International issues

Compendium of international news from various sources relevant for State services exam both MCQs and Descriptive type. This section will be updated regularly from sources like Hindu, pib etc

ZIKA virus outbreak

  • Brazil says the number of babies born with microcephaly or abnormally small heads since October has now reached nearly 4,000.
  • The authorities there believe the increase is caused by an outbreak of Zika virus. Just 150 Brazilian babies were born with microcephaly in 2014image

What is ZIRKA VIRUS?

  • The Zika virus, an alarming and disturbing infection that may be linked to thousands of babies being born with underdeveloped brains, is spreading through the Americas.
  • The mosquito-borne virus can be deadly or cause intellectual disability and developmental delays.

Where did Zika come from?

  • Identified in Uganda in 1947, previous outbreaks were confined to a few small areas in Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific Islands.
  • But, in May 2015, it was reported in Brazil. 

How does it spread?

  • If Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, found throughout the Americas, drink the blood of an infected person they can then infect subsequent people they bite.
  • They also spread dengue and chikungunya virus 

How dangerous is it?

Deaths are rare and only one in five people infected is thought to develop symptoms. These include:

  • mild fever
  • conjunctivitis (red, sore eyes)
  • headache
  • joint pain
  • a rash

Treatment

As there is no treatment, the only option is to reduce the risk of being bitten.

Health officials advise people to:

  • use insect repellents
  • cover up with long-sleeved clothes
  • keep windows and doors closed

The mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so people are also being told to empty buckets and flower pots.

The US Centers for Disease Control has advised pregnant women not to travel to affected areas.

What is being done till now?

  • The Brazilian Health Minister, Marcelo Castro, has said a new testing kit is being developed to identify infections quickly.
  • He also said more money was being put into the development of a vaccine.
  • Some scientists are also trialling the use of genetically modified sterile mosquitoes that appear to reduce mosquito populations by 90%.
  • Meanwhile, efforts are under way to kill the mosquitoes with insecticide

    India forms panel to monitor Zika

  • Acting swiftly on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) warning over the spread of Zika virus, India formed a technical group to closely monitor the situation and began an exercise to issue a travel advisory soon.
  • The government also decided to strengthen its surveillance system and plan preventive measures with an increased focus on prevention to control the spread of the Aedes Aegypti mosquito that breeds in clean water.
  • This came at a high-level meeting held here to discuss the recent cases of Zika virus spread being reported from South America and the US and prepare a strategy.
  • The meeting, attended by senior doctors from the All India institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) among others, was presided over by Health Minister J P Nadda.
  • Aedes Aegypti mosquito carries Zika virus which is suspected to cause brain damage in babies
  • Zika virus is also believed to cause neurological problems like microcephaly, a condition of abnormally small head in babies.
  • The outbreak began in Brazil last year and has now spread to 24 countries in the Americas.
  • The WHO on Thursday issued a warning on the spread of Zika virus to all countries, including India.
  • The technical group, to be constituted, will be giving its opinion on what precautionary measures needs to be taken

U.S. warship sails near disputed isle

  • A U.S. warship sailed within 12 nautical miles of an island claimed by Beijing in the South China Seas, in an operation intended to underscore America’s right to access the disputed waters
  • China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of world trade is shipped every year. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan have rival claims.
  • The operation was carried out near Triton Island in the Paracel Islands, “to challenge excessive maritime claims of parties that claim the Paracel Islands.”
  • The USS Wilbur was the guided missile destroyer used in the operation

Marshall Islands to sue India, Pak. over nukes

  • The tiny Marshall Islands will, in March, seek to persuade the UN’s highest court to take up a lawsuit against India, Pakistan and Britain which they accuse of failing to halt the nuclear arms race.
  • The International Court of Justice, founded in 1945 to rule on legal disputes between nations, announced dates for separate hearings for the three cases between March 7 and 16.
  • In the cases brought against India and Pakistan, the court will examine whether the tribunal based in The Hague is competent to hear the lawsuits.
  • The hearing involving Britain will be devoted to “preliminary objections” raised by London.
  • A decision will be made at a later date as to whether the cases can proceed.
  • In 2014, the Marshall Islands, a Pacific Ocean territory with 55,000 people, accused nine countries of “not fulfilling their obligations with respect to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament”.
  • They included China, Britain, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the U.S.
  • The government based in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro said by not stopping the nuclear arms race, the countries continued to breach their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — even if the treaty has not been by signed by countries such as India and Pakistan.
  • The Marshall Islands had decided to sue the world’s nuclear heavyweights as “it has a particular awareness of the dire consequences of nuclear weapons,”
  • Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. conducted repeated nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands
  • But the court only admitted three cases brought against Britain, India and Pakistan because they already recognised the ICJ’s authority.
  • In March 2014, the Marshall Islands marked 60 years since the devastating hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll, that vapourised an island and exposed thousands in the surrounding area to radioactive fallout.
  • The 15-megaton test on March 1, 1954, was part of the intense Cold War nuclear arms race and 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Bikini Islanders have lived in exile since they were moved for the first weapons tests in 1946.

