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Current Affairs 23 January 2023

CONTENTS

  1. UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  2. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme
  3. Measles and Rubella
  4. Immune imprinting
  5. Major takeaways: World Economic Forum’s 2023 
  6. Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)

UNESCO World Heritage Sites


Context:

The Centre has decided to nominate Assam’s Charaideo Maidams — the Ahom equivalent of the ancient Egyptian pyramids — for the UNESCO World Heritage Site status this year. There is currently no World Heritage Site in the category of cultural heritage in the northeast.

Relevance:

GS-I: Art and Culture

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are UNESCO World Heritage Sites?
  2. More about selection and protection of World Heritage Sites
  3. UNESCO World Heritage Committee

What are UNESCO World Heritage Sites?

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of distinctive cultural or physical importance which is considered of outstanding value to humanity.
  • It may be a building, a city, a complex, a desert, a forest, an island, a lake, a monument, or a mountain.
  • They have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy as they have a special cultural or physical significance and outstanding universal value to the humanity.
  • Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites.
  • At present, India has 38 World Heritage Properties. All the sites under the Ministry are conserved as per ASI’s Conservation Policy and are in good shape.

More about selection and protection of World Heritage Sites

  • The sites are judged to be important for the collective and preservative interests of humanity.
  • To be selected, a WHS must be an already-classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain, or wilderness area).
  • It may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity, and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.
  • The sites are intended for practical conservation for posterity, which otherwise would be subject to risk from human or animal trespassing, unmonitored/uncontrolled/unrestricted access, or threat from local administrative negligence.
  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Program administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 “states parties” that are elected by their General Assembly.

UNESCO World Heritage Committee

  • The World Heritage Committee selects the sites to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the World Heritage List and the List of World Heritage in Danger.
  • It monitors the state of conservation of the World Heritage properties, defines the use of the World Heritage Fund and allocates financial assistance upon requests from States Parties.
  • It is composed of 21 states parties that are elected by the General Assembly of States Parties for a four-year term.
  • India is NOT a member of this Committee.

-Source: The Hindu


Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme


Context:

The average days of employment provided per household under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is at a five-year low, this financial year.

Relevance:

GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Health and Poverty related issues, Government Interventions and Policies, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of Government Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)
  2. How MGNREGA came to be?
  3. Features of MGNREGA
  4. Objectives of MGNREGA

Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)

  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, MGNREGA, is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the ‘right to work’. This act was passed in September 2005.
  • It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.
  • It covers all districts of India except the ones with 100% urban population.
  • MGNREGA is to be implemented mainly by gram panchayats (GPs). The involvement of contractors is banned.
  • Apart from providing economic security and creating rural assets, NREGA can help in protecting the environment, empowering rural women, reducing rural-urban migration and fostering social equity, among others.
  • The MGNREGA wage rates are fixed according to changes in the CPI-AL (Consumer Price Index-Agriculture Labour), which reflects the increase in the inflation in rural areas.

How MGNREGA came to be?

  • In 1991, the P.V Narashima Rao government proposed a pilot scheme for generating employment in rural areas with the following goals:
    • Employment Generation for agricultural labour during the lean season.
    • Infrastructure Development
    • Enhanced Food Security
  • This scheme was called the Employment Assurance Scheme which later evolved into the MGNREGA after the merger with the Food for Work Programme in the early 2000s.
Features of MGNREGA
  • It gives a significant amount of control to the Gram Panchayats for managing public works, strengthening Panchayati Raj Institutions.
  • Gram Sabhas are free to accept or reject recommendations from Intermediate and District Panchayats.
  • It incorporates accountability in its operational guidelines and ensures compliance and transparency at all levels.
Objectives of MGNREGA
  • Provide 100 days of guaranteed wage employment to rural unskilled labour
  • Increase economic security
  • Decrease migration of labour from rural to urban areas.

-Source: The Hindu


Measles and Rubella


Context:

As the new year dawned, so did a crucial target for India. India had set a target to eliminate measles and rubella (MR) by 2023, having missed the earlier deadline of 2020, due to a variety of reasons, exacerbated by disruptions due to the pandemic. An earlier target that was set for 2015 was also missed. 

