A new landscape on the horizon

Mains Paper 1 : Geographical Features & Their Location |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Various rift valleys mentioned in the newscard

Mains level : Intra-continental drifting


News

  • The recent scientific evidence has given a glimpse of the Earth’s changing contours—the African continent is splitting into two.

Africa is splitting

  • A place near Nairobi, Kenya had a large crack on the ground that appeared during an intense spell of rain and flooding.
  • The crack is 57 km long which is a locus of a future ocean formation.
  • Such an event happened 138 million years ago when the South American and African continents separated to give rise to the current South Atlantic Ocean.
  • All such signs on Earth’s surface point to a totally new landscape, which resembled how it looked like when it was formed 4.5 billion years ago one huge continent.
  • The farthest scientists can predict is that 250 million years from now all continents will unite again in one supercontinent and then will break apart again along the future rift systems.

Why such cracks?

  • At first, geologists thought the crack in Kenya was formed due to “erosion of soft soils infilling an old rift-related fault.
  • They later revealed that the crack had existed for quite some time, but was filled with ash from Mount Longmont, a volcano nearby.
  • The rain had washed away the ash to expose the crack. This triggered a debate whether the crack was a part of the East African Rift system.

Rift in systems

  • Rifts are the regions of extension of the crust and the lithosphere.
  • Continental changes take place at the boundaries of tectonic plates which are divisions of the uppermost layer of the Earth and swim around on the fluid mantle layer below it.
  • The extension may develop to a stage when two plates split apart, like in the example of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. So continental rifts are potential places where new oceans are expected to form.
  • These plates periodically crash into each other, giving rise to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions when the intensity is less over short periods of time.
  • Over longer periods of time, they create all the geological and geographical features that we find on Earth like mountains, valleys and oceans.

Intra-continental drifting

  • One of these processes is an intra-continental rift system which acts between tectonic plates and can give rise to rift valleys or even new oceans.
  • The African Rift Valley, which is between Ethiopia and Kenya, is a classical example of this geodynamic process.
  • There, volcanism, earth-quakes and fracturing of the Earth’s surface result from the enormous forces that tear the eastern portion of the African continent apart.

 East African rift system

  • The East African rift system is more active in terms of volcanism and it is connected to the global ocean rift (ridge) system through the Afar-Red Sea—Gulf of Aden triple junction.
  • The Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are the rifts along which two continents break apart and new oceanic flow is formed.
  • There are numerous rift systems around the world but the most active ones are the East African rift, Baikal rift, West Antarctic rift, Rio Grande rift, the Rhine Graben rift system in Europe and Shanxi rift system in China.
  • When such geographical features become prominent enough they reshape the way the planet looks.
  • The rifts undergo massive geological changes—shoulders of rifts grow and get eroded by rain and melting snow.
  • At the same time, the axial parts of rifts subside and get filled with sediments, which gets eroded from the shoulders.
Global Geological And Climatic Events

Indoor emissions affect air-quality standards

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Role of indoor pollution in PM2.5


News

  • Household emissions remained one of the major culprits behind PM 2.5 air pollution in India.

Household emission in India

  • A recent study has pointed out that the use of firewood, kerosene and coal in the households contributed to about 40% of the PM 2.5 pollution in the Gangetic basin districts.
  • The results showed that by eliminating household emissions the average outdoor air pollution levels could be reduced and brought within the national ambient air quality standards.
  • The paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science notes that if all households transitioned to clean fuels, about 13% of premature mortality in India could be averted.
  • At the national scale, mitigating household emissions is also expected to bring large health benefits.
  • In many villages, they still use firewood for room heating and water heating. People prefer cheap wood fuel despite LPG being provided to many households.

Using Satellite data

  • Using satellite data and chemical transport model simulations, the researchers pointed out that complete mitigation would bring down the country’s average annual PM 2.5 air pollution to 38 microgram/cubic metre.
  • Surprisingly, this is below India’s national ambient air quality standard of 40 microgram/cubic metre and slightly above the World Health Organization (interim target 1) standards of 35 microgram/cubic metre.

Need for a multipronged approach

  • But India’s pollution problem is much bigger than often perceived.
  • The study has demonstrated that mitigating at a household level is the easiest and more practical way out for the government to reduce not only the household pollution but also outdoor air pollution at the national scale.
Air Pollution

Indian bullfrogs take to invasive behaviour early in Andaman

Mains Paper 3 : Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation, Eia |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Indian Bullfrog

Mains level : Not Much


News

  • Indian bullfrogs introduced in the Andaman islands are invasive, and eat native wildlife including fish and lizards.