France commits €300 million for solar energy

  • French President Francois Hollande  committed €300 million (around $325 million or Rs. 2,200 crore) over the next five years for the global development of solar energy
  • Mr. Hollande announced after inaugurating the interim Secretariat of the International Solar Alliance at Gurgaon, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
  • Through this solar alliance, the French President would like to open a new chapter to help give countries with no resources other than the sun an opportunity to produce electricity for meeting the needs of most of their people.

International Solar Alliance

  • The International Solar Alliance, envisaged to bring together 122 countries that lie wholly or partly between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn,
  • It is an initiative announced by Mr. Modi at the COP 21 Summit in Paris in November.
  • The member countries are to be those that enjoy 300 or more days in a year of bright sunlight.
  • The Alliance would focus on three broad areas.
  1. First, it is about pooling together the requests of countries with a huge potential in order to reduce their cost of capital.
  2. Second, it is about opening the markets in order to reduce the cost of investment.
  3. Third, it is about transferring the necessary technology and know-how from developed to developing countries
  • The challenge is also to bring in investments. The estimated amount necessary for the advancement of this energy to be more than $1 trillion. Therefore all resources provided by the COP 21 is mobilised so that they are made available to all the countries willing to develop solar energy

India France Bilateral talks

  • India and France signed 14 agreements, including an intergovernmental agreement for purchase of Rafale fighters, nuclear reactors, French railway locomotives and a major commitment to counter terror cooperation.
  • The two leaders came together for their official bilateral talks a day before participating in the Republic Day parade.
  • However the financial component of the deal is yet to be finalised

Terrorism

  • The two sides said they would embark on new ways of cooperation on fighting terrorism, including intelligence-sharing and joint exercises along with the annual strategic dialogues and a joint working group on counter terrorism meetings.
  • They called for “decisive action to be taken against Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda,” urging Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Patahankot and Gurdaspur attacks and the 2008 Mumbai attack, in which two French nationals were among those killed.

Space partnership

  • At least three of the 14 agreements signed were on expanding space collaboration.
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation and its French counterpart CNES (National Centre for Space Studies) agreed to work together in the next Mars mission, as well as a satellite launch and a thermal infrared observation mission.

Others

  • Under the ‘Make in India’ banner, India and France signed a deal that will allow French industrial major Alstom to make 800 high horse power locomotives in India. The locomotives are expected to be made in the electric locomotives factory in Madhepura, Bihar.
  • Both sides also signed an agreement on upgrading the Delhi-Chandigarh line to 200 kmph, in keeping with France’s special focus on Chandigarh ‘Smart City’ project
  • In the joint statement, France also committed itself to supporting India’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council and India’s accession to the multilateral (nuclear) export control regimes in 2016 itself.

Significance

  • The broad spectrum covered by the range of agreements marked continuity in bilateral ties. Agreements on nuclear issue, counterterror, defence show a positive continuum of the past work.
  • But the visit obviously highlights the fact that France remains an important interlocutor for India, in the European Union, as India’s position on sensitive issues have often been supported by France even when it faced opposition from other European powers
  • France has been liberal with technology transfer and its support is crucial for India

India gifts ambulances and buses to Nepal on Republic Day

  • India today gifted 40 ambulances and eight buses to different organisations in Nepal on the occasion of its 67th Republic Day.
  • The ambassador also gifted books to 52 libraries, schools and training institutes of Nepal.
  • The widows and dependents of Ex-servicemen and disabled Ex-servicemen were handed over cash incentives and blankets by the Ambassador.

Stand at Nairobi WTO meet wins Cabinet backing

  • The Cabinet approved India’s stand at the last month’s World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference held in Nairobi on food security and farm exports
  • The outcomes of the conference, referred to as the ‘Nairobi Package’ include Ministerial Decisions on agriculture covering a Special Safeguard Mechanism (SSM) for developing countries to counter import surges of farm items, public stockholding for food security purposes, a commitment to abolish export subsidies for farm exports and measures related to cotton.
  • India secured a re-affirmative Ministerial Decision on the public stockholding issue honouring earlier decisions at the WTO’s highest level —including at the Bali Ministerial and the General Council
  • The decision commits members to engage constructively in finding a permanent solution to this issue.
  • Similarly, India negotiated a Ministerial Decision on another very important issue which recognises that developing countries will have the right to have recourse to an agricultural SSM as envisaged in the Doha mandate.
  • Members will continue to negotiate the mechanism in dedicated sessions of the Committee on Agriculture in Special Session.
  • The WTO General Council has been mandated to regularly review the progress of these negotiations.
  • This is a crucial decision in view of the differing views about the future of the Doha Round
  • While the Round is very important for greater integration of developing countries in the global trading system, a few developed countries were strongly opposed to the continuation of the Doha Development Agenda to improve the trade prospects of developing and poor nations.
  • India took the stand that the DDA must continue after the Nairobi Conference and no new issues must be introduced into the WTO agenda until the DDA has been completed, according to the statement.

