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Today’s important articles/news in various newspapers (21st June)

Dear aspirants, following are the links of various articles taken from various newspapers. Click the link to read further. To get notification, follow the blog. Thank you

1. U.S. pulls out of United Nations Human Rights Council

  1. he United States has announced that it was leaving the United Nations Human Rights Council
  2. It was the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution
  3. The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy

Reason given for withdrawal

  1. There has been longstanding U.S. complaint that the 47-member council is biased against Israel
  2. The U.S. is Israel’s biggest defender at other U.N. organizations

Special mention of Israel at UNHRC

  1. Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under “Item 7” on the agenda
  2. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed

Other major withdrawals

  1. Since January 2017, U.S. has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal

United Nations Human Rights Council

  1. UNHRC is a United Nations body whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world
  2. The UNHRC has 47 members elected for staggered three-year terms on a regional group basis
  3. The UNHRC was established by the UN General Assembly on March 15, 2006
  4. The headquarters of UNHRC is in Geneva, Switzerland
  5. The members of the General Assembly elect the members who occupy the UNHRC’s 47 seats. The term of each seat is three years, and no member may occupy a seat for more than two consecutive terms
  6. The General Assembly can suspend the rights and privileges of any Council member that it decides has persistently committed gross and systematic violations of human rights during its term of membership
  7. The UNHRC investigates allegations of breaches of human rights in UN member states, and addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities

2. Growth in the machine

  1. India has perhaps now only a limited window of a decade to get into the developed country tag or stay perpetually in the emerging group of economies.
  2. To get to the developed country status, this is one factor that has to change dramatically.
  3. This begs the question: How do we get India’s productivity to spike in 10 years?

India is trailing behind US and China in AI

  1. AI — the simulation of human intelligence and learning by machines — has been talked about by many as the productivity booster we have all been waiting for.
  2. While India is expected to be a player, it is far from being among the leading actors in AI.
  3. According to PwC, of the $15.7 trillion increase in global GDP in 2030 attributable to AI, $7 trillion will be in China, $3.7 trillion will be in the US and Canada.
  4. Accenture pegs the number for India to be below 1 trillion in 2035.Without question, the race for AI dominance is between the US and China.

AI-relevant advantages unique to India.

Three are particularly worth noting and give me reason for hope. It is hard to find another country ready with these many deep value-creating AI applications.

(A) Versatile platform:

  • With a billion-plus people populating the unique-ID system, Aadhaar, and the India Stack of digitally enabled offerings built on top of Aadhaar, the country has a platform for growth unlike any other in the world.
  • It can, in principle, catalyse innovative applications, nurture an entrepreneurial ecosystem and generate a massive amount of data that can train algorithms and help develop more intelligence — the “I” in AI.
  • To be sure, there are plenty of challenges to overcome: Getting the right participants, stakeholders and talent base to come together, providing capital and ensuring privacy, security and usability of the data.

(B) Key actors:

  • The good news is that India has an early start here.
  • The global AI majors are active in India and view it as one of the world’s most promising digital growth markets. This puts India in a clear third place behind the US and China and ahead of Europe.
  • Europe’s more stringent data protection rules and regulations and slowing digital momentum will further constrain the interests of innovative companies.
  • With economies of scale working in India’s favour, this could create a virtuous cycle of private sector AI investment and innovation activity.

(C) Abundant applications:

  • The technology can address long-standing societal and human development problems of the kind that abound in India.
  • Think of tackling dengue and Chikungunya, two of the more formidable mosquito-borne public health crises. It is essential to get data on its incidence early and predict its path.
  • Project Premonition, for example, an AI project of Microsoft, uses mosquitoes themselves as data collection devices.
  • AI can be used for myriad other purposes stretching across farming, transport, infrastructure, education and crime prevention — all productivity-boosting and job-creating applications ready and waiting across India.

India moving Forward on AI

  1. The budget for Digital India was doubled; the IT ministry has formed four AI committees; the government’s think tank, the Niti Aayog, is tasked with coordination across AI initiatives.
  2. The Niti Aayog, for its part, has just announced an AI partnership with Google and has released a white paper, National Strategy for Artificial Intelligence.
  3. If done right, it can spike productivity, save lives and produce new livelihoods — jobs that the country’s youth desperately need.

