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Weekly Current Affairs (22nd to 31st July 2023) Part - 2 | Current Affairs & Hindu Analysis: Daily, Weekly & Monthly - UPSC PDF Download

Global Efforts Towards Immunization

Context: In a joint press release, the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) announced that significant progress had been made in global immunization efforts during 2022.

  • Over 4 million more children were vaccinated in 2022 compared to the year before, reflecting the collective efforts of countries and international organizations to combat vaccine-preventable diseases.

What is the Major Progress in Global Immunization Efforts?

Positive Trends in Immunization Coverage:

DTP3 Vaccine Usage as a Global Marker:

  • The DTP3 vaccine, protecting against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough), serves as the standard indicator for immunization coverage worldwide.
  • In WHO South-East Asia Region, the number of zero-dose children (those that have not received even the first dose of DPT vaccine) halved to 2.3 million in 2022 from 4.6 million in 2021.
  • The coverage rate for DPT3 in India rose to an all-time of 93% in 2022, surpassing the previous pre-pandemic best of 91% recorded in 2019.

Recovery from Pandemic-related Disruptions:

  • Of the 73 countries that experienced significant declines in immunization coverage during the pandemic, 15 have recovered to pre-pandemic levels and 24 are on the road to recovery.

HPV Vaccination Rates:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels, but they remain below the 90% target.

Lingering Disparities and Ongoing Challenges:

Uneven Recovery and System Strengthening:

  • While certain countries achieved remarkable recoveries, many smaller and poorer nations still face challenges in restoring immunization services.
  • 34 countries are stagnating or experiencing further declines in vaccination rates, underscoring the need for ongoing catch-up and system strengthening efforts.

Measles Vaccination: A Cause for Concern:

  • Measles (viral disease that typically affects children) vaccination rates have not rebounded as effectively as other vaccines.
  • This has increased the risk of measles infections for an additional 35.2 million children globally.
  • First dose measles vaccination coverage improved to 83% in 2022, but it remains lower than the 86% achieved in 2019.

What are the Major Global Initiatives Related to Immunization?

  • Immunization Agenda 2030 (IA2030): It sets an ambitious, overarching global vision and strategy for vaccines and immunization for the decade 2021–2030.

By the end of the decade, IA2030 aims to:

  • Reduce by 50% the number of children receiving zero vaccine doses
  • Achieve 500 introductions of new or under-utilized vaccines in low- and middle-income countries
  • Achieve 90% coverage for essential childhood vaccines
  • World Immunization Week: It is celebrated every year in the last week of April.
  • Theme 2023 - 'The Big Catch-up'

What is the Status of Immunization in India?

About:

  • Annually, India vaccinates more than 30 million pregnant women and 27 million children through its Universal immunization programme.
  • A child is considered fully immunized if they receive all the required vaccines as per the national immunization schedule within their first year of life.
  • However, according to UNICEF, only 65% of children in India receive full immunization during the first year of their life.

Major Immunization Programmes in India:

Universal Immunization Programme (UIP):

  • The program provides free immunization against 12 vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Nationally Against 9 Diseases: Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Polio, Measles, Rubella, severe form of Childhood Tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and Meningitis & Pneumonia caused by Hemophilus Influenza type B
  • Sub-nationally Against 3 Diseases: Rotavirus diarrhea, Pneumococcal Pneumonia and Japanese Encephalitis
    • Two major milestones of the UIP have been the eradication of polio in 2014 and the elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus in 2015.

Mission Indradhanush:

  • Mission Indradhanush (MI) was launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) in 2014 with the aim to vaccinate all unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children under UIP.
  • It is being implemented in several phases.

Other Supporting Measures:

  • Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network (eVIN) rollout.
  • National Cold Chain Management Information System (NCCMIS).

Quick-Fix Water Management

Context: Recently, India's increasing water stress has been met with a growing inclination towards quick-fix solutions by non-profits and civil society organizations.

  • However, these quick fixes may not be sustainable in the long run. It's essential to examine these quick fixes carefully and ensure we adopt strategies that can last for the future.

What are Quick-fix Water Solutions?

About:

  • Quick-fix water solutions refer to immediate and often temporary measures implemented to address water-related issues, particularly in regions facing water scarcity or challenges in water management.

