- Identity Pangs
- With Climate Change, Tackling New Disease Scenarios
In a recently published report titled “Decentralized Finance and Digital Assets,” global credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service has raised some concerning issues regarding India’s ambitious digital identification program for its residents, known as Aadhaar.
Government Policies & Interventions
Issues Arising Out of Design & Implementation of Policies
Though Aadhar has revolutionsed the payment system of the government, it poses significant security and privacy concerns. Analyse in the context of recently released report by Moody’s. (10 marks, 150 words).
More on the report:
- Despite its status as the world’s largest digital ID program, with biometric and demographic data on over a billion residents, Moody’s has highlighted security and privacy risks associated with “centralized” digital ID systems like Aadhaar, where a single entity controls identification credentials.
- Moody’s has suggested the adoption of decentralized ID systems that grant users more control over their data.
- Moody’s has also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of Aadhaar’s biometric-based authentication systems in verifying identities, noting that these systems often lead to service denials and raise questions about the reliability of biometric technologies, particularly for manual laborers in hot and humid climates.
Utility of Aadhar:
- These concerns resonate with issues raised since Aadhaar’s launch and they have gained relevance as the government seeks to transition all payments under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to an Aadhaar-based payment system.
- Despite initial hesitations, the current government has vigorously promoted Aadhaar, making the 12-digit number mandatory for various welfare benefits and activities, including opening bank or provident fund accounts, obtaining telephone connections, and remitting taxes.
- Aadhaar’s widespread use, coupled with increased access to basic banking services and mobile phone connections, has facilitated the direct transfer of benefits to millions of individuals in welfare programs and has helped eliminate fraudulent beneficiaries and intermediaries.
How valid are the concerns raised by Moody?
- There have also been instances of individuals being denied essential services due to the lack of an Aadhaar, while laborers and senior citizens have struggled to confirm their identities through fingerprints and retina scans.
- An audit of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India last year highlighted lapses that compromised privacy and data security, as well as flaws in the enrollment process resulting in duplicate and faulty biometrics.
India has promoted its digital public infrastructure, centered around Aadhaar, as a model for service delivery not only within the G-20 nations but also globally. Given these concerns and challenges, the government, which recently appointed a part-time chief to the UIDAI after four years, should consider conducting an honest review of the Aadhaar program and implementing necessary corrections before expanding its use further, whether for electoral rolls, private entities, or MGNREGA payments.
In its most recent report published this March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues a stark warning: climate change increases the global risk of infectious diseases.
Climate change is leading to a global risk of infectious diseases. Analyse. Suggest some measures to break this cycle. (15 marks, 250 words).
Climate Change and Diseases- the connection:
- Variations in temperature, rainfall, and humidity- disrupt the cycles of disease transmission and alter the habitats of disease vectors and animal hosts that carry the pathogens.
- Heat- has been found to impact the genetic structure of pathogens, affecting their ability to infect and their virulence.
- Habitat loss- Climate change leads to more infectious diseases as habitat loss forces disease-carrying animals to encroach on human areas, increasing the likelihood of human-animal interaction and the transfer of diseases from wildlife to humans.
- Some viruses that are harmless to animals can be fatal for humans, as exemplified by the ongoing Nipah virus outbreaks in Kerala.
- Changing climate patterns- An analysis from 2022 in Nature Climate Change warns that humans now face a wider range of infectious agents due to changing climate patterns.
- Invasive Species- Climate change transforms ecosystems, leading to invasive species and expanding the range of existing life forms, which complicates predictions of disease outbreaks.
Human-induced climate change is creating an unprecedented health vulnerability crisis, particularly affecting India with early summers, erratic monsoons, and water scarcity in the Gangetic plains and Kerala. These climate shifts are contributing to severe health crises, including dengue epidemics in Dhaka and Kolkata and the Nipah outbreak in Kerala. It is not surprising to witness recent outbreaks in Kolkata or Kerala given these circumstances.
What has India done?
- India has improved its outbreak reporting over the past two decades, transitioning from the Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme (IDSP) to the Integrated Health Information Platform (IHIP), a web-enabled, near-real-time electronic system.
- However, IHIP has not fully met expectations for real-time tracking of emerging disease outbreaks. The current surveillance system is insufficient for the evolving disease scenario.
- To mitigate the spread of climate change-induced diseases, efforts should focus on safeguarding ecosystems, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and implementing active pathogen surveillance.
- A unified approach called One Health, which integrates monitoring of human, animal, plant, and environmental health, recognizes the interconnectedness of these factors.
- India should launch One Health and infectious disease control programs by fostering collaboration between the central and state governments and their specialized agencies, including animal husbandry, forest and wildlife, municipal corporations, and public health departments.
- Establishing robust surveillance systems and building trust among stakeholders are essential components of this effort. While the Office of the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Prime Minister has taken the lead so far, new funding from sources like the World Bank requires greater coordination and management.
Climate change affects not only infectious diseases but also injuries and deaths resulting from extreme weather events, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and mental health issues. In the face of a changing climate and the increasing threat of infectious diseases, protecting ecosystems, fostering collaboration, and embracing the One Health approach are our best defenses. The path ahead demands concerted efforts to adapt and proactively safeguard our planet and its inhabitants.