News Snippet

News 1: COP-27 puts climate compensation on agenda for first time

News 2: Camera traps renew hope for snow leopard in Kashmir

News 3: Indian black honeybee is a Western Ghats discovery

News 4: What is the status of remote voting for NRIs?

News 5: A third of world heritage glaciers under threat, warns UNESCO

News 6: Over 64,000 people in India die of snakebites each year

News 7: Study links PM 2.5 pollutants to anaemia prevalence

News 8: 2022 likely to be fifth or sixth warmest year on record: World Meteorological Organization

Other important news:

  1. Lake Victoria
  2. The Falcon Heavy Launch

News 1: COP-27 puts climate compensation on agenda for first time


Background

Delegates at the COP-27 climate summit in Egypt agreed after late-night talks to put the delicate issue of whether rich nations should compensate poor countries most vulnerable to climate change on the formal agenda for the first time.

For more than a decade, wealthy nations have rejected official discussions on what is referred to as loss and damage, or funds they provide to help poor countries cope with the consequences of global warming.

At COP-26 last year in Glasgow, high-income nations blocked a proposal for a loss and damage financing body, instead supporting a three-year dialogue for funding discussions.

No guarantee

The issue could generate even more tension than at previous conferences this year as the Ukraine war, a surge in energy prices and the risk of economic recession have at once added to governments’ reluctance to promise funds and poor nations’ need for them.

Some criticised the dismissive language on liability, but although weaker than hoped, getting the issue formally on the agenda will oblige wealthier nations to engage on the topic.

Protective shield

Germany wants to launch a “protective shield against climate risks” at the conference, an initiative it has been working on with vulnerable states such as Bangladesh and Ghana.

Bangladeshi-based environmental research body, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development said it was “good news” loss and damage was officially on the agenda.


News 2: Camera traps renew hope for snow leopard in Kashmir


Background

The first-ever recording of the snow leopard from the Baltal-Zojila region has renewed hopes for the elusive predator in the higher altitudes of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Camera trapping exercises by researchers from Nature Conservation Foundation (India), partnering with J&K’s Department of Wildlife Protection, also raised hopes for other important and rare species such as the Asiatic ibex, brown bear and Kashmir musk deer in the upper reaches of the northernmost part of India.

Various teams have been conducting surveys across the nearly 12,000 sq. km potential snow leopard territory of J&K for a few years now covering Gurez, Thajwas, Baltal-Zojila, Warwan, and Kishtwar. The surveys have often focused on the neighbouring areas of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Snow leopards have evolved to live in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Their thick white-gray coat spotted with large black rosettes blends in perfectly with Asia’s steep and rocky, high mountains.

Because of their incredible natural camouflage, rendering them almost invisible in their surroundings, snow leopards are often referred to as the “ghost of the mountains.”

The snow leopard’s habitat range extends across the mountainous regions of 12 countries across Asia: Afghanistan, Bhutan, China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.


News 3: Indian black honeybee is a Western Ghats discovery


Background

A new species of endemic honeybee has been discovered in the Western Ghats. The new species has been named Apis karinjodian and given the common name Indian black honeybee.

Findings

It is after a gap of more than 200 years that a new species of honeybee has been spotted in the Western Ghats. The last honeybee described from India was Apis indica in 1798 by Fabricius. Apis karinjodian has evolved from Apis cerana morphotypes that got acclimatised to the hot and humid environment of the Western Ghats.

Molecular analysis of mitochondrial DNA was also carried out and molecular sequence data available in the public open database NCBI-GenBank also helped confirm the species status of the new honeybee.

Distribution

The distribution of Apis karinjodian ranges from the central Western Ghats and Nilgiris to the southern Western Ghats, covering the States of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.


News 4: What is the status of remote voting for NRIs?


Background

On the assurance of the Attorney General that the Centre was looking at ways to facilitate distance voting for non-resident Indians (NRIs), mainly migrant labourers, the Supreme Court on November 1 disposed of a batch of petitions seeking remote voting for NRIs.

The Bench led by Chief Justice U. U. Lalit said that the purpose of the petitions had been served as the government was aware and had introduced a Bill to facilitate proxy voting by overseas electors. The Bill, however, lapsed and a pilot project for postal voting is yet to see the light of day.

What is the size of the NRI electorate?

According to estimates, India has the largest diaspora population, with nearly 1.35 crore non-resident Indians spread across the globe. Many of them are in the Gulf countries, the U.S. and the U.K.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, 99,844 NRIs registered, and 25,606 electors turned up to vote, with a majority hailing from Kerala (25,534).