Indian Bullfrog

  • The Indian bullfrog Hoplobatrachus tigerinus (native to the Indian subcontinent) has rapidly invaded the Andaman islands after it was introduced there in the early 2000s.
  • In human-dominated areas, it now shares space with other native (and often endemic) frog species.
  • The bullfrogs are prolific breeders: they have short breeding seasons, and each egg clutch can contain up to 5,750 eggs.
  • Its tadpoles are carnivorous and eat other tadpoles (including their own species).

Invasive nature

  • Now, experiments reveal that the frogs take to this invasive behaviour early in their lives.
  • Even in the developmental stages, the large bullfrog tadpoles eat other native frog tadpoles.
  • The survival of both endemic frog tadpoles reduced to zero when bullfrog tadpoles were present.
  • The proportion of bullfrog tadpoles surviving was greater in the presence of both endemic frog tadpoles.
  • This is worrying because other native frog species – many of which are only being described – could also be affected.

Biomarkers found for lymph node metastasis in oral cancer

Mains Paper 2 : Health & Education |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Biomarkers

Mains level : Not Much


News

  • By looking out for five biomarkers, it is now possible to tell in advance if a person with oral cancer of the gum and cheek has lymph node metastasis even before surgery is undertaken.

What are Biomarkers?

  • In medicine, a biomarker is a measurable indicator of the severity or presence of some disease state.
  • More generally a biomarker is anything that can be used as an indicator of a particular disease state or some other physiological state of an organism.

Biomarkers to check oral cancer

  • The ability to correctly predict absence/presence of lymph node metastasis in oral cancer patients is 80-90% based on the five biomarkers.
  • As a result, an oral cancer patient can be spared of a neck dissection to investigate if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in case the five biomarkers are absent.
  • Lymph node dissection increases morbidity. However, if the patient tests positive for even one biomarker then an aggressive treatment would be required.
  • An oral cancer patient with cancer spread to the lymph node has a 50% lower chance of survival for five years or more compared with patients in whom it has not spread to the lymph node.

Five genomic biomarkers

  • The team found that lymph node metastasis was associated with five genomic biomarkers.
  • There are five genomic features or biomarkers of lymph node metastasis in oral cancer patients.
  • Two of these are rare, heritable DNA changes in BRCA2 and FAT1 genes.
  • The remaining three are non-heritable (somatic) DNA alterations.

Diagnosing oral cancer metastasis

  • In oral cancer patients, the cancer cells tend to commonly spread to the lymph node in the neck.
  • But not all oral cancer patients have the tendency for the cancer to spread to other organs (metastasis).
  • Oral cancer patients who have lymph node metastasis possess DNA alterations in specific genes that provide cancer cells the ability to spread.
  • These DNA alterations are different from those that cause the primary cancer, and these alterations arise independent of the stage of cancer.
  • So in some patients, the cancer would have spread to the lymph node even at an early stage of oral cancer, while in some patients with advanced (T4 stage) oral cancer, the cancer would not have spread.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

[op-ed snap] Workers and refugees are not criminals

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Refugees are not criminals and they should not be treated in that manner.


CONTEXT

The Mexican border was closed for hours on November 25, 2018 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry to the U.S., after a group of migrants, including children and women, in Tijuana reportedly stormed the area.Global political action is required to reinforce the legitimate identity of a worker.

Rise of Xenophobic tendencies

  • Since the 1990s, not just international but even interregional workers have slowly been pushed into the rubric of ‘criminals’.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is a prime example of this: his victory was largely founded on his ability to depict international workers, particularly those crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, as ‘criminals’.
  • This tendency is present, though in less obvious versions, in almost all developed and developing countries, including the social welfare democracies of Europe.
  • It is also present within nations, as we in India witnessed in the recent ‘Gujarati’ backlash against workers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
  •  Politicians can garner extra votes by implicitly or explicitly equating international/interregional ‘workers’ with ‘criminals’, and states can openly devise blatantly differential treatment for them — as the children ripped away from their parents and the workers tear-gassed at the U.S. border can testify. This marks a significant development in recent years.

Reasons for labelling refugees as criminals

Most immigrants crossing a border are law-abiding and industrious workers, not ‘criminals’ — this remains the case today, as it was in the past.

1.Nature of capitalism – It longer needs workers as much as it did in the past.

2.Financial speculation –

  • Financial speculation has increasingly dwarfed international trade from the 1990s onwards.
  • More than that, much of financial speculation is based on factors other than the productivity of a sector.  A world dominated by financial speculation does not need workers in two ways:
  • Financial speculation does not depend on the production of workers.

3. Post-humanism –

  • It is used to suggest a world after human beings, a world run by artificial intelligence.
  • Inevitably, for those in power — either in terms of a monopoly on wealth or a monopoly on knowledge — a world of financial speculation leads to a ‘post-human’ world run by artificial intelligence.
  • Once workers become redundant and numbers are sufficient, then, inevitably, one can think complacently of replacing human intelligence with artificial intelligence.