India, Australia miss free trade pact deadline

  • Despite missing the deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott for December 31, 2015, negotiators are still hopeful that the India-Australia free trade agreement (FTA) or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) will be cleared in the next few months.
  • According to the sources, the talks were stuck due to several outstanding issues related to market access in services and goods, with an added complication on tariff reduction.
  • While Australia wanted India to significantly lower or eliminate tariffs on several agricultural and industrial goods, New Delhi asked Canberra to ease rules on temporary movement of skilled professionals and intra-company transfers. Both sides were yet to accept each other’s demands
  • Sources in the Indian government also pointed out that Australia’s tariffs were already nil or close to zero on imports of most goods from across the world. Over and above this, it was expected to unilaterally eliminate duties in the near future on most items, therefore, there was very little that India could gain on the goods front on account of the FTA.
  • A similar political push was seen in November 2015, when both sides forged the civilian nuclear deal to enable Australia to sell uranium to India. After months of a logjam over the Australian Parliament’s concerns on accounting for the use of the uranium in India, the two sides agreed to a “mechanism” like the one negotiated with the U.S. to verify India’s nuclear fuel usage.

2015: Hottest year

  • Last year was the planet’s hottest in modern times by the widest margin on record, setting a troubling new milestone as the climate warms at an increasing pace
  • During 2015, the average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.62 Fahrenheit (0.90 Celsius) above the 20th century average,” said the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
  • This was the highest among all years in the 1880-2015 record
  • This is also the largest margin by which the annual global temperature record has been broken
  • The report, which was confirmed by a separate analysis from NASA scientists, marks the fourth time a global temperature record has been set this century.
  • Even more, the latest finding adds to a steady rise in heat across land and sea surfaces that have seen records repeatedly broken over the years.
  • Since 1997, which at the time was the warmest year on record, 16 of the subsequent 18 years have been warmer than that year
  • Last year alone, 10 months had record high temperatures for their respective months.
  • The heat was felt worldwide, with unprecedented warmth covering much of Central America and the northern half of South America.
  • Hot temperatures were observed in parts of northern, southern and eastern Europe as well as western Asia and a large section of east-central Siberia.
  • Regions of eastern and southern Africa experienced more blistering heat than ever, as did large parts of the northeastern and equatorial Pacific boosted by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

Sri Lanka and the 13 Amendment

  • Even as Sri Lanka is getting drawn to the process of making a Constitution with devolution as one of the key issues, the 13 Amendment, an outcome of the agreement between India and Sri Lanka in 1987, is again in the limelight.
  • This is not the first time that the public interest in the matter has been re-kindled. While a report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka, released in September 2015, described the Indo-Lanka accord as a “landmark attempt” to resolve the ethnic conflict, the UN Human Rights Council in October wanted the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the provincial councils were “able to operate effectively” in accordance with the Amendment.
  • Subsequently, India had made a statement at the Council, urging the stakeholders to find a “political solution” that “builds upon” the Amendment.
  • the Amendment can be used to address day-to-day problems of people affected by the Eelam War, even though it is “not a panacea for all the problems facing this country.” This can go on till a new Constitution is ready.
  • Sri Lanka is estimated to have 89,000 war widows including around 54,000 in the Northern Province, he says “lack or absence of livelihood opportunities” is the major problem being faced by the women.
  • “NGOs [Non government organisations] cannot handle this problem fully. At best, they can play a supplementary or complementary role. It is up to the provincial councils to take the lead role,
  • Similarly, with regard to housing, employment of youth and improvement of standards and facilities for education, the provincial councils can be proactive

IMF cuts global growth forecast

  • The International Monetary Fund cut its global growth forecasts for the third time in less than a year as new figures from Beijing showed that the Chinese economy grew at its slowest rate in a quarter of a century in 2015.grizzlyoutlook_2702200f
  • To back its forecasts, the IMF cited a sharp slowdown in China trade and weak commodity prices that are hammering Brazil and other emerging markets.
  • The Fund forecast that the world economy would grow at 3.4 percent in 2016 and 3.6 percent in 2017, both years down 0.2 percentage point from the previous estimates made last October. It said policymakers should consider ways to bolster short-term demand.
  • The updated World Economic Outlook forecasts came as global financial markets have been roiled by worries over China’s slowdown — confirmed by official Chinese data on Tuesday — and plummeting oil prices.
  • The IMF maintained its previous China growth forecasts of 6.3 percent in 2016 and 6.0 percent in 2017, which represent sharp slowdowns from 2015.
  • The IMF projected 7.3 per cent GDP growth for India in 2015-16 and 7.5 per cent in 2016-17, levels unchanged from its outlook released in October. In 2014-15, it estimates, GDP grew 7.3 per cent.
  • India and the rest of emerging Asia are projected to grow at a robust pace, although with some countries facing strong headwinds from China’s economic rebalancing and global manufacturing weakness
  • The Union Finance Ministry last November revised downwards its projection for the current financial year to 7.5 per cent after estimates from the Central Statistics Office showed that in the first six months, real GDP grew 7.2 per cent, slower than the 7.5 per cent in the corresponding period last year.
  • In February 2015, it projected that growth would accelerate to 8.1-8.5 per cent. The RBI’s forecast for growth this year is 7.4 per cent.