In the 2014 Parliamentary elections, 11,846 NRIs registered and only a fraction turned up to vote. Of the registered overseas electors, 90% belonged to Kerala. Others registered are from Gujarat, Punjab, and Tamil Nadu among other States.

A major reason for low NRI registration and voting despite India amending the Representation of the People Act in 2010 to enable eligible NRIs who had stayed abroad beyond six months to vote is the condition that they have to visit the polling booth in person.

While some observers ask why those who migrated abroad should be given special privileges in voting, the petitioners argue that NRIs should not be deprived of the franchise because they exercised their right to freely practise a profession or trade.

Another question raised is whether expatriates who have been living abroad for a long period of time, say upwards of two years, should be given voting rights. Other democracies allow absentee voting if overseas electors are not abroad for a specified period and/or if they mention an “intent to return”.

What has the government done so far?

Since the in-person proviso of the amended Act discouraged many, petitions were filed in the Supreme Court between 2013 and 2014 by NRIs.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) formed a Committee in 2014 on the Court’s direction to explore the options for overseas electors. The committee narrowed it down to two remote voting options — e-postal ballot and proxy voting.

The Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System (ETPBS) involves the NRI voter sending an application to the returning officer in person or online. The returning officer will send the ballot electronically. The voter can then register their mandate on the ballot printout and send it back with an attested declaration.

The voter will either send the ballot by ordinary post or drop it at an Indian Embassy where it would be segregated and posted. Proxy voting, meanwhile, enables voters to appoint proxies to vote on their behalf.

Both ETPBS and proxy voting are currently available to only service voters, like those in the armed forces or diplomatic missions. In its report, the ECI said proxy voting would be a “convenient” and “doable” method.

All political parties consulted by the ECI except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were against proxy voting as they felt it could never be guaranteed that the proxy would vote as per the actual voter’s choice.

In 2017, however, the government introduced a Bill to amend the Representation of People Act to remove the condition of in-person voting for NRIs and enable them to vote through proxies. The Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in 2018 but never introduced in the Upper House, eventually lapsing with the 16th Lok Sabha.

In 2020, the ECI wrote to the Law Ministry that it was “technically and administratively ready” to facilitate ETPBS for NRIs in the 2021 Assembly elections in five States but the External Affairs Ministry flagged “huge logistical challenges” relating to identity verification of voters, absence of polling agents, the burden on embassy staff etc.

What next?

Besides the government’s assurance in Court, the Law Ministry in March said that the Centre was exploring the possibility of allowing online voting for NRIs. The Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said in April that ETPBS for NRIs was being contemplated.

It is yet to be seen, however, if any of the remote voting options materialise before the 2024 elections.


News 5: A third of world heritage glaciers under threat, warns UNESCO


Background

A third of the glaciers on the UNESCO World Heritage list are under threat, regardless of efforts to limit temperature increases, a study conducted by the UN body has found.

However, the study said it was still possible to save the other two-thirds if the rise in global temperature did not exceed 1.5°C compared to the pre-industrial era. UNESCO said that this would be a major challenge for the delegates at the upcoming COP27.

Findings

In addition to drastically reduced carbon emissions, the UNESCO is advocating for the creation of a new international fund for glacier monitoring and preservation.

Such a fund would support comprehensive research, promote exchange networks between all stakeholders and implement early warning and disaster risk reduction measures, the study said.

Half of humanity depends directly or indirectly on glaciers as their water source for domestic use, agriculture, and power. Glaciers are also pillars of biodiversity, feeding many ecosystems, it said.

“When glaciers melt rapidly, millions of people face water scarcity and the increased risk of natural disasters such as flooding, and millions more may be displaced by the resulting rise in sea levels,” IUCN Director General Dr. Bruno Oberle said.

As many as 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites are home to glaciers, representing almost 10% of the Earth’s total glacierised area.

The UNESCO study, in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), showed that these glaciers have been retreating at an accelerated rate since 2000 due to CO2 emissions, which are warming temperatures.

They are currently losing 58 billion tonne of ice every year — equivalent to the combined annual water use of France and Spain — and are responsible for nearly 5% of observed global sea level rise.

UNESCO

Established: 1945

Headquarter: Paris, France

Type: UN Specialized agency

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It contributes to peace and security by promoting international cooperation in education, sciences, culture, communication and information.


News 6: Over 64,000 people in India die of snakebites each year


Background

That snakebite (a neglected tropical disease) is a public health problem in India and many other low- and middle-income countries has been long known. But a global estimate of deaths due to snakebite was not known till recently.

A study, published in Nature Communications recently estimated that a vast majority of snakebite deaths globally — up to 64,100 of the 78,600 deaths — occur in India.