Various Interventions:

  • River Widening, Deepening, and Straightening: Modifying natural watercourses to increase water-carrying capacity.
  • Water Harvesting Competitions: Encouraging communities to harvest rainwater and adopt water-saving practices.
    • Limited impact without comprehensive water management strategies.
  • Tree Planting Along Riverbanks: Stabilizes soil and prevents erosion.
    • May not fully address larger water management issues.
  • Quick Infrastructure Development: Rapid construction of water facilities like sewage treatment plants and water grids.
  • Artificial Recharge of Aquifers: Injecting water into underground aquifers to replenish groundwater levels.
    • Requires sustainable management to combat depletion.
  • Desalination Plants: Converting seawater into freshwater to meet coastal water needs.
    • Energy-intensive and expensive, making it less viable in some areas.

Quick-fix Water Solutions Initiatives:

Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan:

  • Maharashtra government initiative (2014) aimed to make the state drought-free by 2019 through river widening, deepening, and straightening, check dams, and desilting.
  • Experts criticize it for being unscientific, ecologically damaging, leading to erosion, biodiversity loss, and increased flood risk.

Water Cups:

  • A competition initiated by a non-profit organization in 2016 incentivized Maharashtra villages to harvest water for drought-proofing.
  • Critics question the validity and sustainability, as it overlooked water quality, groundwater impact, social equity, and maintenance mechanisms.

What are the Challenges in Quick-Fix Solutions in Water Management?

Environmental Impacts:

  • Rapid interventions like river widening and deepening can lead to ecological damage.
  • Erosion, sedimentation, and loss of biodiversity can result from hasty projects.

Limited Community Engagement:

  • Quick-fix approaches may lack adequate participation and consultation with stakeholders.
  • Neglecting the social dimension can lead to resistance and conflicts.

Funding Dependency:

  • Relying on corporate social responsibility (CSR) funding can limit decision-making freedom.
  • Prioritization of projects influenced by donor interests rather than community needs.

Neglecting Groundwater Management:

  • Focus on surface water solutions may overlook the critical role of groundwater.
  • Groundwater recharge and management are crucial for sustainable water supply.

Conflicting Programs:

  • Some state projects may not align with community and environmental interests.
  • Examples: riverfront development, centralized sewage treatment, massive water grids.

Shift from Critical Engagement:

  • A shift in mindset from in-depth analysis and understanding to a "techno-managerial approach."
  • This means placing too much emphasis on technical knowledge and problem-solving, which can lead to overlooking important socio-economic and ecological aspects related to water management.

What are the Government Initiatives Tackle India's Water Crisis?

Amrit Sarovar Mission:

  • Amrit Sarovar Mission launched on April 24, 2022, the mission aims to develop and rejuvenate 75 water bodies in each district as part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebration.
  • The mission seeks to improve water storage and quality in local water bodies, contributing to better water availability and ecosystem health.

Atal Bhujal Yojana:

  • This scheme targets certain water-stressed areas in Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh.
  • The primary objective of Atal Bhujal Yojana is to manage demand for groundwater through scientific means, involving local communities for sustainable groundwater management.

Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA):

  • CGWA regulates and controls groundwater usage by industries, mining projects, and infrastructure projects across the country.
  • CGWA and States issue No Objection Certificates (NOCs) for groundwater extraction in line with guidelines, ensuring responsible water usage.

National Aquifer Mapping Program (NAQUIM):

  • Central Ground Water Board is implementing NAQUIM to map aquifers in the country, covering an area of 25.15 lakh sq km.
  • The study reports and management plans are shared with States/UTs to facilitate informed interventions.

Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Groundwater- 2020:

  • Prepared in collaboration with States/UTs, the Master Plan outlines the construction of about 1.42 crore Rain Water Harvesting and artificial recharge structures.
  • The plan targets harnessing 185 billion Cubic Meters (BCM) of water, promoting water conservation and recharge.

Way Forward

  • Embrace comprehensive and sustainable water management strategies that address both immediate needs and long-term challenges.
  • Foster meaningful engagement with local communities, incorporating their perspectives and knowledge in water management decisions.
  • Prioritize investments in water infrastructure and capacity-building programs to build resilience against future water crises.
  • Establish robust monitoring and evaluation frameworks to assess the effectiveness and impact of water management initiatives.
  • Promote responsible groundwater management and conservation practices to ensure water availability for future generations.

PM-KUSUM

Context: The Union Minister of New Renewable Energy furnished the current status of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Urja Suraksha evam Utthaan Mahabhiyan (PM KUSUM) scheme through a written response in Lok Sabha.

