One-third of total maternal deaths in 2015 happened in India: Report
The latest Lancet series on maternal health reveals that nearly one quarter of babies worldwide are still delivered in the absence of a skilled birth attendant. Further, one-third of the total maternal deaths in 2015 happened in India, where 45,000 mothers died during pregnancy or childbirth while Nigeria shouldered the maximum burden of 58,000 maternal deaths.
Each year, about 210 million women become pregnant and about 140 million newborn babies are delivered. Ahead of the U.N. General Assembly, The Lancet has published a new series of papers on maternal health which reveal that while progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality globally, differences remain at international and national levels.In all countries, the burden of maternal mortality falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable groups of women. This reality presents a challenge to the rapid catch-up required to achieve the underlying aim of the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] — to leave no one behind.
According to the academic papers, there are two broad scenarios that describe the landscape of poor maternal health care — the absence of timely access to quality care (defined as ‘too little, too late’) and the over-medicalisation of normal and postnatal care (defined as ‘too much, too soon’).
The problem of over-medicalisation has historically been associated with high-income countries, but it is rapidly becoming more common in low and middle-income countries, increasing health costs and the risk of harm. For instance, 40.5% of all births are now by caesarean section in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In high-income countries, rates of maternal mortality are decreasing but there is still wide variation at national and international level. For instance, in the U.S., the maternal mortality ratio is 14 per 1,00,000 live births compared to 4 per 1,00,000 in Sweden.
The sub-Saharan African region accounted for an estimated 66% (2,01,000) of global maternal deaths, followed by southern Asia at 22% (66,000 deaths).
Will the Paris Pact succeed like the Montreal Protocol?
Though the U.S. and China, the two top global greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, ratified the treaty at the recently concluded G20 summit, implementation is possible only once the agreement is ready to enter into force. And that won’t happen until 55 countries, accounting for 55 per cent of the global GHG emissions, ratify it.
The Montreal precedent
Back in 1987, on September 16, when 197 member nations of the UN signed the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, little would they have anticipated that in three decades the purpose for which they were signing the pact would begin to bear fruit: the ozone layer, which at that time was discovered to have a big hole in it due to ozone-depleting chemicals being widely used, is now beginning to show signs of healing. Researchers believe that the size of the ozone hole has shrunk by around 4 million sq km since 2000 and is not as deep as it used to be, thanks to the collective efforts of nations to cut the use of chlorofluorocarbons and other dangerous gases.
The Montreal Protocol offers a model of a successful environmental treaty that brought nations together to act swiftly on protecting the ozone layer. Next month, nations that are party to the protocol will get together in Kigali, Rwanda, to discuss the phasing down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) as the next step towards addressing ozone depletion, also necessary to curb global warming.
According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an HFC phase-down could prevent warming of up to 0.1°C by 2050 and warming of up to 0.5°C by 2100, offering one of the most cost-effective climate mitigation strategies available to the world today.
The more pertinent question is whether the Paris Agreement could succeed similarly in plugging greenhouse gas emissions, though it has a much bigger goal to chase. The Montreal Protocol had to address the use of ozone-depleting substances in select industries where they were widely used whereas the Paris Agreement has to address the challenge of reducing dependence on fossil fuels that continue to be the world’s primary source of energy, a tall order.
The experience of implementing the Montreal Protocol offers several lessons which can lead the climate treaty to success. For starters, unlike climate change, the science behind ozone depletion was contested at the time when the protocol was signed. It was only eight years after the Montreal Protocol came into being that the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Paul J. Crutzen, Mario J. Molina and F. Sherwood Rowland brought global validation for their work on the formation and decomposition of ozone in the atmosphere. But that did not stop the countries that were party to the protocol from taking necessary action. However, despite the scientific evidence in support of global warming and climate change, signatories to the Paris treaty have much scepticism to overcome before meeting its goal of keeping global warming levels less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
The experience with the Kyoto Protocol signed in 1997 shows that if the U.S. wants, it can topple international efforts to fight climate change — though the then President, Bill Clinton, had signed the protocol in 1997, the U.S. Senate did not approve it, and eventually other major GHG emitters abandoned it as well.