The study also suggests that the global target of halving the number of deaths and injuries from snakebite by 2030 is unlikely to be met.

80% of global deaths

Before the current study, it was known that India is responsible for up to half of the global deaths due to snakebite. But the current study shows snakebite deaths in India are much higher at almost 80% of the global deaths.

Within India, Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of deaths, estimated to be up to 16,100, followed by Madhya Pradesh (up to 5,790 deaths), and Rajasthan (up to 5,230 deaths).

The study estimated that the age-standardised death rate (which accounts for different age-structures in different countries, thus allowing comparison between countries) in India, at 4.0 per 1,00,000, is also among the highest globally, and many times over than the global figure of 0.8 deaths per 1,00,000.

Only Somalia has a higher age-standardised death rate than India at 4.5 per 1,00,000. This indicates a failing health system in India and Somalia leading to high deaths in those who are bitten by venomous snakes.

Within India, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan have even higher age-standardised death rates, at 6.5, 6.0, and 5.8 per 1,00,000, respectively.

Snakebites and need for national strategy

Despite such a high number of deaths each year, there is no national strategy to address the burden of snakebite in India. Recently, there is some recognition of snakebite as a public health problem with the Indian Council of Medical Research launching a national survey to estimate the burden.

While this will help know the burden better, the absence of a specific national strategy to address snakebite implies there is no programme by the government to either prevent snakebite or in preventing deaths or disability in those who are bitten by venomous snakebite.

With such a high number of deaths due to snakebites, there is a need for a strategy focusing on snakebite prevention and strengthening of the health system. Preventing snakebite needs more than simple awareness programmes.

This is so because snakebite at its core is due to snake-human-environment conflict tied to many socio-cultural-religious aspects. As such, understanding the conflict and code signing community-based programmes for prevention of snakebites which are tested through community randomised cluster trials are required. To bring down deaths, strengthening of primary healthcare in India is also required.

Focus on healthcare

Traditionally, there has been a lot of focus on snake antivenom availability. An analysis of system capacity for snakebite care revealed that there is a need for comprehensive strengthening of primary healthcare systems focusing on both access and quality of care across all health systems blocks, instead of a sole focus on snake antivenom availability.

With snakebite deaths globally being predominantly in India, the global target to halve snakebite deaths by 2030, cannot be attained without action in India. With the new global estimates available, it might be expected that global health funders and philanthropists would invest for research and programmes on snakebite in India, such that the global target can be made.

Having a national strategy to address snakebite would mean that investments are towards the need of the country in health system strengthening and community-based programmes, instead of costly drugs and diagnostics whose intellectual property is held outside India or leading to vertical programmes instead of integrated strengthening.

Because snakebite affects the rural poor, a national strategy for snakebite brings in an equity focus which will bring cross benefits for other neglected tropical diseases, which happen in the same communities.


News 7: Study links PM 2.5 pollutants to anemia prevalence


Background

Long-term exposure to fine airborne particulate matter — PM 2.5 pollutants — may increase the prevalence of anemia among women of reproductive age through systemic inflammation, a study has found.

Reducing the burden of anemia in Indian women of reproductive age with clean-air targets’

According to the study, ‘Reducing the burden of anemia in Indian women of reproductive age with clean-air targets’, anemia prevalence will fall from 53 per cent to 39.5 percent if India meets its recent clean-air targets, taking 186 districts below the national target of 35 per cent. India’s anemia prevalence among women of reproductive age (15-45 years) is among the highest in the world.

Findings

The findings state that for every ten microgram/cubic metre of air increase in ambient PM2.5 exposure, the average anemia prevalence among such women increases by 7.23 per cent.

Among PM 2.5 sources, sulphate and black carbon are more associated with anemia than organics and dust, finds the study, adding that among sectoral contributors, industry was the biggest. This was followed by the unorganized sector, domestic sources, power sector, road dust, agricultural waste burning and transport sector.

Anemia and women of reproductive age

  • Anaemia, a major contributor to the global disease burden, is characterised by diminished blood haemoglobin concentration and is often accompanied by a decrease in red blood cells. This results in a decrease in the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood.
  • Women of reproductive age may suffer from regular iron deficiency due to menstruation and therefore are particularly prone to develop anaemia (from mild to severe). Dietary iron deficiency is another leading cause of anaemia.
  • Other contributing factors include genetic disorders, parasitic infections and inflammation from infections and chronic diseases. The World Health Organization has set a global target to halve anemia among women of reproductive age by 2053.
  • Anemia is highly prevalent in India. The National Family and Health Survey 2015–2016 (NFHS-4) reported that 53.1% of WRA and 58.5% of children under five were anemic.
  • India launched a programme under the POSHAN Abhiyaan aiming to make the country ‘anemia-free’ and set a target of reducing anemia in WRA to below 35% by 2022.
  • Because an iron-deficient diet is the primary cause of the large burden of anaemia, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is engaged in increasing the iron intake of the population.

