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Iran’s Nuclear Program & Western Sanctions

Sanctions and pandemic: On America’s Iran policy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- The US sanction are adding to the woes of Iran in dealing with the covid-19 pandemic.

Context

The US has refused to ease the sanction on Iran even as it is struggling hard to control the spread of the virus.

Sanctions adding to the difficulties of Iran

  • Disregard to the humanitarian situation: America’s refusal to ease sanctions on Iran even when the West Asian country is struggling hard to contain the novel coronavirus spread with limited resources shows its total disregard for the humanitarian situation in the Islamic Republic.
  • Iran, the hardest hit by the pandemic in West Asia, has already seen 3,739 deaths and 62,589 infections.
  • Iran’s failure: To be sure, Iran failed on multiple fronts in the battle. The government was initially reluctant to enforce drastic restrictions on businesses, religious establishments and people.
  • As infections began spreading at an exponential pace, it was more than what Iran’s health-care system could handle.
  • Failures accentuated by sanctions: And during the crisis, the cash-strapped, isolated regime struggled to meet people’s needs. But what accentuated these failures are the American sanctions.
  • Last year, the sanctions, reimposed by President Trump after he unilaterally pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, shrank the country’s economy by 8.7%.
  • Oil price factor: The fall in oil prices and the pandemic have multiplied Iran’s woes.
  • The sanctions have also debilitated its ability to import even humanitarian goods.
  • Rejection by the US to ease sanctions: The U.S. rejected calls for easing sanctions, saying exports of these goods to Iran are already exempted. But it is not that easy.
  • Banks fearful of US action: Most global banks, fearing U.S. retaliation and legal consequences, stay away from doing business with Iran, which makes it difficult for the Islamic Republic to find a functional payment mechanism.
  • With the economy in dire straits, it also lacks the resources to make purchases.

Why should the US ease sanctions?

  • The U.S., which has the most number of COVID-19 infections, should be in a better position to understand Iran’s woes than any other country.
  • Despite the U.S. being the world’s largest economy, and home to a gigantic health-care industry, authorities there appear clueless on quick containment.
  • Learning from its own tragedy, Washington should have suspended or at least eased the sanctions on Iran, allowing the country to import food, medicines and other humanitarian goods without restrictions.
  • Such a decision would also have provided an opportunity to both countries — on the brink of a military conflict early this year — to resume diplomatic engagement.
  • It is still not too late for Mr Trump to take a humanitarian decision and turn it into a diplomatic opening.

What Iran should do?

  • The Iranian leadership should realise that this is not the time for America-bashing.
  • Focus on getting help: This is an hour of crisis, globally. Tehran’s focus should be on getting maximum help from abroad and beefing up its fight at home to save lives.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s recent comment that Iran “has the capability to overcome any kind of crisis and challenges” is far removed from reality.

Conclusion

Iranians need help and the U.S. should reconsider its policy of punishing them, at least in this time of a pandemic. This could open the diplomatic channel for the further talk between both the countries.

Foreign Policy Watch: India-Japan

The wilting Sakura

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 2- New avenues for cooperation between India and Japan.

Context

A resilient nation, Japan has risen from the ashes, phoenix-like, each time. It is now confronting COVID-19, which has wreaked havoc on global financial and economic systems and disrupted production, supply chains and markets.

The cruise ship incident and no reprieve to the Japanese from Covid-19

  • COVID-19 received a high-rating televised start in Japan with the cruise ship, Diamond Princess, steaming into Tokyo Bay with 3,711 passengers on board and quickly being quarantined.
  • Over the next month, with more than 700 cases of infection on-board, it remained the single-largest cluster outside China.
  • Gradually, as numbers swelled exponentially elsewhere and the incidence of new cases remained low locally, the Japanese went back to their ways, with holiday crowds celebrating the annual Hanami (sakura viewing) season in idyllic spots
  • It seemed as if the Japanese had dodged the bullet even as it delayed until April 3 the blocking of tourists from 70-odd countries, including China, which accounted for nearly 9.6 million tourists in 2019, one-third of the total.
  • With new infections mounting in recent days, the reprieve, it seems, was as ephemeral as the bloom of the sakura.