Sushma holds talks with her Palestinian counterpart

  • External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Sunday held talks with her Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, as she began her first visit to the West Asia region with meetings here aimed at reaffirming India’s longstanding commitment to the Palestinian cause.
  • Appreciating India’s help in wide-ranging areas of cooperation, the Palestinian side expressed “satisfaction” at India’s continued support for the Palestinian cause.
  • The Indian Minister emphasised that India’s stand on the Palestinian issue hasn’t changed and our Minister expressed satisfaction at the strengthening ties between the two sides
  • Palestinians had expressed surprise at India’s vote at a U.N. forum last year but had later said that they “understood” India’s “principled position“.
  • India, for the first time, last year abstained from voting on a resolution on Palestine adopted at the U.N. rights body that calls for accountability by parties involved in 2014’s conflict in Gaza.
  • India, however, maintained that there was no change in its longstanding position on support to the Palestinian cause

U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran

  • The U.S. on Saturday removed a wide range of sanctions against Iran after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Tehran had met its commitments to roll back its nuclear programme, under an agreement with China, France, Russia, the U.K., the U.S. and Germany on July 14 last year.
  • A White House official described the development as “historic.”
  • The U.S. has only removed secondary sanctions that restrict the dealings of other countries with Iran. Primary sanctions that bar U.S. citizens and companies from business with Iran will remain
  • However, the removal of restrictions on its oil, petrochemicals, banking, natural gas and port sectors will hugely benefit Iran and allow it to re-enter the global market. Iran will be able to access the huge amount of cash it has accumulated overseas from restricted oil sales during the sanctions. Most of this money is sitting in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.

Significance of this decision:

  • The removal of restrictions on its oil, petrochemicals, banking, natural gas and port sectors will hugely benefit Iran and allow it to re-enter the global market.
  • Iran will be able to access the huge amount of cash it has accumulated overseas from restricted oil sales during the sanctions. Most of this money is sitting in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey.
  • This has also put out 400 Iranians and entities out of US Blocked Persons List.

What Iran had to do:

  • All the excess stockpile and nuclear parts are kept at an IAEA-monitored location.
  • Iran has reduced its enriched uranium stockpile.
  • It has reduced the number of installed centrifuges by two-thirds.

How India will Benefit:

  • The lifting of the sanctions on Iran will benefit India with lower oil prices and more opportunities for trade. India reportedly owes Iran $6.5 billion for crude oil purchases, the payment of which has so far been held up due to the sanctions.
  • The lifting of sanctions also removes an important hurdle — U.S. pressure to hold off on the deal — in the proposed India-Iran gas pipeline.
  • One of the major construction projects in Iran that India has taken an interest in is the development of the Chabahar Port. Now Indian companies will be able to get contracts for this project.

India may ease visa norms for China

  • India is all set to overhaul its security cooperation agreement with China and further liberalise visa norms for the neighbouring country
  • If the agreement comes through, China will deport Indians accused of terrorist acts and operating in Chinese territory after its agencies conduct an independent probe
  • To begin with, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed in 2005 between the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security, People’s Republic of China, is being revisited to expand its scope
  • The MoU was signed for exchange of security-related information to combat terrorism.
  • The new agreement will also factor in contemporary global threats like the Islamic State, as many Chinese nationals are also learnt to have joined the extremist outfit, especially those from the Uighur region who are fighting for a separate state
  • India has been trying to rope in China to corner Pakistan, which according to Indian officials, is involved in supporting terror-related activities in this country.

Information sharing

  • India and China will exchange information on terrorist activities, terror groups and their linkages and share experience on anti-hijacking, hostage-like situations and coordinate positions on anti-terrorism endeavours at regional and multilateral levels.
  • Even though India included China in the list of countries which have been extended the facility of electronic tourist visa on arrival, the neighbouring country has pressed for lifting restrictions on conference and research visas as well.
  • However, China is yet to respond to India’s demand to offer a similar arrangement for its citizens. Despite opposition from the intelligence agencies against extending e-visa facility for the Chinese, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his maiden visit to the country in May 2015, had announced it.
  • China has assured that they were working on a mechanism that would ease visa restrictions for Indians. This would include time-bound replies to the applicants
  • China is among the top five nations which have expressed interest in doing business in India. According to Ministry of Home Affairs data, eight Chinese companies were given the green signal to start business operations in India under the Make in India policy.

Opening of AIIB

  • The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was formally opened for business, signaling the steady revamp of the global financial architecture, which will also soon incorporate the New Development Bank of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) grouping.
  • The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is an international financial institution proposed by China. The purpose of the multilateral development bank is to provide finance to infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region.
  • The AIIB is expected to focus on infrastructure development in Asia, and unlike the existing International Monetary Fund and World Bank, is unlikely to restrict lending on political considerations.
  • The authorised capital of AIIB will be $100 billion. AIIB’s headquarters is to be located in Beijing.
  • India is the second largest shareholder in the Bank after China.
  • Analysts say that the AIIB is likely to lend anywhere between $10 billion-$15 billion a year during the first five or six years of its existence.
  • The AIIB is expected to open a new channel of funding for the Global South, which was so far dependent on the western backed International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), in which Japan plays a pre-eminent role.
  • Observers say that the new lender will focus on infrastructure development in Asia-a move that is likely to support the Eurasian connectivity initiative under the China-led Belt and Road framework.
  • The formal opening on Saturday also reinforced a major geopolitical shift — of a closer structural alignment along the financial track of China with Europe-a traditional ally of the United States.
  • India’s representative at the conclave, Dinesh Sharma, additional Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, acknowledged that meeting appeared to reflect a structural alignment between Europe and China. He also pointed out that “formal and informal” channels of communication for coordination had been established between the AIIB and the New Development Bank of the BRICS countries.
  • India was likely to be in the beneficiary of lending from the AIIB, especially in the power sector.
  • The AIIB’s President-designate, Jin Liqun, stressed the bridging the digital divide between the regional and global economies would be the bank’s top priority in the future
  • The bank will focus on digital infrastructure including fixed broadband networks, cross border and undersea fiber optic telecommunication cables, wireless sensor networks, satellite services, new generation mobile telecommunication networks, cloud computing and big data platforms.

