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Current Affairs 27 March 2023

CONTENTS

  1. Biotransformation technology
  2. International Monetary Fund
  3. Nowruz
  4. Olive Ridley Sea turtles
  5. Depleted uranium

Biotransformation Technology


Context:

A U.K.-based startup, based at Imperial College in London, claims to have developed a technology that could alter the state of plastics and make them biodegradable. The company calls the process “biotransformation”.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is biotransformation technology?
  2. Why do we need it?
  3. Applications and Progress of this Technology in India
  4. Alternatives to Plastic Packaging Waste

What is biotransformation technology?

  • Biotransformation technology is a novel approach to ensure plastics that escape refuse streams are processed efficiently and broken down.
  • The tech was co-developed by the Imperial College in London, U.K., and a Britain-based startup, Polymateria.
  • 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 biotransforms into 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.

Why do we need it?

  • Plastic waste generation is a significant environmental concern in India. In 2022, the country generated 3.5 billion kgs of plastic waste annually, with a third of it coming from packaging waste.
  • E-commerce firms are also contributing to the plastic packaging waste problem worldwide. In 2019, it was estimated that plastic packaging waste from e-commerce companies was over a billion kilograms.
  • Amazon, in particular, generated almost 210 million kgs of plastic from packaging waste in 2019, with an estimated 10 million kgs of it ending up as pollution in freshwater and marine ecosystems.
  • However, there is some good news. Amazon India has taken a step towards reducing plastic waste by eliminating single-use plastics across its fulfilment centers. Flipkart has also done the same in 2021 across its supply chain.
  • It is essential to reduce plastic packaging waste to protect the environment, reduce pollution, and promote sustainable living. More efforts are needed to address this issue globally.

Applications and Progress of this Technology in India

  • The technology that reduces waste can be used in food packaging and healthcare industries. It offers a biodegradable solution for non-woven hygiene products like diapers, sanitary napkins, and facial pads.
  • Some well-known Indian firms in the food and packaging industries are already deploying such sustainable technologies.
  • The Indian government has taken several initiatives to move towards sustainability, such as introducing a plastic waste management gazette and imposing a ban on single-use plastics in the country.
  • The National Dashboard on Elimination of Single Use Plastic and Plastic Waste Management tracks the progress made in eliminating single-use plastics.
  • The Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) portal improves accountability, traceability, and facilitates ease of compliance reporting in relation to EPR obligations.
  • India has developed a mobile app to report single-use plastics grievances, which helps to check the sale, usage, or manufacturing of single-use plastics in a particular area.
  • These initiatives and sustainable technologies indicate that India is moving in the right direction towards a cleaner, healthier, and sustainable future.

Alternatives to Plastic Packaging Waste

  • Jute or paper-based packaging could potentially cut down on plastic waste. This could also promote sustainability within the paper industry and reduce the import bill on ethylene solutions. However, using wooden packaging is another alternative, but it may make the packaging bulkier and increase cost.
  • The Government of Tamil Nadu in Chennai organized a National Expo and Conference of Startups to raise awareness of alternatives to single-use plastics. The alternatives showcased were made from coir, bagasse, rice and wheat bran, plant and agricultural residue, banana and areca leaves, jute, and cloth.
  • Alternatives to plastic packaging waste are necessary to promote sustainable living and reduce the environmental impact of plastic waste.
  • By adopting these alternatives, we can minimize the negative impact of plastic packaging waste on the environment and promote a cleaner and healthier future.

-Source: The Hindu


International Monetary Fund


Context:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last week confirmed a $3 billion bailout plan for Sri Lanka’s struggling economy.

Relevance:

GS III: Indian Economy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Reasons for Nations Seeking an IMF Bailout
  2. How does the IMF help countries?
  3. About International Monetary Fund (IMF)

Reasons for Nations Seeking an IMF Bailout

Currency Crisis and its causes
  • IMF bailout sought when economies face major macroeconomic risk, such as currency crisis
  • Currency crisis seen in countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan
  • Crisis often due to mismanagement of nation’s currency by central bank, under covert influence of ruling government
  • Central banks may be forced to create fresh money for populist spending, causing rapid rise in money supply and drop in exchange value of currency
  • Rapid, unpredictable fall in currency value can destroy confidence and affect economic activity
  • Foreign investors may be hesitant to invest in economy with unstable currency
  • IMF sought to meet external debt and obligations, purchase essential imports, and prop up exchange value of currency
Domestic Economic Policies and Bad Luck
  • Domestic economic policies can also impact currency exchange rate and foreign exchange reserves
  • Economic policy that imperils productivity can affect ability to attract necessary foreign exchange
  • Bad luck can also contribute to crisis, as seen in decrease in foreign tourists leading to fall in flow of U.S. dollars in Sri Lanka.

How does the IMF help countries?