Postponing the Olympics

  • The biggest collateral damage of the fresh wave of COVID-19 infections in Japan is the belated decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021.
  • It reminded the nation of the jinxed Olympics of 1940, which Japan was to host but fell victim to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
  • If the 1940 Olympics were intended to showcase Japan’s industrial and economic resurrection after the devastation of the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had symbolised the economic miracle in Japan after the ravages of the Second World War.
  • The 2020 Olympics, dubbed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as the “Recovery and Reconstruction Games”, were to demonstrate Japan’s mojo in the aftermath of the 2011 Triple Disaster.
  • Reports indicate that Japan has already spent $12.6 billion on the preparations for the Olympics.
  • Nikkei and Goldman Sachs estimate that the postponement of the games would easily set Japan back by another $5-6 billion.

Impact on economy

  • Recession in the world: The pandemic could not have come at a worse time. The IMF has confirmed that COVID-19 has pushed the global economy into a recession, potentially much worse than the one in 2009.
  • The Japanese economy now faces the daunting prospect of a sharp contraction, with the OECD Report for March 2020 forecasting its GDP growth at 0.2 per cent in 2020.
  • Even before the global pandemic struck, Japan was dealing with the adverse effects on consumer spending of the hike in consumption tax from 8 per cent to 10 per cent.
  • Dwindling demand from China, where Japan has huge economic stakes, can only worsen the regional economic outlook already strained by US-China trade friction.
  • Abe’s decision this week to declare a month-long state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures, alongside the release of a gargantuan stimulus package worth nearly $1 trillion, including cash doles and financial support to households and businesses, may help turn the tide.
  • However, providing healthcare to a rapidly ageing population in the face of an abrupt disruption in the sizeable inward flow of foreign care-givers will prove a daunting challenge.
  • Meanwhile, several prefectures that depend heavily on tourism from China and the Republic of Korea have suffered deep losses.

Impact on Japan’s international commitments and initiatives

  • As one of the world’s richest countries, Japan can perhaps hope to cushion itself from such blows.
  • Whether the economic distress unleashed by COVID-19 also adversely impacts some of Japan’s commitments to its Official Development Assistance (ODA) or outlays for regional infrastructure and connectivity under flagship programmes such as the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (EPQI), the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, including the Blue Dot Network and LNG projects, remains to be seen.
  • This could well be true of the US too, in the context of the International Development Finance Corporation under the BUILD Act, aimed at countering China’s expanding writ across the region.

Implications for Indo-Pacific region

  • The pandemic could have broader implications for military postures in the Indo-Pacific.
  • As it was seen in the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus onboard the US Navy’s Theodore Roosevelt, which had sailed from San Diego in January for a scheduled Indo-Pacific deployment.
  • It is at the centre of a controversy involving the sacking of its captain and the vessel’s ill-advised port visit to Da Nang in Vietnam earlier in March despite the high risk of contagion.
  • Of course, China’s PLA Navy (PLAN) could well be grappling with similar problems out at sea but, unlike in the democratic world, these facts will be treated as “state secrets”.
  • Opportunity for China to further its influence: As China gradually recovers from the pandemic, relatively earlier and faster than the West, Beijing’s “charm offensive” and leveraging of its deep pockets may help it to further its geopolitical influence.
  • Its assistance to developing countries in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 will create new scope to proselytise its governance and development models.

India-Japan relations

  • Japan-China relations: A high-profile casualty of the pandemic is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s long-pending visit to Tokyo.
  • But Japan’s “mask diplomacy” and generous assistance to China at the start of the pandemic augur well for Sino-Japanese ties, which have improved in recent years, their inveterate differences notwithstanding.
  • India visit by Japan: Abe’s postponed visit to India, earlier scheduled to take place at the end of 2019, will be hard to resurrect before the pandemic is completely under control.
  • Nevertheless, the fundamental convergence of interests and the extraordinary political capital invested in the relationship by both PM Modi and Abe in recent years ensures that the Special Strategic and Global Partnership between India and Japan will remain robust.
  • New vistas for India-Japan cooperation: The pandemic opens up new vistas for cooperation in healthcare, non-traditional security and global governance, including reform of the UN and affiliated bodies such as the WHO whose contributions in the battle against COVID-19 are moot.

How Japan tackled the pandemic so far?