China becomes member of European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)

  • China has become the 67th member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
  • Following the completion of all the formalities, the announcement was made after a meeting between the EBRD President Sir Suma Chakrabarti and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on 15 January.
  • The EBRD will support Chinese companies as they invest in the EBRD regions. EBRD membership will also provide a boost to China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative where it passes through EBRD countries of operations, he said.
  • The EBRD will benefit from having the world’s second largest economy as a shareholder and will have better access to Chinese firms that could be partners in the EBRD regions.
  • The economies in the EBRD regions will benefit, as China will become an important new source of investment finance for development in the countries where the EBRD is active.
  • European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is an international financial institution founded in 1991
  • As a multilateral developmental investment bank, the EBRD uses investment as a tool to build market economies.
  • Initially focused on the countries of the former Eastern Bloc it expanded to support development in 30 countries from central Europe to central Asia.
  • Besides Europe, member countries of the EBRD are from all 5 continents (North America, Africa, Asia and Australia see below), with the biggest shareholder being the United States
  • Since its opening it has broadened its area of operations to include central Asia, some Mediterranean and North African nations, the Balkans and Southern Europe

Beaching of whales

What causes pilot whales to get disoriented?

Pilot whales are highly sensitive to noise pollution, caused by man-made sounds that interfere with echolocation. This makes them susceptible to disorientation from a variety of causes: underwater earthquakes, sonar and even changes in the Earth’s magnetic field. Therefore forced reorientation can kill them, as has been known to happen.

What’s the death count?

So far, 73 pilot whales have died in the current beaching. At least 36 whales had been rescued and pushed back into the sea but nearly 28 of them floated back to the shore. Wildlife experts have been able to rescue only six.

Is rehabilitation possible?

Depending on how severely disoriented they are, rehabilitating some whales could mean transferring them to a special, correctional facility. The facilities have large pools with water temperatures maintained to simulate that near the shores. They also have medical experts monitoring the whales’ heart rates and their overall health at least once a day.

How can beached whales be rescued?

They are sometimes covered in wet towels and sheets, with volunteers pouring water over the mammals to keep them cool. Zinc oxide is placed around the blowhole to keep the airways clear and, sometimes, tents are placed over the pen to provide additional protection from the sun. After the monitoring, lasting days , the whales — before being released into the sea — are tagged with satellite markers to track their long-term progress.

Most luminous galaxy ripping itself apart: study

  • The most luminous galaxy in the universe — a so-called obscured quasar 12.4 billion light years away — is so violently turbulent that it may eventually jettison its entire supply of star-forming gas, a new study has found.
  • A team of researchers used ALMA (Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array) to trace, for the first time, the actual motion of the galaxy’s interstellar medium — the gas and dust between the stars.
  • Previous studies with NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) spacecraft showed that the galaxy, dubbed W2246-0526, is glowing in infrared light as intensely as approximately 350 trillion Suns.

Obscured quasar

  • Evidence strongly suggests that this galaxy is an obscured quasar, a very distant galaxy with a voraciously feeding super-massive black hole at its centre that is completely obscured behind a thick blanket of dust
  • This galaxy’s startling brightness is powered by a tiny, yet incredibly energetic disk of gas that is being superheated as it spirals in on the super-massive black hole.
  • The light from this blazingly bright accretion disk is then absorbed by the surrounding dust, which re-emits the energy as infrared light, they said.

Hot DOGS they are called

  • This galaxy belongs to a very unusual type of quasar known as Hot, Dust-Obscured Galaxies or Hot DOGs. These objects are very rare; only 1 out of every 3,000 quasars observed by WISE belongs to this class.
  • The astronomers used ALMA to precisely map the motion of ionised carbon atoms throughout the entire galaxy. These atoms, which are tracers for interstellar gas, naturally emit infrared light, which becomes shifted to millimetre wavelengths as it travels the vast cosmic distances to Earth due to the expansion of the universe.