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Measles
  2. About Rubella

About Measles

  • Measles or as it is called ‘khasra’, is a highly contagious viral disease which affects mostly children.
  • It is one of the leading causes of death and disability among young children.
  • There is no specific treatment for measles but there is a vaccine to stay protected from the disease, which is both safe as well as cost effective.
  • Death due to measles are caused by the complications associated with the disease like blindness, encephalitis, severe diarrhoea and pneumonia.
Spread:
  • Measles spreads by coughing and sneezing, close personal contact or direct contact with infected nasal or throat secretions.
  • As per reports, an infected child with measles can spread the virus to others for about eight days, starting four days before the rash appears and ending when the rash has been present for four days.
What are the symptoms?
  • Symptoms appear around 10 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.
  • The main symptoms are fever, dry cough, running nose, sore throat and rash.
  • The rashes look like small red spots which remain slightly raised and give the skin a splotchy red appearance.
  • The face of the rash breaks out first. Within days, it spreads to the rest of the body.

About Rubella

  • It is also called German Measles.
  • Rubella is a contagious, generally mild viral infection that occurs most often in children and young adults.
  • Rubella infection in pregnant women may cause death or congenital defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) which causes irreversible birth defects.
  • It is contagious and there is no known treatment for it, although it can be prevented by vaccination.
  • It can cause blindness or irreversible birth defects (congenital rubella syndrome).
  • The rubella virus is different from the one that causes measles.
  • Although both share a few symptoms, rubella is not as severe or contagious as measles.

-Source: The Hindu


Immune Imprinting


Context:

Since last September, countries like the UK and the US have rolled out variant-specific or bivalent boosters, in the hope that they would provide better protection against the coronavirus infection in comparison to the original vaccine. However, a slew of recent studies has shown that a phenomenon in our bodies, called immune imprinting, might be making these new boosters far less effective than expected.

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is immune imprinting?
  2. What are the findings of the recent study?

What is Immune Imprinting?

  • Immune imprinting is a tendency of the body to repeat its immune response based on the first variant it encountered, through infection or vaccination, when it comes across a newer or slightly different variant of the same pathogen.
Background
  • The phenomenon was first observed in 1947, when scientists noted that “people who had previously had flu, and were then vaccinated against the current circulating strain, produced antibodies against the first strain they had encountered”.
  • At the time, it was termed the ‘original antigenic sin’ but today, it’s commonly known as imprinting.
How it works?
  • Over the years, scientists have realised that imprinting acts as a database for the immune system, helping it put up a better response to repeat infections.
  • After our body is exposed to a virus for the first time, it produces memory B cells that circulate in the bloodstream and quickly produce antibodies whenever the same strain of the virus infects again.

Problem with Imprinting

  • The problem occurs when a similar, not identical, variant of the virus is encountered by the body.
  • In such cases, the immune system, rather than generating new B cells, activates memory B cells, which in turn produce “antibodies that bind to features found in both the old and new strains, known as cross-reactive antibodies”.
    • Although these cross-reactive antibodies do offer some protection against the new strain, they aren’t as effective as the ones produced by the B cells when the body first came across the original virus.

What are the findings of the recent study?

  • Two studies were conducted by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston
  • The studies showed that the bivalent booster vaccine did not elicit a superior virus-neutralizing peak antibody response compared to the original monovalent vaccine
  • Immune imprinting may be a hurdle in the success of variant-specific vaccines
  • An earlier study by Imperial College London observed that Omicron infection had little or no beneficial effect of boosting any part of the immune system among participants who had been imprinted with older coronavirus variants
  • The World Health Organization has cautioned that the bulk of the benefit is from the provision of a booster, regardless of whether it is a monovalent or bivalent vaccine
  • Scientists suggest that regardless of the type, coronavirus vaccines are crucial in staving off serious illness
  • A need to come up with a vaccine that can overcome imprinting and thwart the transmission of the virus.

-Source: Indian Express


Major Takeaways: World Economic Forum’s 2023 


Context:

Recently, The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023, held in the Swiss town of Davos, ended – a conference that started in a world possibly fundamentally altered, but whose processes and outcomes remained pretty much business as usual.

  • The theme this year was ‘Cooperation in a Fragmented World’.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Some key takeaways from WEF Davos 2023.
  2. Projects Launched
  3. About World Economic Forum (WEF)

Some key takeaways from WEF Davos 2023.