  • So far, Japan had relied on its customary discipline and prevention methods, with an exhortation to the public to avoid the “three Cs” — closed spaces, crowded places and conversations at close proximity.
  • No lockdown: Japan has shied away from taking the bold approach that Modi took in announcing a 21-day nationwide lockdown.
  • The declaration of a state of emergency covering the megacities of Tokyo and Osaka and some prefectures would give local governors in the hardest-hit areas greater legal authority to impose curbs, albeit without the power to impose penalties.
  • Japan’s case-by-case approach to the reopening of schools by regional authorities has been criticised.
  • There have been calls for a strict lockdown before it is too late to avert the same fate as Italy, Spain and the US.
  • In a race to develop vaccine: With formidable scientific prowess at its disposal, Japan remains at the forefront in the race to develop a vaccine against COVID-19.

Conclusion

Prime Minister Abe is viewed by voters as a leader capable of taking bold decisions. If Abe’s administration overcomes the COVID-19 crisis despite the odds and succeeds in staving off a recession, there is every chance that the LDP might again amend its rules to grant him a fourth term. After all, it is not easy for any of his political rivals to step into his shoes in the middle of such a crisis.

Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Third mass bleaching of Great Barrier Reef

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Coral bleaching

Mains level : Coral reefs and their significance

A survey has found record sea temperatures had caused the third mass bleaching of the 2,300-kilometre Great Barrier Reef system in just five years.

What is Coral Bleaching?

  • When corals face stress by changes in conditions such as temperature, light, or nutrients, they expel the symbiotic algae zooxanthellae living in their tissues, causing them to turn completely white.
  • This phenomenon is called coral bleaching.
  • The pale white colour is of the translucent tissues of calcium carbonate which are visible due to the loss of pigment-producing zooxanthellae.

About Great Barrier Reef

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
  • It is stretched for over 2,300 kilometres over an area of approximately 344,400 square kilometres.
  • The reef is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.

Importance of Corals

Coral reefs are some of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems on Earth.

  • They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species.
  • This biodiversity is considered key to finding new medicines for the 21st century. Many drugs are now being developed from coral reef animals and plants as possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses, and other diseases.
  • Healthy coral reefs support commercial and subsistence fisheries as well as jobs and businesses through tourism and recreation.
  • Local economies receive billions of dollars from visitors to reefs through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses based near reef ecosystems.
  • Coral reef structures also buffer shorelines against 97 percent of the energy from waves, storms, and floods, helping to prevent loss of life, property damage, and erosion.
  • When reefs are damaged or destroyed, the absence of this natural barrier can increase the damage to coastal communities from normal wave action and violent storms.

Back2Basics

Coral Reefs

  • Coral reefs are built by and made up of thousands of tiny animals—coral “polyps”—that are related to anemones and jellyfish.
  • Polyps are shallow water organisms which have a soft body covered by a calcareous skeleton. The polyps extract calcium salts from sea water to form these hard skeletons.
  • The polyps live in colonies fastened to the rocky sea floor.
  • The tubular skeletons grow upwards and outwards as a cemented calcareous rocky mass, collectively called corals.
  • When the coral polyps die, they shed their skeleton on which new polyps grow.
  • The cycle is repeated for over millions of years leading to accumulation of layers of corals shallow rock created by these depositions is called reef.

Government Budgets

A different economic approach

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much.

Mains level : Paper 3- How to balance the trade-off between the health of economy and public health.

Context

The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent 21-day lockdown by India has forced us to resolve the public health versus economic health trade-off.

The debate over lockdown

  • No clear idea on number of lives saved: As it fights COVID-19 with its meagre healthcare resources, India has chosen to bring the economy to a near halt with no clear idea of how many lives can be saved in this manner.
  • What is going to be the cost of this decision? The 21-day lockdown will reduce the gross value added (GVA) during this period to near zero.
  • More than half the GVA is contributed by the unorganised sector.
  • A disproportionate burden of the economic cost has fallen on this large segment.
  • Debate: The suffering of the stranded migrant labourers has set off a debate: is the disruption and the economic pain justified?
  • Is it worth sacrificing the economy to save lives?
  • And at the core of such questions is a policy dilemma: should public health matter more than economic health?