  • The IMF provides financial assistance to countries in need by lending money, often in the form of special drawing rights (SDRs).
  • SDRs represent a basket of five currencies and can be used for various purposes depending on a country’s individual circumstances.
  • The IMF offers lending programs such as the extended credit facility, the flexible credit line, and the stand-by agreement to troubled economies seeking assistance.
  • Countries receiving the bailout can use the funds to meet their external debt and other obligations, purchase essential imports, and prop up the exchange value of their currencies.
  • The IMF has evolved from its primary goal of international economic coordination to being a lender of last resort to governments dealing with severe currency crises.

About International Monetary Fund (IMF)

  • The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is an international organization headquartered in Washington, D.C.
  • It consists of 189 countries working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world. It periodically depends on the World Bank for its resources.
  • Through the fund and other activities such as the gathering of statistics and analysis, surveillance of its members’ economies, and the demand for particular policies, the IMF works to improve the economies of its member countries.
Functions of the IMF
  • To provide financial assistance to member countries with balance of payments problems, the IMF lends money to replenish international reserves, stabilize currencies and strengthen conditions for economic growth.
  • Countries must embark on structural adjustment policies monitored by the IMF.
  • It oversees the international monetary system and monitors the economic and financial policies of its 189 member countries.
  • As part of this process, which takes place both at the global level and in individual countries, the IMF highlights possible risks to stability and advises on needed policy adjustments.
  • It provides technical assistance and training to central banks, finance ministries, tax authorities, and other economic institutions.
  • This helps countries raise public revenues, modernize banking systems, develop strong legal frameworks, improve governance, and enhance the reporting of macroeconomic and financial data.
  • It also helps countries to make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

-Source: The Hindu


Nowruz


Context:

Nowruz, also spelled as Navroz, is celebrated by the ethnic Iranian population every year in various parts of the world. The Parsi community in India, which follows Zoroastrianism, celebrated Nowruz on March 21, marking the beginning of the New Year. The festival symbolises freshness, rebirth and freedom, according to the community.

Relevance:

GS I: Festivals

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Nowruz
  2. What does the festival mean according to the UNESCO?
  3. The Parsi Community in India: A Brief History and Celebration of Nawruz Festival

About Nowruz

  • Nowruz is the Iranian New Year, celebrated on the first day of Farvardin, the first month of the Iranian solar calendar, at the spring equinox, and it lasts for 12 days.
  • It is described by authors Ali Shariati as a festival of “blossoming” and “beginnings,” and SNR Rizvi and Poonam Pant as a festival of “renewal, hope, and happiness.”
  • In India, the festival is celebrated by visiting the Fire Temple, decorating houses, preparing delicacies, and performing rituals based on the movements of the sun during the day.
Origins of Nowruz
  • The origins of Nowruz are unclear.
  • According to analyst Hewa Salim Khalid, the festival has diverse cultural perceptions among Kurdish and Persian communities.
  • For Kurds, Nowruz is a symbol of resistance and a celebration of national identity. It marks the establishment of a state identity, and Kurdish people in different countries observe distinct rituals on the day to demand freedom, peace, and independence.
  • For Persians, the festival traces back to the legendary ancient ruler Jamshid, who fought against winter and shone like the sun. It is a reminder of values that bind people together with the aim of mutual understanding, unity, and peace.
  • Nowadays, the festival is a symbol of national identity and a tourism resource in both nations.

What does the festival mean according to the UNESCO?

  • The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the International Day of Nowruz in 2010. The festival had also been listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2016.
  • Terming it as a day which marks the “renewal of nature,” the UNESCO describes it as a festival which “promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness.”

The Parsi Community in India: A Brief History and Celebration of Nawruz Festival

Brief History:
  • Parsis arrived in India in 936 AC seeking refuge under the Hindu King of Gujarat, Jadav Rana, due to religious persecution in Iran.
  • They built the first fire temple, Atash Behram, to shelter their holy fire which they had rescued from Iran, now located in Udvada, Gujarat, the heart of Parsi culture in India.
  • By the 16th century, Surat became a major trade center for the community, including weavers and artisans who facilitated business with the British.
Celebration of Nawruz Festival:
  • Navroze, celebrated across Central Asia, involves weaving ornated gateway called Toran, chalk making, and taking around the Loban (frankincense) for ritual purity.
  • The preparations begin in March with sprouting of Sabzeh (lentil, wheat, or barley) and Khane Tekani (house cleaning), followed by Kharid-i-Nowruz, or shopping for Nowruz.
  • Navroze involves a Jashan of thanksgiving in the morning, a core religious ceremony that brings all creations together with the recitation from the Yasna Text.
  • The festival marks a unique site of community cohesion as the Zoroastrian community experiences diaspora and population decline over the years.

-Source: Indian Express


Olive Ridley Sea Turtles


Context:

Seven Olive Ridley turtles were rescued by officers aboard Indian Coast Guard ship Vajra.4

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
  2. Breeding Grounds of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in India
  3. Threats to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
  4. Turtles and Turtle conservation in India

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

  • The olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), also known commonly as the Pacific ridley sea turtle, is a species of turtle in the family Cheloniidae.
  • The species is the second smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles found in the world.
  • This turtle and the related Kemps ridley turtle are best known for their unique mass nesting called arribada, where thousands of females come together on the same beach to lay eggs.
  • The species is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List, Appendix 1 in CITES, and Schedule 1 in Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • Olive-ridleys face serious threats across their migratory route, habitat and nesting beaches, due to human activities such as unfriendly turtle fishing practices, development, and exploitation of nesting beaches for ports, and tourist centres.

Breeding Grounds of the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in India

  • The Gahirmatha Beach in Kendrapara district of Odisha (India), which is now a part of the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, is the largest breeding ground for these turtles.
  • The Gahirmatha Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, which bounds the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary to the east, was created in September 1997, and encompasses Gahirmatha Beach and an adjacent portion of the Bay of Bengal.
  • Bhitarkanika mangroves were designated a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2002. It is the world’s largest known rookery of olive ridley sea turtles.
  • Apart from Gahirmatha rookery, two other mass nesting beaches have been located, which are on the mouth of rivers Rushikulya and Devi.
  • The spectacular site of mass congregation of olive ridley sea turtles for mating and nesting enthralls both the scientists and the nature lovers throughout the world.

Threats to the Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

  • Known predators of olive ridley eggs include raccoons, coyotes, feral dogs and pigs, opossums, coatimundi, caimans, ghost crabs, and the sunbeam snake.
  • Hatchlings are preyed upon as they travel across the beach to the water by vultures, frigate birds, crabs, raccoons, coyotes, iguanas, and snakes. In the water, hatchling predators most likely include oceanic fishes, sharks, and crocodiles.
  • Adults have relatively few known predators, other than sharks, and killer whales are responsible for occasional attacks. On land, nesting females may be attacked by jaguars. Notably, the jaguar is the only cat with a strong enough bite to penetrate a sea turtle’s shell, thought to be an evolutionary adaption from the Holocene extinction event.
  • In recent years, increased predation on turtles by jaguars has been noted, perhaps due to habitat loss and fewer alternative food sources. Sea turtles are comparatively defenseless in this situation, as they cannot pull their heads into their shells like freshwater and terrestrial turtles.
  • Humans are still listed as the leading threat to L. olivacea, responsible for unsustainable egg collection, slaughtering nesting females on the beach, and direct harvesting adults at sea for commercial sale of both the meat and hides.

Turtles and Turtle conservation in India

  • There are five turtle species in Indian waters — Leatherback, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Green and Olive Ridley.
  • In India sea turtles are protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, under the Schedule I Part II.
  • Every year, thousands of sea turtles are accidentally captured, injured or killed by mechanised boats, trawl nets and gill nets operated and used by comercial fishermen.
  • The turtle breeding season is usually between November and December. In Tamil Nadu, for example, the Olive Ridley nests between December and April along the Chennai-Kancheepuram coastline.
  • Sea turtles, especially the leatherback, keep jellyfish under control, thereby helping to maintain healthy fish stocks in the oceans.
  • The Green turtle feeds on sea grass beds and by cropping the grass provide a nursery for numerous species of fish, shellfish and crustaceans.

-Source: The Hindu


Depleted Uranium


Context:

Just days after the British government said that it would provide Ukraine with armour-piercing rounds containing depleted uranium, Russian President announced plans to station tactical nuclear weapons in neighbouring Belarus.

Relevance:

GS III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Depleted Uranium
  2. Which countries have depleted uranium munitions?
  3. What are the risks of using such weapons?
  4. Where have depleted uranium munitions been used?

Depleted Uranium

  • Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the process of creating enriched uranium, which is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons.
  • It is much less radioactive than enriched uranium and incapable of generating a nuclear reaction.
  • Depleted uranium is widely used in weapons as it is highly dense and can easily penetrate armour plating.
  • The US began manufacturing armour-piercing rounds with depleted uranium in the 1970s and has since added it to composite tank armour to strengthen it.
  • It has also been added to the munitions fired by the Air Force’s A-10 close air support attack plane and is still being developed for use in new munitions, such as the M829A4 armour-piercing round for the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank.
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 said.
  • Another 14 states are known to store them.

What are the risks of using such weapons?

  • Even though depleted uranium munitions aren’t considered nuclear weapons, experts suggest that such weapons must be used with caution because they 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.
  • Moreover, 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 have been used in several conflicts around the world. Specifically, they were used:
    • In the 1991 Gulf War to destroy T-72 tanks in Iraq.
    • In the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
    • During the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
  • According to the Royal Society, about 340 tons of depleted uranium were used in munitions during the 1991 Gulf War, and an estimated 11 tons were used in the Balkans in the late 1990s.

-Source: Indian Express


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