Ionised carbon aplenty

  • “Large amounts of ionised carbon were found in an extremely turbulent dynamic state throughout the galaxy,”
  • Second largest black hole detected in Milky Way
  • Astronomers have detected signs of an invisible black hole with a mass 100 thousand times that of the Sun around the centre of the Milky Way.
  • The team assumes that this possible “intermediate mass” black hole is a key to understanding the birth of the supermassive black holes located in the centres of galaxies.
  • A team of astronomers led by Tomoharu Oka, a professor at Keio University in Japan, found an enigmatic gas cloud, called CO-0.40-0.22, only 200 light years away from the centre of the Milky Way.
  • The CO-0.40-0.22 unusual has a surprisingly wide velocity dispersion — the cloud contains gas with a very wide range of speeds.
  • The team found this mysterious feature with two radio telescopes, the Nobeyama 45m Radio Telescope in Japan and the ASTE Telescope in Chile, both operated by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.
  • The team observed CO-0.40-0.22 to obtain 21 emission lines from 18 molecules. The results show that the cloud has an elliptical shape and consists of two components — a compact but low density component with a very wide velocity dispersion of 100 km per second, and a dense component extending 10 light years with a narrow velocity dispersion.
  • There are no holes inside of the cloud. Also, X-ray and infrared observations did not find any compact objects. These features indicate that the velocity dispersion is not caused by a local energy input, such as supernova explosions.
  • The team performed a simple simulation of gas clouds flung by a strong gravity source. In the simulation, the gas clouds are first attracted by the source and their speeds increase as they approach it, reaching maximum at the closest point to the object.
  • After that the clouds continue past the object and their speeds decrease. The team found that a model using a gravity source with 100 thousand times the mass of the Sun inside an area with a radius of 0.3 light years provided the best fit to the observed data.
  • This is the first detection of an intermediate mass black hole. Astronomers already know about two sizes of black holes — stellar-mass black holes, formed after the gigantic explosions of very massive stars; and supermassive black holes (SMBH) often found at the centres of galaxies.
  • No one knows how the SMBHs are formed. One idea is that they are formed from mergers of many intermediate mass black holes. However, so far no firm observational evidence for intermediate mass black holes has been found
  • If the cloud CO-0.40-0.22, located only 200 light years away from Sagittarius A-star — the 400 million solar mass SMBH at the centre of the Milky Way — contains an intermediate mass black hole, it might support the intermediate mass black hole merger scenario of SMBH evolution.

New NASA programme to protect Earth from asteroids, comets

  • NASA has started a new programme for detecting and tracking near-Earth objects (NEOs) — comets and asteroids that pass by the Earth’s orbit — to ward off any potential impact threats to our planet.
  • More than 13,500 near-Earth objects of all sizes have been discovered to date — over 95 per cent of them since NASA-funded surveys began in 1998. About 1,500 NEOs are now detected each year.
  • The Planetary Defence Coordination Office will take a leading role in coordinating inter-agency and intergovernmental efforts in response to any potential impact threats.
  • In addition to detecting and tracking potentially hazardous objects, the office will issue notices of close passes and warnings of any detected potential impacts, based on credible science data.
  • Astronomers detect near-Earth objects using ground-based telescopes around the world as well as NASA’s space-based NEOWISE infrared telescope.
  • Tracking data are provided to a global database maintained by the Minor Planet Centre.
  • Once detected, orbits are precisely predicted and monitored by the Centre for NEO Studies (CNEOS) at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
  • Select NEOs are further characterised by assets such as NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility, Spitzer Space Telescope and interplanetary radars operated by NASA and the National Science Foundation.
  • With more than 90 per cent of NEOs larger than one kilometre already discovered, NASA is now focused on finding objects that are slightly bigger than a football field — 140 metres or larger.

12/7/2016

5-year jail for crew of U.S. anti-piracy ship

  • In one of the few cases of a large number of foreigners to be tried and convicted in India, a trial court in Tuticorin in south Tamil Nadu on Monday convicted 23 foreign nationals, all of whom were on board a detained U.S. anti-piracy vessel ‘MV Seaman Guard Ohio’ , under provisions of the Arms Act.
  • The foreigners and 12 Indians, cited as co-accused, have been sentenced to undergo a five-year rigorous imprisonment term for illegally entering Indian waters with a huge cache of arms and ammunition in October 2013.
  • The Sierra Leone-flagged ship owned by AdvanFort, a U.S.-based company, was intercepted by Indian Coast Guard ship‘Naikidevi’ on October 12, 2013 and escorted to V.O. Chidambaranar Port in Tuticorin.
  • The crew and private security guards on board the vessel were arrested and 35 firearms, 102 magazines and 5,682 rounds of ammunition were recovered from them. The ship had 10 crew members of whom eight were Indians and two Ukrainians. Besides, the vessel had 25 security guards — six British, 14 Estonian, four Indians and one Ukrainian.

India centric magazine in China

  • In a context of improving relations between the two countries, China-India Dialogue , the first ever India-centric publication in China, is seeking to put renewed focus on issues common between and related to India and China.
  • The idea is to provide a platform for Chinese and Indian commentators to write on politics and economy, and for academics from both countries to communicate and debate with each other on specific themes.
  • China-India Dialogue was brought out by the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) based in Beijing, will focus on a monthly theme.
  • The inaugural issue took up Internet connectivity in an inclusive economy as the theme. The next issue would focus on “poverty relief”.
  • China-India Dialogue would attempt to expand its readership and presence in India, looking for both contributors and partners, and eventually to register as a publication in the country. It also had a website in the works, and would have other multimedia content hosted on it, she said.
  • The CIPG also publishes periodicals including China Pictorial , which comes out in Chinese, English, Russian and Korean.