What is PM-KUSUM?

About:

  • The PM-KUSUM is a flagship scheme initiated by the Indian government in 2019 with the primary objective of transforming the agricultural sector by promoting the adoption of solar energy solutions.
  • It operates on a demand-driven approach. Capacities are allocated based on the demands received from various states and union territories (UTs).
  • Through various components and financial support, PM-KUSUM envisions achieving a significant solar power capacity addition of 30.8 GW by March 31, 2026.

Objectives of PM-KUSUM:

  • De-dieselisation of the Farm Sector: The scheme aims to reduce the dependence on diesel for irrigation by encouraging the use of solar-powered pumps and other renewable energy sources.
    • It also seeks to increase farmers' income by reducing irrigation costs through the use of solar pumps and enabling them to sell surplus solar power to the grid.
  • Water and Energy Security for Farmers: By providing access to solar pumps and promoting solar-based community irrigation projects, the scheme aims to enhance water and energy security for farmers.
  • Curbing Environmental Pollution: Through the adoption of clean and renewable solar energy, the scheme aims to mitigate environmental pollution caused by conventional energy sources.

Components:

  • Component-A: Setting up of 10,000 MW of Decentralized Ground/Stilt Mounted Solar Power Plants on barren/fallow/pasture/marshy/ cultivable land of farmers.
  • Component-B: Installation of 20 Lakh Stand-alone Solar Pumps in off-grid areas.
  • Component-C: Solarisation of 15 Lakh Grid Connected Agriculture Pumps through: Individual Pump Solarisation and Feeder Level Solarisation.

Recent Significant Developments:

  • Extension of Scheme Duration: PM-KUSUM has been extended until March 31, 2026, to facilitate wider adoption of solar energy solutions among farmers.
  • State-Level Tendering: State level tendering is allowed for the procurement of standalone solar pumps, making the process more streamlined and efficient.
  • Inclusion in AIF and PSL Guidelines: The solarization of pumps under PM-KUSUM has been included in the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF) and Priority Sector Lending (PSL) Guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), making it more accessible for farmers to access finance.

Note:

  • Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF): The AIF is a financing facility launched on July 8, 2020 for creation of post-harvest management infrastructure and community farm assets.
    • Under this scheme, Rs 1 lakh crore is to be disbursed by financial year 2025-26 and the interest subvention and credit guarantee assistance will be given till the year 2032-33.
  • Priority Sector Lending (PSL): The RBI mandates banks to lend a certain portion of their funds to specified sectors, like agriculture, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), export credit, education, housing, social infrastructure, renewable energy among others.
    • All scheduled commercial banks and foreign banks (with a sizable presence in India) are mandated to set aside 40% of their Adjusted Net Bank Credit (ANDC) for lending to these sectors.

Major Challenges:

  • Geographical Variability: Different regions in India have varying solar radiation levels, which can impact the efficiency and performance of solar installations.
    • Also, the effectiveness of solar pumps is contingent on sufficient sunlight, which can be challenging during periods of heavy cloud cover or in regions with prolonged monsoons.
  • Land Availability and Aggregation: The availability of suitable land for solar projects and the aggregation of fragmented land parcels pose challenges in setting up large-scale solar installations.
    • Land acquisition and aggregation can be time-consuming and may lead to delays in project execution.
  • Inadequate Grid Infrastructure: In regions where the grid infrastructure is weak or unreliable, integrating solar power into the grid can be challenging.
    • This can limit the benefits of the scheme, especially for farmers looking to sell surplus solar power back to the grid.
  • Lack of Water Regulation: With the adoption of solar pumps, there may be a surge in irrigation demand as farmers find it more accessible and cost-effective to pump water from underground sources.
    • The absence of proper water management practices could exacerbate over-extraction through solar pumps and impact the long-term sustainability of ground water resources.

Way Forward

  • Mobile Solar Pumping: Implement mobile solar pump stations that can be moved to different locations based on irrigation needs.
    • This flexibility can enhance water access for farmers in remote or changing agricultural areas.
  • Water Regulation and Monitoring: Implement effective water regulation policies and monitoring mechanisms to control groundwater extraction.
    • The government should collaborate with local authorities to establish water extraction limits based on aquifer recharge rates and overall water availability.
  • Linking it with MGNREGA: To enhance the impact of PM-KUSUM and promote rural employment, the scheme can be linked with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
    • MGNREGA can support the installation of micro-irrigation systems, like drip and sprinkler irrigation, to complement the use of solar pumps.
    • This combination can significantly improve water-use efficiency and crop productivity.