POSHAN Abhiyaan

Ministry: Ministry of Woman and Child Development

The programme through the targets will strive to reduce the level of stunting, under-nutrition, anemia and low birth weight babies. It will create synergy, ensure better monitoring, issue alerts for timely action, and encourage States/UTs to perform, guide and supervise the line Ministries and States/UTs to achieve the targeted goals.


News 8: 2022 likely to be fifth or sixth warmest year on record – World Meteorological Organization


Background

Global mean temperatures for 2022 are currently estimated to be about 1.15 degree Celsius higher than pre-industrial times, a new assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has said.

The widely acknowledged danger mark for temperature rise is considered to be 1.5 degree Celsius from pre-industrial times, which is the average for the period 1850-1900.

Assessment by WMO

The assessment is based on temperature data from January to September this year. Data from the remaining three months might make the annual mean for 2022 slightly different from the 1.15 degree Celsius number, but the WMO said the year was still likely to end up being the fifth or sixth warmest year on record (since 1850).

The warmest year on record so far has been 2016, when the global mean temperatures were measured to be about 1.28 degree Celsius higher than pre-industrial times.

This number for 2016 was earlier known to be 1.1 degree Celsius, but recently the WMO revised it upwards after taking into account the measurements of one more international dataset.The estimate for 2022 is part of the provisional State of Global Climate Report that the WMO publishes every year.

In May this year, the WMO said there was a 50 per cent chance that the global temperatures would temporarily touch the 1.5 degree Celsius mark within the next five years (by 2026). It also said it was almost certain (93 per cent likelihood) that one of these five years (till 2026) would end up being warmer than 2016, thus setting a new record.

Provisional state of climate report

In its provisional state of climate report, the WMO said the even more worrying aspect was the fact that the warming in 2022 so far has happened despite the presence of a prolonged La Nina (a cooling of sea-surface waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean) which tends to temporarily cool down the earth a bit.

It also pointed out that the concentrations of three main greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and Nitrous oxide (NO2), were all at record highs in 2021.

The emissions of methane, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide in causing global warming, in fact, increased at the fastest pace ever. Incidentally, just last year, at the climate change conference in Glasgow, countries had pledged to cut global methane emissions by at least 30 per cent by the year 2030.

The WMO said real-time data from several locations suggested that the increasing trend for methane and other two gases has continued in 2022 as well.

As a result, the extent of the Arctic ice sheet had dropped to a record low in February this year, at nearly one million square km below the long-term mean, the WMO said. Sea levels had risen about 10mm in just the last two years, it said.

World Meteorological Organization

Established: 1950

Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland

Type: UN Specialized organization

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is an intergovernmental organization with a membership of 193 Member States and Territories.

Established by the ratification of the WMO Convention on 23 March 1950, WMO became the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences a year later.

It is the UN system’s authoritative voice on the state and behaviour of the Earth’s atmosphere, its interaction with the land and oceans, the weather and climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources.


Other important news


Lake Victoria

  • It is Africa’s largest lake. In addition, it’s the largest tropical lake in the world, and the planet’s second largest freshwater lake. Only North America’s Lake Superior is larger.
  • The Lake Victoria region is one of the most densely populated in Africa; within 50 miles (80 km) of its shores live several million people.
  • The Ugandan cities of Kampala and Entebbe lie along or near the northern coast. The Kagera River, the largest and most important of the lake affluents, enters the western side of Lake Victoria just north of latitude 1° S.
  • The only other river of note entering from the west is the Katonga, north of Kagera. The lake’s only outlet is the Victoria Nile, which exits from the northern coast.

The Falcon Heavy Launch

  • The company hails this as the most powerful operational rocket in the world. This is the fourth launch of the giant rocket system, and the first one in nearly three years since its last launch in 2019.

Current mission

  • The rocket is carrying satellites to space for the U.S. military in a mission named as U.S. Space Force (USSF)-44. The mission deployed two spacecraft payloads, one of which is the TETRA 1 microsatellite created for various prototype missions in and around the geosynchronous earth orbit.
  • The other payload is for national defence purposes. It will place the satellites for the Space Systems Command’s Innovation and Prototyping.

 

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