Deadly bacteria more prevelant than thought previously

  • An often deadly and difficult to treat bacterial disease is much more prevalent than previously thought and kills tens of thousands of people worldwide each year, researchers said
  • Melioidosis, also known as Whitmore’s disease, has long been known to be endemic in parts of South and East Asia, the Pacific and northern Australia.
  • But a new analysis by a team of international researchers suggests the disease is also present across swathes of South America and sub-Saharan Africa and likely present in parts of Central America, southern Africa and the Middle East.
  • “Our estimates suggest that melioidosis is severely under-reported in the 45 countries in which it is known to be endemic and that melioidosis is probably endemic in a further 34 countries that have never reported the disease,” researchers led by Oxford University, the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok and the University of Washington in Seattle, wrote in a report.
  • It was published on Monday in Nature Microbiology.
  • It is the first time scientists have attempted to map the disease’s global spread using computer modelling based on data from known outbreaks going back to 1910.
  • The disease, which often affects those working in fields, is notoriously difficult to diagnose because it mimics many other bacterial infections but only responds to a handful of antibiotics. As a result, misdiagnosis is common.
  • The mortality rate of 70 per cent is shockingly high, greater even than the H5N1 bird flu. Researchers estimated that as many as 89,000 people out of the the 165,000 people who caught melioidosis in 2015 died from the disease

8/7/2016

Enemy Property Ordinance, 2016 Promulgated

  • The President of India has promulgated the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2016 on January 07, 2016 to make amendments to the Enemy Property Act, 1968.
  • The amendments through the Ordinance include that
  1. once an enemy property is vested in the Custodian, it shall continue to be vested in him as enemy property irrespective of whether the enemy, enemy subject or enemy firm has ceased to be an enemy due to reasons such as death etc;
  2. that law of succession does not apply to enemy property;
  3. that there cannot be transfer of any property vested in the Custodian by an enemy or enemy subject or enemy firm and
  4. that the Custodian shall preserve the enemy property till it is disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
  • The above amendments to the Enemy Property Act, 1968 will plug the loopholes in the Act to ensure that the enemy properties that have been vested in the Custodian remain so and they do not revert back to the enemy subject or enemy firm.

Enemy Property Act

  • The Enemy Property Act was enacted in the year 1968 by the Government of India, which provided for the continuous vesting of enemy property in the Custodian.
  • The Central Government through the Custodian of Enemy Property for India is in possession of enemy properties spread across many states in the country. In addition, there are also movable properties categorized as enemy properties.
  • To ensure that the enemy property continues to vest in the Custodian, appropriate amendments were brought in by way of an Ordinance in the Enemy Property Act, 1968 by the then Government in 2010.
  • This Ordinance, however lapsed on 6th September, 2010 and a bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 22, 2010. However, this bill was withdrawn and another bill with modified provisions was introduced in the Lok Sabha on 15th November, 2010. This bill was thereafter referred to the Standing Committee. However, the said bill could not be passed during the 15th term of the Lok Sabha and it lapsed.
  • In the wake of the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and 1971, there was migration of people from India to Pakistan. Under the Defence of India Rules framed under the Defence of India Act, the Government of India took over the properties and companies of such persons who had taken Pakistani nationality. These enemy properties were vested by the Central Government in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
  • After the 1965 war, India and Pakistan signed the Tashkent Declaration on 10.01.1966. The Tashkent Declaration inter alia included a clause, which said that the two countries would discuss the return of the property and assets taken over by either side in connection with the conflict. However, the Government of Pakistan disposed of all such properties in their country in the year 1971 itself.

7/1/2016

  • North Korea said that it had carried out a successful miniaturised hydrogen bomb test, claiming a significant advance in its strike capability
  • The test was initially detected as a 5.1-magnitude tremor at the main Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country.
  • The weapons yield was initially estimated at between 6 and 9 kilotonnes, similar to the North’s last nuclear test in 2013. The first US hydrogen bomb test in 1952 had a yield of 10 megatons.
  • The announcement triggered swift international condemnation, including from China and Russia, North Korea’s two main allies, but also scepticism, with experts suggesting the apparent yield was far too low for a thermonuclear device.
  • South Korean president Park Geun-Hye condemned what she described as a “grave provocation”.
  • No countries were given advance warning of a nuclear test, South Korea’s intelligence service said. In previous such tests, Pyongyang had notified China, Russia and the US beforehand
  • A hydrogen, or thermonuclear, bomb uses fusion in a chain reaction that results in a far more powerful explosion than the fission blast generated by uranium or plutonium.