So, what should be the policy objectives?

  • In time, a vaccine will become available. But the economy cannot remain shut until that happens.
  • A prolonged lockdown will extract a huge economic cost.
  • Therefore, the policy objective must be to find ways of ensuring that the lockdown ends early without compromising on public health.
  • Following are the policies that could ensure the twin objective of not ending lockdown without compromising on public health.

1 The policy of aggressive testing and isolation

  • The economic cost of combating COVID-19 can be reduced by combining aggressive testing and isolation, a strategy proposed by economist Paul Romer for the U.S.
  • For it to work, people must be tested in large numbers.
  • Those who test positive must be isolated. This will make it unnecessary for the rest of the population to stay home and it will allow the economy to restart.
  • After ending the lockdown too, testing of randomly selected people must go on in large numbers, so that those found infected can be isolated.
  • Eliminating the fear of isolation: The success of this will depend on eliminating the fears associated with isolation. Such fears can be reduced only if isolation facilities are good.

2 Ramp up the manufacturing capacity

  • The second precondition is the substantial ramping up of manufacturing capacities for medical-grade masks, gloves, gowns, ventilators, testing labs, etc.
  • This ought to be on a scale large enough for domestic use and, if possible, for exports for costs to be low.
  • The strategy calls for fully operational hospitals to be constructed in every district of the country in a matter of weeks.
  • Problem-solving of an unprecedented order will be required.
  • Recently, garment manufacturers in Coimbatore were asked to explore the possibility of re-purposing production lines to make masks.
  • There’s been no progress on this front, as the special-grade fabric required is difficult to source.
  • What about the funding? In normal times, governments wrestle with dilemmas such as whether to allocate the limited available tax money to education, health, public transport or a sop that could change the outcome of the next election in their favour.
  • But during a public health crisis, all resources must be used to ramp up healthcare capacities.

Way forward

  • Investment in healthcare can resolve trade-off: Since the state of the lockdown is not a normal condition, the usual policy levers become ineffective.
  • Loan moratoriums and cash transfers can fend off bankruptcy and defaults for a few months and buy time on non-performing assets in banks.
  • But they cannot make good the GDP lost due to the economic shutdown because liquidity and cash released by monetary and fiscal policies cannot get transmitted to the real sector during an economic shutdown unless they are funnelled into the sector that is still active, which is healthcare.
  • If the public health sector can be the economy’s main engine for six months, the public health versus economic health trade-off can be resolved. The spread of COVID-19 will slow down.
  • The economic pain of combating the virus will reduce.
  • There will be jobs, including for low-skilled construction labourers. If planned and executed smartly, the severe health infrastructure deficit will get addressed.
  • Remove the price controls: Sadly, India’s economic policies for fighting COVID-19 are the opposite of what’s needed.
  • In a crisis, the first instinct of policymakers is to slap controls. Just about everything from masks to kits has been placed under price controls.
  • This has removed the incentive for private labs to ramp up capacities.
  • The government should fully subsidise testing: At zero MRP, more people with symptoms will come forward to get tested. Private labs will quickly ramp up capacities if they don’t have to worry about losses. The number of suppliers will increase. Costs will reduce. Private enterprise and technological innovations will come up with cheaper tests that produce results quicker.

Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Delhi’s ‘5T’ war against virus

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : COVID-19 and its mitigation

Delhi CM has announced a “5T plan” created by his government to contain COVID-19 spread in Delhi. These five Ts are testing, tracing, treatment, teamwork and tracking-monitoring.

5Ts strategy

1)Testing

  • Testing when done on a mass scale enables the actual data of people affected by novel coronavirus.
  • Like South Korea, Delhi will be testing on a large scale.
  • Through rapid testing, the government will also be able to identify COVID-19 hotspots and take necessary action.

2)Tracing

  • The second T is tracing, which involves identifying and quarantining people who have come in contact with infected persons.
  • Delhi authorities are taking the help of police to trace whether the people who have been advised to self-quarantine are actually doing it or not.

3)Treatment

  • The third component is the treatment.
  • Serious patients who are suffering from heart diseases and patients above 50 years will be isolated in hospitals and the rest with minor symptoms will be kept in isolation in hotels and dharamshalas.