Conclusion

  • Universal Solution – Solution has to be ‘universal’ and global. Global political action is needed to ensure international working rights, linked to human status and not the caprice of state or capital.
  • Otherwise, as the right to work can currently be ensured only by national governments, it will always be used to define other — ‘foreign’ — workers as actual or potential criminals.
  • The threat of monopoly of corporations– Soon it might well become the monopoly of corporations. It is basically being used to criminalise those workers who are not allowed — by nation-states or neoliberal capitalism or both — the legitimate identity of a worker.
  • And as this is a shrinking identity — there are fewer and fewer active workers under the impact of rampant financial speculation — it simply adds to the official metamorphosis of more workers into ‘criminals’.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-United States

[op-ed snap] LoC trade, in perspective

Mains Paper 2 : Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and agreements involving India |

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : LoC

Mains level : Suspending trade across Loc might not prove to be a good idea.


CONTEXT

India last week suspended the cross-LoC trade, alleging misuse of the facility by individuals linked to terrorist groups.

Background

1. Origin of trade – These measures seems to have originated in a four-point proposal for Kashmir that began to get regular airing from about 2005 from then military ruler General Pervez Musharraf. The four points were:

    • The LoC will stay but Kashmiris on both sides will be allowed to move freely back and forth;
    • Self-governance or autonomy to the region, but not independence;
    • Gradual demilitarisation on both sides;
    • A joint supervision mechanism with India, Pakistan and Kashmir represented on it.
  • In India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spoke about “soft borders” and “making borders irrelevant” in Kashmir.
  • On July 7 that year, the Indian Embassy in Kabul was bombed, killing an Indian diplomat and a senior Army officer and several Afghans. The US and India said the ISI was behind the bombing.
  • But the India-Pakistan foreign secretaries’ talks were held as scheduled later that month on July 21 under the composite dialogue format, and they agreed to the opening of trade routes across the LoC.

The two sides then rushed to finalise the details in the following weeks, including at a meeting of the “working group of cross LoC CBMs” on September 22, 2008.

Positive Response

  • Both sides of Kashmir welcomed the opening of the trade routes.
  • PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said at the time “it is a dream come true”, and Sardar Attique Khan, the prime minister of POK, named the day “Youm-e-Karvaan-e-Commerce” (Day of the Caravan of Commerce).
  • The Mumbai attacks put a freeze on India-Pakistan relations, but the cross-LoC trade remained unaffected by that.

Hiccups and demands

  • The agreement was for zero duty trade for a list of 21 items.
  • It ran into problems almost immediately as traders on both sides floundered on currency and communication issues.

1. Establishment of Intra Jammu & Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IJ&KCCI) – A chamber of commerce, called the Intra Jammu & Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industry (IJ&KCCI), came into existence.

2.Recommendations-

Banking Relations – They pointed to the need for banking relations and mutual acceptance of letters of credit, a communication network, a regulatory network to determine the composition of trade, and a legal network for dispute resolution.

Expansion of list, travel arrangements – The joint chamber recommended expansion of the list of items for trade, facilitation of travel and traders’ access to each other, infrastructure facilities, banking services, use of dual currency of both countries as the mode of payment with the US dollar as the reference point, inclusion of the services sector, and opening of more trade routes.

Complaints – There were complaints that the trade had expanded to include non-Kashmiri goods. The complaints were particularly loud from the traders at Wagah border who catered to the same markets and were envious of the zero-duty cross LoC trade.

Previous suspension

  • Once in 2015, trade was suspended for 40 days after drugs were discovered in a truck from Muzaffarabad.
  • The longest suspension came during the post-Burhan Wani killing agitation in the Valley, for three months.
  • There were other brief spells when trade was suspended, mostly at Chakan da Bagh, on account of heavy cross-border shelling.
  • However, Kashmiris point out that trade has never been suspended for under-invoicing or other such violations at any other port in the country where Customs and other enforcement officials strictly monitor the inflows and outflows, and the same could have been done at the LoC.
  • As for the involvement of former militants in the trade, this was seen as a welcome development towards creating “constituencies of peace” and building stakes for normalcy in the Valley.

Benefits of trade

  • In 2011, a four page report called Intra Kashmir Trade, jointly prepared by the Delhi-based IPCS, Conciliation Resources of London, and the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, said cross border trade had proved it could be insulated from the ups and downs in the India-Pakistan relationship, and had begun to establish a “bottom up” approach to peace-building.
  • Trade has attracted divided families and some former combatants and provided a non-violent and alternative vision for change and conflict transformation,” the report said.
  • It spoke about 40 former militants who had chosen to participate in the economic activity.
  • More than its value in currency terms, the cross Loc trade holds much symbolic value in Jammu & Kashmir, especially in the Poonch-Rawalakot sector, where there are more divided families and villages than at the Uri crossing point.
  • They would be hoping that the current suspension is not permanent.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan