malaria Report 2020

-Source: Indian Express


POLAVARAM PROJECT

Focus: GS-III Industry and Infrastructure

Why in news?

Work on construction of the Polavaram project is going on as per schedule and 41% of the works has so far been completed.

Polavaram Project

  • The Polavaram Project is an under construction multi-purpose irrigation National project on the Godavari River in the West Godavari District and East Godavari District in Andhra Pradesh.
  • Its reservoir back water spreads into parts of Chhattisgarh and Odisha.
  • It gives major boost to tourism sector in Godavari Districts as the reservoir covers the famous Papikonda National Park, Polavaram Hydroelectric project (HEP) and National waterway 4 are in under construction at left side of the river.

National River Linking Project (NRLP)

  • The National River Linking Project (NRLP) formally known as the National Perspective Plan, envisages the transfer of water from water ‘surplus’ basins where there is flooding to water ‘deficit’ basins where there is drought/scarcity, through inter-basin water transfer projects.
  • Digging further into the term ‘surplus’ as per the Government, states that it is the extra water available in a river after it meets the humans’ requirement of irrigation, domestic consumption and industries thereby underestimating the need of the water for the river itself.
  • The National River Interlinking Project will comprise of 30 links to connect 37 rivers across the nation through a network of nearly 3000 storage dams to form a gigantic South Asian Water Grid.

It includes two components:

  1. Himalayan Rivers Development Component
    • Himalayan Rivers Development Component under which 14 links have been identified.
    • This component aims to construct storage reservoirs on the Ganga and Brahmaputra rivers, as well as their tributaries in India and Nepal. The aim is to conserve monsoon flows for irrigation and hydropower generation, along with flood control.
    • The linkage will transfer surplus flows of the Kosi, Gandak and Ghagra to the west.
    • A link between the Ganga and Yamuna is also proposed to transfer the surplus water to drought-prone areas of Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  2. Peninsular Rivers Development Component
    • Peninsular Rivers Development Component or the Southern Water Grid, which includes 16 links that propose to connect the rivers of South India.
    • It envisages linking the Mahanadi and Godavari to feed the Krishna, Pennar, Cauvery, and Vaigai rivers.
    • This linkage will require several large dams and major canals to be constructed.
    • Besides this, the Ken river will also be linked to the Betwa, Parbati, Kalisindh, and Chambal rivers.

Proposed benefits of the Project

  1. Hydropower generation
    • The river interlinking project claims to generate total power of 34,000 MW (34 GW).
    • Out of this, 4,000 MW will come from the peninsular component while 30,000 MW from the Himalayan component.
    • The addition of hydropower is expected to curb the drinking water woes of millions and supply water to industries in drought-prone and water-scarce cities in south and west India.
  2. Irrigation benefits
    • The project claims to provide additional irrigation to 35 million hectares (m ha) in the water-scarce western and peninsular regions, which includes 25 m ha through surface irrigation and 10 m ha through groundwater.
    • This will further create employment, boost crop outputs and farm incomes and multiply benefits through backward (farm equipment and input supplies) and forward linkages (agro-processing industries).
    • Along with this the project is expected to create several benefits for navigation and fisheries.

-Source: The Hindu


HOW EPIGENETICS ALTERS INHERITED GENETICS’ MESSAGE?

Focus: GS-III Science and Technology

Why in news?

  • An exciting research paper on reprogramming to recover youthful epigenetic information and restore vision
  • According to the paper a proposed cause of ageing is the accumulation of “epigenetic noise” that disrupts gene expression patterns lending to changes in inherent DNA function.
  • The paper suggests that if one can put them back by restoring them using specific genes (gene therapy) sight can be restored.

Epigenetics and the human eye

  • The human (and mammalian) eye is a remarkable organ in the course of evolution which has allowed us to “see” the external world clearly and in colour.
  • Earlier forms, such as microbes and plants, reacted to light in other ways (for absorption and use, such as photosynthesis).
  • The front part of the human eye (cornea, lens and the vitreous humour gel) is transparent, colourless and helps focus the incoming light into the retina, helping us see colour.
  • It is the retina that sends the message to the brain.
  • Its main component, called the retinal ganglion cells (RGC) are the ones that help in this process of sending the message in the form of electrical signals, called neurons or nerve cells.
  • Thus, RGCs are the ones that convert optics into electronics.

What is Epigenetics?