Besides political will, there is the question of funding as well. Industrialised countries had committed in Cancun in 2010 to provide funds rising to $100 billion per year by 2020 for a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help developing countries invest in green energy and prepare for extreme weather events. However, the GCF has so far raised only $10 billion, and allocated money to only about eight projects since it was first set up.
With the latest addition of Micronesia, 28 countries responsible for over 40 per cent of GHG emissions have ratified the Paris Agreement. But a closer look at the list of countries shows that small countries, especially island nations, with low GHG emissions and high risk of climate catastrophe, have been more prompt.
The UNFCCC is confident that more top emitters, including the EU, would soon join the treaty. But the truth is, even after ratification, the pledges made by signatories to the Paris Agreement would be insufficient to keep global warming levels below the danger threshold, as per the UN’s own estimates.
The latest report from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies shows that August 2016 was the hottest month on the planet, about 0.16°C warmer than the previous 2014 record. So even as we celebrate the relative success of the Montreal Protocol in fixing the ozone layer today, the real lesson that the experience offers the world is that a stitch in time saves nine.
Pakistan’s MFN tag may stay for now
The Centre is not considering any proposal to withdraw the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status accorded to Pakistan as even without the move the level of bilateral trade is very low.
The MFN status was accorded in 1996 as per India’s commitments as a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). According to the MFN principle of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) — to which India is a signatory/contracting party — each of the WTO member countries (including India and Pakistan in this case), should “treat all the other members equally as ‘most-favoured’ trading partners.”
According to the WTO, though the term ‘MFN’ “suggests special treatment, it actually means non-discrimination.”
In the wake of the deadly attack on Indian soldiers in Uri, an incident for which India is holding Pakistan responsible, there have been calls in India for tough action against its neighbour, including the revocation of the MFN status.
Bilateral trade between the two South Asian neighbours was just $2.6 billion in 2015-16 (of which $2.2 billion constituted India’s exports to Pakistan) — which represented a minuscule 0.4 per cent of India’s overall goods trade worth $643.3 billion in the same year.
Therefore, even if India revokes the MFN status it would only have a “symbolic” impact. On the other hand it would hit India’s exports to Pakistan if there are retaliatory actions and it could also result in India losing goodwill in the South Asian region (where it enjoys a trade surplus and is a party to a free trade pact called SAFTA, which also includes Pakistan). The move may also not go down well at the WTO-level.
The MFN concept is an integral part of the WTO agreements and is among the principles forming the foundation of the multilateral trading system. As per the WTO, whenever a country brings down a trade barrier or liberalises a sector, “it has to do so for the same goods or services from all its trading partners — whether rich or poor, weak or strong.” However, exceptions allowed to this rule include free trade pacts and special benefits to poor nations.
After the attack in Uri, in which 18 Indian soldiers were killed, international trade experts said India could consider making use of a ‘security exception’ clause in the GATT to deny the MFN status to Pakistan or bring in certain trade restrictions.
This is because Article 21(b)(iii) of GATT states that “Nothing in this Agreement shall be construed to prevent any contracting party (including India in this case) from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations.”
Biswajit Dhar, professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said: “There is a possibility of India invoking this clause in view of the fact that it perceives a security threat in the aftermath of the Uri attack.”
However, according to a ‘Working Paper’ of the Centre for WTO Studies at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, “GATT and WTO practice shows that the countries have by and large observed self restraint in using the national security exception.” “This is hardly surprising as national security is too sensitive a subject that countries will be comfortable submitting to an international review,” the paper’s author Shailja Singh wrote.
Singh wrote that a closer scrutiny “reveals that there is no categorical bar on the (WTO dispute settlement) panel from proceeding into an Article 21 dispute.” She pointed out that Article 21(b) is clear that any action under it has to fulfil the specific criteria of the clause, adding that a (WTO) “member does not enjoy a free run to take any action it wishes under the guise of security interest.”