4)Teamwork

  • The fourth element of the five-point plan is teamwork and collective efforts are being made to fight the virus.
  • All State governments must learn from each other and work together.

5)Tracking and monitoring

  • The fifth T is tracking and monitoring.
  • The state should ensure that all these measures are in place and all the systems are functioning smoothly.

 

Also read:

‘Bhilwara Model’ for containment of coronavirus

Global Geological And Climatic Events

[pib] Ionospheric based monitoring of large earthquakes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Ionosphere, CIP

Mains level : Relation between atmosphere and seismic activity

Scientists of Indian Institute of Geomagnetism (IIG) an autonomous institution of the DST have extensively studied the signatures of recent large earthquakes into the ionosphere with an ambitious aim to derive the seismic source characteristics from the ionosphere.

CLAIMS

  • The research is a part of the interdisciplinary program ‘Coupled Lithosphere-Atmosphere- Ionosphere-Magnetosphere System (CLAIMS)’ of IIG.
  • CLAIMS focuses on energy transfer to the atmosphere during solid Earth processes such as earthquakes as well as tsunamis.

Key terms: Co-seismic Ionospheric Perturbations (CIP)

  • In general, the Earth crust uplift during an earthquake produces compressional (i.e. pressure) waves in the overlying atmosphere.
  • These waves propagate upward in the region of exponentially decreasing atmospheric neutral density, and thus, wave amplitude increase with atmospheric heights.
  • On arrival at ionospheric heights, the waves redistribute ionospheric electron density and produce electron density perturbations (disruption) known as CIP.

Objective of CLAIMS

  • The spatial distribution of near field co-seismic Ionospheric perturbations (CIP) associated with this event could reflect well the ground deformation pattern evolved around the epicentre.
  • These CIPs were derived using the Global Positioning System (GPS) measured Total Electron Content (TEC).
  • The CIP distribution was estimated at Ionospheric piercing point (IPP) altitude.

Other factors affecting CIP

The major effective non-tectonic forcing mechanisms at ionospheric altitudes are the-

  1. orientation between the ambient geomagnetic field and seismic induced neutral wave perturbations.
  2. orientation between the moving satellite line of sights and the wave perturbations.
  3. ambient ionospheric electron density gradient.

Back2Basics

Ionosphere

  • The ionosphere is the ionized part of Earth’s upper atmosphere, from about 60 km to 1,000 km altitude.
  • It is a region that includes the thermosphere and parts of the mesosphere and exosphere.
  • It is ionized by solar radiation.

Genetically Modified (GM) crops – cotton, mustards, etc.

[pib] Biofortified Carrot ‘Madhuban Gajar’

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Madhuban Gajar

Mains level : Bio-fortification and its benefits

 

Madhuban Gajar

  • It is a biofortified carrot variety with high β-carotene and iron content developed by Shri Vallabhhai Vasrambhai Marvaniya, a farmer scientist from Junagadh district, Gujarat.
  • The variety is being cultivated in more than 1000 hectares of land in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh during the last three years.
  • It is a highly nutritious carrot variety developed through the selection method with higher β-carotene content (277.75 mg/kg) and iron content (276.7 mg/kg) dry basis.
  • It is used for various value-added products like carrot chips, juices, and pickles.
  • This carrot variety possesses a significantly higher root yield (74.2 t/ha) and plant biomass (275 gm per plant) as compared to check variety.

Innovation Ecosystem in India

[pib] “Samadhan” Challenge

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAMADHAN Challenge

Mains level : NA

 

A mega online challenge – SAMADHAN – has been launched to test the ability of students to innovate.

“Samadhan” Challenge

  • The Innovation Cell of the Ministry of HRD and All India Council for Technical Education in collaboration with Forge and InnovatioCuris has launched this online challenge.
  • Under the challenge, the students and faculty will be motivated for doing new experiments and new discoveries and provide them with a strong base leading to spirit of experimentation and discovery.
  • The students participating in this challenge will search and develop such measures that can be made available to the government agencies, health services, hospitals and other services for quick solutions to the Coronavirus epidemic and other such calamities.
  • Apart from this, through this challenge, work will be done to make citizens aware, to motivate them, to face any challenge, to prevent any crisis and to help people get livelihood.