  • Epigenetics is the study of how your behaviours and environment can cause changes that affect the way your genes work.
  • Unlike genetic changes, epigenetic changes are reversible and do not change your DNA sequence, but they can change how your body reads a DNA sequence.
  • Environmental stimuli can cause genes to be turned off or turned on.
  • This determines a cell’s specialization (e.g., skin cell, blood cell, hair cell, liver cells, etc.) as a fetus develops into a baby through gene expression (active) or silencing (dormant); and nurture.
  • This normal epigenetic control on our genes can get altered during normal ageing, stress and disease conditions.

Cellular regulators

  • The functioning of cells and tissues in our body are controlled by thousands of proteins that regulate various cellular functions.
  • These proteins are in turn encoded by the respective genes which are a part of our genome or the cellular DNA.
  • Any minor or major changes to our inherited DNA (addition or mutation) can result in altered protein production, which in turn leads to defective cellular functions.
  • This forms the basis for many heritable genetic disorders affecting mankind.

A trigger for various inactivities

  • Apart from DNA or protein sequence level alterations, there are other biochemical changes that influence and dictate if a gene should be active or inactive in a given cell type.
  • For example, the gene that encodes for the insulin protein is present in the exact form, in every cell of the body.
  • However, it is allowed to express only in the insulin-secreting beta cells of the pancreas and is kept inactive in the rest of the cells of the body.
  • This phenomenon is tightly regulated by a combination of regulatory proteins that changes the expressivity of the gene.
  • Also, the histone proteins that bind the DNA and help to compactly wrap it inside the chromosomes can undergo chemical modifications such as methylations and acetylations on different lysine amino acids within the protein.
  • These modifications both on the DNA and its associated proteins alter the chromosomal conformations and regulate gene expression.
  • These changes can either unwind the DNA and allow gene expression or can compact the DNA and render the genes in the region inactive or silent.

-Source: The Hindu


ISRAEL AND BHUTAN ESTABLISH DIPLOMATIC TIES

Focus: GS-II International Relations

Why in news?

  • Recently, Bhutan and Israel established formal ties with a formal ceremony in New Delhi where the Ambassadors of these countries to India exchanged agreements.
  • Recently, in deals brokered by the United States, Israel has established full relations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco in the last two months, while Bhutan established ties with Germany, its first new formal relationship since 2013.

Details

  • The accord between the majority-Jewish Israel and the majority-Buddhist Bhutan follows several years of secret talks with the aim of establishing an alliance, according to the statement from the Foreign Ministry.
  • The two nations agreed to work closely on water management, agriculture, health care and other areas.
  • Key areas of cooperation between the two countries would include economic, technological and agricultural development.
  • The ties between the peoples through cultural exchanges and tourism would also be further enhanced.
  • Israel has supported Bhutanese “human resource development since 1982, especially in the area of agriculture development that has benefited hundreds of Bhutanese youths, which highlighted the “cordial” relations maintained between the countries despite a lack of formal ties.

Israel

  • Israel is a country in Western Asia, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea.
  • It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest.
  • Israel’s economic and technological center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although international recognition of the state’s sovereignty over Jerusalem is limited.
  • In its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a Jewish and democratic state and the nation state of the Jewish people.
  • The country is a liberal democracy with a parliamentary system, proportional representation, and universal suffrage.
  • The prime minister is head of government and the Knesset is the legislature.
  • Israel is a developed country and an OECD member.

Bhutan

  • Bhutan is a landlocked country in the Eastern Himalayas in South Asia.
  • It is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China to the north and India to the south.
  • Bhutan is geopolitically in South Asia and is the region’s second-least-populous nation after Maldives.
  • Thimphu is its capital and the largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center.
  • In South Asia, Bhutan ranks first in economic freedom, ease of doing business and peace and is the least corrupt country in the region as of 2016.
  • Bhutan is also notable for pioneering the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
  • It continues to be a least developed country, but expects to graduate from this status by 2023.
  • The government is a parliamentary democracy; the head of state is the King of Bhutan, known as the “Dragon King.”
  • Hydroelectricity accounts for most of its exports.