But there have been precedents. The Working Paper points out an Article 21-related dispute in 1949 between Czechoslovak (Socialist Republic) and the U.S., and such disputes between the U.S. and Nicaragua in 1983 and 1985 as well as another one in 1992 between the European Communities and the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Merger of Plan and Non Plan classification in Budget and Accounts
The cabinet has approved the merger of Plan and Non Plan classification in Budget and Accounts from 2017-18, with continuance of earmarking of funds for Scheduled Castes Sub-Plan/Tribal Sub-Plan. Similarly, the allocations for North Eastern States will also continue.
The Plan/Non-Plan bifurcation of expenditure has led to a fragmented view of resource allocation to various schemes, making it difficult not only to ascertain cost of delivering a service but also to link outlays to outcomes.
The bias in favour of Plan expenditure by Centre as well as the State Governments has led to a neglect of essential expenditures on maintenance of assets and other establishment related expenditures for providing essential social services.
The merger of plan and non-plan in the budget is expected to provide appropriate budgetary framework having focus on the revenue, and capital expenditure.
Submarine optical fibre cable connectivity between mainland (Chennai) and Andaman & Nicobar Islands
The Union Cabinet has given its approval for provision of a direct communication link through a dedicated submarine Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) between Mainland (Chennai) and Port Blair & five other islands viz. Little Andaman, Car Nicobar, Havelock, Kamorta and Great Nicobar.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are of immense strategic significance for India. The geographical configuration and the location of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands chain in the Bay of Bengal safeguard India’s eastern seaboard.
Provision of secure, reliable, robust, and affordable telecom facilities in these islands is of importance from a strategic point of view to the country and also an important requirement for the socio-economic development of the islands.
Currently the only medium of providing telecom connectivity between Mainland and Andaman & Nicobar Islands is though satellites, but the bandwidth available is limited to 1 Gbps. Satellite bandwidth is very costly and its availability is limited due to which future bandwidth requirement cannot be met solely through it.
Then, there is an issue of redundancy, that is, no alternate media is available in case of any emergency. Lack of bandwidth and telecom connectivity is also hampering socio-economic development of the islands.
Hence it is essential to have submarine OFC connectivity between the Mainland India and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, being the only option for catering to projected future bandwidth requirements.
IIT-M’s cheap solution to make brackish water potable
IIT-M has come up with an idea to convert brackish water into drinking water at about 12 paisa per litre right on the kitchen table by using a potential difference of just 1.8 volts.
The researchers used a stack of tissue paper and carbonised it at high temperature to make graphene. Graphite electrodes were then coated with the graphene produced in the lab.
When the electrodes are dipped into brackish water and 1.8 volt potential is applied to the electrodes, the sodium and chloride ions move towards respective electrodes and get adsorbed.
In about five minutes, the brackish water turns into potable water with less than 500 parts per million (ppm) of sodium chloride, which is less than the permissible limit for drinking water.
To render the graphene porous, silica precursors were added to the graphene and removed subsequently. The removal of silica makes the graphene porous while retaining its structural integrity.
Mission Parivar Vikas to be launched to push contraceptive use
The government will soon launch Mission Parivar Vikas to improve family planning services in seven states where the combined total fertility rate (TFR), or the number of children a woman has in her lifetime) that constitutes 44% of the country’s population.
The main objective of ‘Mission Parivar Vikas is to accelerate access to high quality family planning choices based on information, reliable services and supplies within a rights-based framework.
The Union ministry of health and family welfare will launch the programme in 145 high-focus districts of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Assam.
These districts were identified based on their total fertility rate and sterilization performance among other measures taken for family planning, for immediate, special and accelerated efforts.
The target of the government is to reach the replacement level fertility goals of 2.1 by the year 2025.
The key strategic focus of this initiative will be on improving access to contraceptives through delivering assured services, dovetailing with new promotional schemes, ensuring commodity security, building capacity (service providers), creating an enabling environment along with close monitoring and implementation.