Economic Outlook
  • Most business leaders were upbeat about the economy, with US and the European Union (EU) seemingly beyond the risk of a recession now.
  • China ending its zero Covid curbs and opening shop again added to the positive outlook.
  • Chinese Vice Premier predicts a “noticeable increase of import, more investment by companies, and consumption returning back to normal can be expected” in 2023.
  • Central banks of the major economies cautioned that concerns still remained, and said they would keep interest rates high to ensure inflation is under check.
China’s Opening Up
  • Many pointed out that China opening up could mean a rise in its energy consumption, thereby driving up energy prices.
  • As the richer nations focus inwards, protecting their own workers, energy sufficiency, supply lines, etc., concerns were raised that this policy direction would hit developing economies.
  • Raghuram Rajan, former Reserve Bank of India Governor, said, “This becomes a rich-country game, right? We can subsidise this, you can subsidise that – what about the poor countries, who have limited fiscal room? They get left out in the cold.”
On Ukraine
  • Ukraine kept up its demand for more military aid to fight its war against Russia, and more financial aid to rebuild after the war.
  • Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for reconstruction fund commitments to start coming in now and not after the war ends.
  • President of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said “The more we do now, the less we will have to do in reconstruction.”
Climate Action
  • The World Economic Forum launched the Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA), a global initiative to fund and grow new and existing public, private and philanthropic partnerships (PPPPs) to help unlock the $3 trillion of financing needed each year to reach net zero, reverse nature loss and restore biodiversity by 2050.
  • Activists including Greta Thunberg organized a protest with slogans such as “There is no planet B” and “Fossil fuels have got to go”.
  • Pakistan brought up the issue of a loss and damage fund for the developing countries.
Green Energy Law
  • EU raised concerns over a US green energy law that benefits products, such as electric vehicles, made in America.
  • International Monetary Fund Managing Director, when asked for one thing she would change to accelerate the net zero transition, said she would lock the US, China, India and European Union in a room. “Let them out after they sign in blood a commitment to work together to save the planet,”” she said.

Projects Launched

  • More than 50 “high-impact initiatives” were launched at the event.
  • Maharashtra Institution for Transformation (MITRA) signed a partnership with the forum on urban transformation to give the state government “strategic and technical direction”
  • A thematic centre on healthcare and life sciences is to be set up in Telangana.
  • The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovations (CEPI) aims to develop new vaccines for future pandemics.

About World Economic Forum (WEF)

  • The World Economic Forum is the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
  • It was established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is independent, impartial and not tied to any special interests.
  • The Forum strives in all its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance.
  • Major reports published by WEF:
    • Energy Transition Index.
    • Global Competitiveness Report.
    • Global IT Report (WEF along with INSEAD, and Cornell University)
    • Global Gender Gap Report.
    • Global Risk Report.
    • Global Travel and Tourism Report.

-Source: Indian Express


Liquified Natural Gas (LNG)


Context:

The EU is weaning itself off piped Russian gas by rapidly expanding imports of liquified natural gas, much of it fracked in the US.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is LNG?
  2. What’s the climate impact of LNG?

What is LNG?

  • LNG is natural gas that has been cooled to extremely low temperatures (-161 degrees Celsius) to reduce it to a liquid state.
  • The liquid gas is 600 times smaller in volume and half the weight of water.
  • Comprised mostly of methane, it can be transported by ship to different parts of the world.
  • Regasification of the cargo occurs in a floating terminal and the gas is then distributed through pipelines.
Market Limitations
  • The high cost of liquefaction and production have limited the market for LNG.
  • Building floating LNG terminals for imports to substitute Russian gas has doubled in cost in Germany due to higher operating and infrastructure costs.
Energy Requirements
  • Cooling, liquefying, and transport processes, as well as post-transport regasification procedures require a lot of energy.
  • “Between 10-25% of the energy of the gas is being lost during the liquefaction process,”.

What’s the climate impact of LNG?

Energy Intensity:

  • A lot of energy is required to extract natural gas, transport it to an LNG facility, chill it to low temperatures, and hold it at that temperature before it is regasified after a long journey.

Methane Loss:

  • The complex production and transport process of LNG increases the risk of methane leakages, resulting in higher emissions.

High Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

  • LNG emits “about twice as much greenhouse gas as ordinary natural gas,” according to the US-based nonprofit Natural Resources Defence Council (NDRC).
  • Processing LNG is so energy- and carbon-intensive that it can create almost 10 times more carbon emissions than piped gas.
  • The numerous stages required to take LNG from the wellhead to the market lead to a “very high imported emissions intensity” in comparison to piped gas.

Comparison to Renewable Energy:

  • LNG emits 14 times as much carbon as solar power when producing the equivalent amount of energy, and 50 times as much carbon as wind power.

Comparison to Piped Gas:

  • The emissions intensity of piped gas from Norway in particular is almost 10 times less than average LNG emissions.
  • Emissions are limited to upstream, transport and processing stages in piped gas.

-Source: Indian Express


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