6/1/2016

ILO Recommendation to be placed before the parliament

  • The Union Cabinet has approved the proposal for placing the new Instrument adopted by International Labour Organization (ILO) – Recommendations concerning ‘The Transition from the Informal to the Formal Economy (No.204)’ before the Parliament.
  • The International Labour Conference of ILO at its 104th Session held in Geneva in June 2015 adopted the above recommendation. Its adoption was supported by India
  • Under Article 19 of the ILO Constitution, each Member State of the ILO is required to submit the instruments adopted by the Conference before the competent authority (the Parliament in case of India) within a period of one year from the closing session of the Conference.
  • The Recommendation provides guidance to Members to facilitate the transition of workers and economic units from the informal to the formal economy while respecting workers’ fundamental rights and promote creation, preservation and sustainability of enterprises and decent jobs in the formal economy and prevent informalization of formal economy jobs.
  • There is no financial implication on India in adopting the ILO Recommendation, which is applicable to all workers in the country which ratifies the instrument.
  • Given the diversity of the informal economy across member States, the competent authority should identify the nature and extent of the informal economy as described in this Recommendation, and its relationship to the formal economy using Tripartite mechanisms.
  • In designing coherent and integrated strategies to facilitate the transition to the formal economy, the Recommendation encourages members to take into account the diversity of characteristics, circumstances and needs of workers and economic units in the informal economy.
  • It also seeks to take into account specific national circumstances, legislation, policies, practices and priorities, effective promotion and protection of the human rights and promotion of gender equality and non-discrimination.

Background

  • ILO Conventions are international treaties, open for ratification by member countries. The ratification of an ILO Convention is a voluntary process. Once ratified, the ILO Conventions create legally binding obligations on the Member countries that ratifies the particular Convention.
  • ILO Recommendations are not open to ratification but they are meant to provide guidance to the National Governments as regards formulation and implementation of policy, legislation and practices.
  • A Protocol is an instrument that partially modifies a Convention.
  • As regards formal ratification of the Convention and Protocol to the Convention, the same is to be decided separately by Government keeping in view the national laws and practices. 

Signing of MoU between India and Singapore in the field of Civil Aviation

  • The Union Cabinet has given its ex-post facto approval for signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), which was signed in November, 2015 between Airports Authority of India (On behalf of Government of India) and Singapore Cooperation Enterprise (On behalf of Government of Singapore) in Civil Aviation during Prime Minister’s visit to Singapore.
  • The objective of this MoU is to establish mutual cooperation in the field of civil aviation, which will cover, to begin with, the airports of Jaipur and Ahmedabad. This cooperation will be extended to other airports with mutual consent.
  • The salient features of the MoU include collaboration in Civil Aviation Sector in the areas of
  1. Master-planning and design
  2. Traffic development
  3. Commercial development
  4. Service quality improvement
  5. Training and development
  6. Cargo handling and Management
  7. Maintenance, repair and overhaul
  8. Operation and management and
  9. any other areas with mutual consent.

Significance

  • Government of Singapore owns one of the best managed airports in the world, which has consistently maintained its ranking for last many years.
  • A need was felt that in order to ensure high standards of service at Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports, Airport Authority of India (AAI) may enter into operation and maintenance (O&M) contracts, either with or without the responsibility of maximization of non-aeronautical revenue in the terminal building (excluding land on city side and air side). The city side and airside will continue to be managed directly by AAI.
  • Globally, limited O&M contract models are prevalent for the entire airport operations. AAI has no previous experience in awarding O&M contract model of terminal buildings to other entities. In order to implement the decision, it was necessary to ensure that a suitable entity be engaged for undertaking the O&M contract at Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports.

5/1/2016

Tension between Saudi and Iran

  • Tensions between Iran and its Sunni Arab neighbours reached new heights as Saudi Arabia and Gulf allies cut or downgraded diplomatic ties with Tehran in a row over the execution of a Shia cleric.
  • Angry exchanges following Saudi Arabia’s execution on Saturday of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr erupted into a full-blown diplomatic crisis as Riyadh and then ally Bahrain severed their relations with Tehran.
  • Saudi Arabia gave diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, after protesters set fire to its embassy in Tehran.
  • Bahrain followed suit
  • The UAE also downgraded its ties.
  • Sudan said it was cutting diplomatic relations with Iran.

India Nepal bus resumed

  • A friendship bus service between India and Nepal via Champawat in Uttarakhand resumed on Monday after a gap of 27 years, much to the delight of people on either side of the border who have family and trade ties with each other.
  • No special documents are required to travel in these buses. The service was suspended 27 years ago in the wake of the Indo-Nepal Trade and Transit Treaty
  • Resumption of the service between the two countries was welcomed by locals on either side of the border as about 10,000 Nepalis travel in these buses daily

India’s climate models to be part of IPCC report

  • India will have its own climate change models to project the impact of global warming over the decades and these will form part of the forthcoming Sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Reports that is expected to be available in 2020.
  • The climate models, being developed by the Earth Sciences Ministry, will be prepared by the Pune-based Centre for Climate Change Research
  • These are so-called dynamic models that rely on super-computers to compute the weather on a given day and simulate how it would evolve over days, months and even years.
  • These models, developed in the United States, have over few years been customised to Indian conditions.

The IPCC reports

  •  Are coordinated by the United Nations
  • They bring together the scientific consensus on the causes and impact of climate change.
  • They also assess the extent to which the globe is expected to warm up over the medium and long term.
  • There have been five so far since 1988
  • The IPCC’s fifth report in 2014, was critical in shaping the resolution at the recently concluded climate talks in Paris that all countries — developed and developing — had to, over time, do their bit to contain their greenhouse gas emissions to keep ensure that mean global temperatures did not rise beyond 1.5 to 2 degree of temperature in the 19th century.
  • As per the Paris Agreement, which will come into effect in 2020, India and several other countries will have report their emissions as well as detailed plans to curb them.