-Source: The Hindu


BRINGING LIFE BACK TO WESTERN GHATS GRASSLANDS

Focus: GS-I Geography, GS-III Environment and Ecology

Introduction

  • Tropical montane grasslands (TMG) in the Shola Sky Islands of the Western Ghats have suffered big reductions due to invasions by exotic trees such as acacias, pines and eucalyptus, shrinking the range sizes of endemic species, including plants, birds, amphibians and mammals. Some populations are being driven to local extinction.
  • But researchers have now identified areas suitable for grassland restoration and conservation to reverse the decline.

Details on reversal of Decline

  • The researchers focus on identifying grassland restoration sites using satellite images with a high spatial resolution (RapidEye), and have recommended careful removal of young and isolated exotic trees at the invasion front and restoring grasslands, instead of removing dense stands of mature exotic trees.
  • TMG are high elevation grasslands forming only 2% of all grasslands in the world.
  • Among their functions is regulating the global carbon cycle and serving as a source of water to downstream communities.
  • Researchers say grasslands do not benefit from conservation and restoration efforts afforded to tropical montane forests, possibly due to limited information.
  • Loss of grasslands due to invasive exotic trees is a “novel threat” through the establishment and expansion of exotic tree plantations. In the Western Ghats, 23% of montane grasslands were reportedly converted into invasive exotic tree cover over a period of 44 years.
  • Attempts to manage invasive exotic trees in montane grasslands incorporated approaches that include prevention and mechanical, chemical and biological control.

Example

  • The Palani Hills and Anamalai lost grasslands due to invasive species.
  • Most of these species were planted, but that programme was stopped around the 1990s, and since then, they were purely invasive.
  • The species have a very high seed bank, about which nothing can be done, but cutting them will require multiple cycles.

Way Forward

  • For invasive species such as Acacia mearnsii that grow rapidly and disperse seeds widely, removing mature trees is often ineffective.
  • An approach that targets the removal of young exotic trees would be more effective. Similarly, restoring grasslands where isolated but mature trees exist in grassland patches could be an easy way to restrict further dispersal.

-Source: The Hindu


USING CAMERA TRAPS MORE ETHICALLY IN WILDLIFE RESEARCH

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology, GS-IV Ethics

Introduction

  • The question of ethicality in use of camera traps is – what is to be done when the cameras unintentionally capture images of people – local villagers or even suspected poachers?
  • A new paper published by an international team of researchers notes that the privacy of people photographed needs to be respected and lays out seven basic principles, “a blend of ethical and pragmatic good practices,” to be followed.

How this question came about?

  • The study team has been conducting camera trap-based studies of snow leopards in several countries such as Mongolia, India, China and the Kyrgyz Republic.
  • Some of them had recorded people with guns, trespassers, and even a possible hunting party.
  • On one hand, camera traps can be used as an important tool to detect illegal movement.
  • But doubts are raised if the people have been informed enough.

Arguments for saying it is unethical:

  • It is not ethically correct to quietly sneak out using these cameras and catch the people by surprise; because ultimately it is the local people who are the partners in the forefront of the battle to conserve the habitats and the wildlife.
  • It is important to put out a notice in the surrounding local communities – like “This area is under CCTV Surveillance.”
  • The local communities need to be empowered and well informed of these practices.
  • However – Researchers also have public responsibility that it is important to report illegal activity.

-Source: The Hindu


RARE MYRISTICA SWAMP TREEFROG FOUND

Focus: GS-III Environment and Ecology

Why in news?

Myristica swamp treefrog, a rare arboreal species endemic to the Western Ghats that bears the scientific name Mercurana myristicapalustris , has been recorded for the first time north of the Shencottah gap in the Vazhachal Reserve Forest in Kerala’s Thrissur district.

Details

  • These frogs are rare and elusive for the reason that they are arboreal and active only for a few weeks during their breeding season.
  • During this season, there is a large aggregation of males that descend from the high canopy of the trees.
  • The males vocalise in groups from the low perches in the swamps.
  • They exhibit unique breeding behavior. The breeding season, unlike for other frogs, starts in the pre-monsoon season (May) and ends before the monsoon becomes fully active in June.

Myristica swamps

  • The Myristica swamps are tropical freshwater swamp forests with an abundance of Myristica trees.
  • Myristica trees are the most primitive of the flowering plants on Earth.
  • The evergreen, water-tolerant trees have dense stilt roots helping them stay erect in the thick, black, wet alluvial soil. The trees form a fairly dense forest with a closed canopy.
  • The swamps are typically found in valleys, making them prone to inundation during monsoon rains.

-Source: The Hindu

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