The 1.5°C Warming Target and Climate Projections

Context: The 1.5 degrees Celsius warming target, along with this year's El Nino, has garnered attention. Reports suggest the planet may cross this temperature threshold due to the rising climate phenomenon.

What is the Background of 1.5 Degrees Celsius Warming Target?

  • Paris Agreement aims to limit the temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This target is considered significant, but there are a couple of important things to remember.
  • Even though countries have been talking about this issue for over 20 years, the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere has not decreased as much as needed.
  • The 2 degrees Celsius target was not determined based on strict scientific evidence. Instead, it was initially proposed by an economist named William Nordhaus in the 1970s.
  • Later on, some politicians and climate scientists adopted this target.
  • The Alliance of Small Island States pushed for the target to be lowered to 1.5 degrees Celsius, leading to further retrofitting of future scenarios to meet this goal.
  • According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the leading scientific body on climate change, if current trends continue, the world is likely to reach 1.5°C of warming by 2030-2052.
  • Also, IPCC Special Report on the difference in impacts between 1.5°C versus 2°C warming suggests that tropical countries such as India are projected to experience the largest impacts on economic growth because of climate change.

How will Climate Change-induced Warming Impact India?

About:

  • According to a recent study by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), India’s average temperature has increased by about 0.7°C during 1901-2018, with more rapid warming in recent decades.

Impacts:

  • Agriculture: India's agriculture is heavily dependent on monsoon rains, and any alterations in rainfall patterns due to warming can significantly affect crop yields.
    • It would lead to erratic monsoons, increased frequency of droughts, and extreme weather events like heatwaves that will reduce agricultural productivity, posing a threat to food security and livelihoods of millions of farmers.
  • Public Health: Warmer temperatures may lead to the spread of diseases like malaria, dengue, and other vector-borne illnesses as the range of disease-carrying organisms expands.
    • Heatwaves can increase heat-related illnesses and mortality rates, especially among vulnerable populations, putting pressure on the healthcare system.
  • Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Warming can disrupt ecosystems and trigger shifts in vegetation patterns, altering habitats for various plant and animal species.
    • Many endemic species in India may face extinction or be forced to migrate to more suitable areas, leading to disruptions in the ecological balance and biodiversity loss.
  • Coastal Vulnerability: India has an extensive coastline, and rising sea levels due to warming can result in coastal erosion, inundation of low-lying areas, and increased frequency of extreme weather events like cyclones.
    • This poses a threat to coastal communities, infrastructure, and economic activities.
  • Migration and Social Disruptions: As climate-induced challenges intensify, there could be a rise in climate-induced migration, with people moving from severely impacted regions to more habitable areas.
    • This could lead to social tensions, resource competition, and strain on urban centers, leading to challenges for policymakers.

Government Initaitives:

  • National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC)
  • There are 8 national missions forming the core of the NAPCC including National Solar Mission, National Mission on Sustainable Habitat etc.
  • National Adaptation Fund on Climate Change (NAFCC)
  • India Cooling Action Plan
  • LiFE Initiative

Way Forward

  • National Assessment and Data: India must undertake a comprehensive and continuous national assessment of climate impacts and vulnerability, taking into account regional variations.
    • Accurate data will aid in evidence-based decision-making and targeted policy interventions.
  • Green Infrastructure and Urban Planning: Implement Blue- green infrastructure and sustainable urban planning practices in cities.
    • This includes creating green spaces, promoting public transportation, and incentivizing eco-friendly building designs to reduce the urban heat island effect.
  • Carbon Pricing: Introduce a carbon pricing mechanism to internalize the environmental costs of greenhouse gas emissions.
    • This could be achieved through carbon taxes or cap-and-trade systems to encourage industries to adopt cleaner technologies.
  • Promoting Circular Economy: There is a need to promote the adoption of a circular economy model, where waste is minimized, and resources are reused, repaired, or recycled, reducing the carbon footprint of products and processes.
  • International Cooperation: India can collaborate with other countries and forums on joint climate initiatives, sharing best practices, and leveraging resources to address climate change on a global scale through Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR–RC).

Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary

Context: Recently, in a significant development for tiger conservation efforts, the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court has issued a directive to the Goa government to notify the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and its surrounding areas as a tiger reserve under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 within three months from 24th July 2023.

  • The decision comes after a prolonged legal battle and demands from environmentalists and conservationists, and it carries implications for wildlife protection and forest dwellers in the region.

Note:

  • Tiger Reserves are notified by State Governments as per provisions of Section 38V of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 on advice of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

What are the Key Facts about Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary?

Location and Landscape:

  • Located in the Northern part of Goa, Sanguem taluka, near Valpoi town.
  • Encompasses picturesque waterfalls, including Vazra Sakla Falls and Virdi Falls.
  • Known for its nesting grounds of critically endangered Long-billed vultures near Vazra Falls.
  • Diverse landscape with thick moist deciduous forests and some evergreen species.
  • Notable for sacred groves protecting rare and indigenous trees.

Flora and Fauna

  • Rich biodiversity with Indian gaur, Tigers, Barking deer, Sambar deer, Wild boar, Indian hare, and more.
  • Attracts herpetologists due to the presence of various snakes, including the 'big four' venomous snakes which are Indian krait, Russell’s viper, Saw-scaled viper and Spectacled cobra.
  • Designated an International Bird Area for hosting several bird species like Malabar parakeet and Rufous babbler.
  • Represents a crucial habitat for tiger conservation in Goa.

Unique Geographical Features:

  • Home to the three highest peaks in Goa: Sonsogod (1027 mts), Talavche Sada (812 mts), and Vageri (725 mts).
  • Mhadei River, a lifeline of Goa, originates in Karnataka, passes through the sanctuary, and meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji.
  • The sanctuary acts as a catchment area for the Mhadei River.

Controlled Human Infection Studies and Ethical Concerns

Context: The Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) Bioethics Unit has drafted a consensus policy statement addressing the ethical aspects of Controlled Human Infection Studies (CHIS), opening the door for its potential implementation in India.

What is Controlled Human Infection Studies and Related Ethical Concerns?

About:

  • CHIS is a research model that intentionally exposes healthy volunteers to pathogens under controlled conditions.
  • It has been utilized in various countries to study diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and dengue.
  • Benefits of CHIS Implementation: ICMR recognizes that CHIS has the potential to provide numerous benefits for medical research and public health:
  • Insights into Disease Pathogenesis: CHIS can offer unique insights into how diseases develop and progress, leading to a deeper understanding of infectious diseases.
  • Accelerated Medical Interventions: By allowing researchers to study disease progression more rapidly, CHIS can expedite the development of new treatments and vaccines.
  • Cost-effective and Efficient Outcomes: CHIS requires smaller sample sizes compared to large clinical trials, making it a more cost-effective research model.
  • Contributions to Public Health Response: Findings from CHIS can inform public health responses, healthcare decision-making, and policy development.
    • Understanding disease dynamics through CHIS can enhance preparedness for future pandemics.
  • Community Empowerment: Involving communities in CHIS research can empower them to take ownership of their health and participate actively in healthcare initiatives.

Ethical Challenges:

  • Deliberate Harm and Participant Protection: Exposing healthy volunteers to pathogens raises concerns about potential harm to participants.
  • Inducement and Compensation: Determining appropriate compensation for participants in CHIS can be challenging.
    • Offering too much compensation might unduly induce people to participate, potentially compromising informed consent.
    • Conversely, offering inadequate compensation might exploit vulnerable individuals.
  • Third-party Risk: The risk of disease transmission to third parties beyond the research participants is a concern.
  • Justice and Fairness: There is a concern that CHIS may disproportionately involve participants from low-income or marginalized communities.

Way Forward

  • Ethical Considerations: The first step is to establish an independent ethics committee to evaluate the CHIS protocols thoroughly.
    • The committee should consist of experts in relevant fields, including medical ethics, infectious diseases, and legal representatives, to ensure that participant safety and rights are protected throughout the process.
  • Informed Consent and Withdrawal: Volunteers should be fully informed about the risks involved in participating in CHIS.
    • Informed consent should be obtained, and participants should have the right to withdraw at any time without penalty.
  • Risk Minimization and Medical support: Measures should be in place to minimize the risk to participants.
    • This includes close medical monitoring during the trial and access to appropriate medical care and treatment if any participant becomes ill.
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