3. The seeds of sustainability

About the programme: Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF)

  • According to the agency that is implementing the ZBNF, the programme will be extended in phases. This year, 5 lakh farmers will be covered, and at least one panchayat in each of the mandals will be shifted to this new method, bringing the programme to a tipping point. By 2021-22, the programme is to be implemented in every panchayat, with full coverage by 2024.
  • Towards this end, substantial resource mobilisation for about Rs.16,500 crore is in progress. Tenant farmers and day labourers are also being trained, to ensure that through the ZBNF, livelihoods for the rural poor will be enhanced.
  • A retired civil servant in charge of implementing the programme, views farmer-to-farmer connections as vital to its success. According to him, the role of the Agriculture Department is to just listen to farmers and motivate and assist them in different ways.
  • Farmer’s collectives such as Farmer Producer Organisations need to be established and these would be critical to sustaining the programme.
  • The Government of India provides funding through the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana and Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana. Additional resources have been made available through various philanthropic organisations.

Significance

  • Zero Budget Natural Farming could be the model for the future
  • Even though this revolution has been in the works for several years, this is still a momentous occasion and highlights the way to improve the welfare of farmers, reduce the cost of farm inputs, cut toxins in food, and improve soils.
  • With successful pilot programmes that were initiated in 2015 and partners who brought experience in different aspects needed to carry out such a transformation, Andhra Pradesh has become the first State to implement a ZBNF policy.

Natural farming

  • Natural farming is “do nothing farming”, a Japanese farmer who, in the 1970s, was a proponent of no-till, no chemical use in farming along with the dispersal of clay seed balls to propagate plants.
  • He found it important to apply nature’s principles in farming and developed a deep-rooted philosophy around the process.
  • The ZBNF has been developed after the efforts at chemical farming failed.
  • The four aspects that are now integral to his process and which require locally available materials:
  1. seeds treated with cow dung and urine;
  2. soil rejuvenated with cow dung, cow urine and other local materials to increase microbes;
  3. cover crops, straw and other organic matter to retain soil moisture and build humus; and
  4. soil aeration for favourable soil conditions.
  • These methods are combined with natural insect management methods when required.
  • In ZBNF, yields of various cash and food crops have been found to be significantly higher when compared with chemical farming.
  • For example, yields from ZBNF plots in the (kharif) 2017 pilot phase were found on average to be 11% higher for cotton than in non-ZBNF plots. The yield for Guli ragi (ZBNF) was 40% higher than non-ZBNF.
  • Input costs are near zero as no fertilizers and pesticides are used. Profits in most areas under ZBNF were from higher yield and lower inputs.
  • Model ZBNF farms were able to withstand drought and flooding, which are big concerns with regard to climate change. The planting of multiple crops and border crops on the same field has provided varied income and nutrient sources.
  • As a result of these changes, there is reduced use of water and electricity, improved health of farmers, flourishing of local ecosystems and biodiversity and no toxic chemical residues in the environment.
  • Sikkim was declared India’s first fully organic State. But organic agriculture often involves addition of large amounts of manure, vermicompost and other materials that are required in bulk and need to be purchased. These turn out to be expensive for most small farm holders.

Model for other States

  • The changes taking place in Andhra Pradesh are a systematic scaling up of farming practices based on agro-ecological principles in opposition to the dominant chemical agriculture. Changes at this scale require many different elements to come together, but open-minded enlightened political leaders and administrators are fundamental.
  • Over the years, Andhra Pradesh has supported and learned from its many effective civil society organisations such as the Watershed Support Services and Activities Network, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and the Deccan Development Society.
  • A step-by-step increase in the area covered is another notable aspect. The scaling up relies primarily on farmers and local groups — all in all, very much a bottom-up process.
  • With its combination of delta regions, arid and hilly tribal areas, districts in Andhra Pradesh are similar to those in other parts of the country and could, therefore, serve as a model for replication.
  • The approach taken by APPI to monitor the improvements is vital to understanding the outcomes of large-scale changes that are under way; this is critical to expanding the ZBNF to other States. As ZBNF is applied in India’s various agro-ecological zones, making farmers the innovators is essential.

Positive connotations

  • Resilient food systems are the need of the day given the variability of the monsoons due to global warming and declining groundwater in large parts of India. The drought-prone Rayalaseema region (Andhra Pradesh) is reportedly seeing promising changes already in farms with the ZBNF.
  • More encouraging is that the programme can have a positive effect on many of the sustainable development goals through improvements in soil, biodiversity, livelihoods, water, reduction in chemicals, climate resilience, health, women’s empowerment and nutrition.
  • Andhra Pradesh is one of the top five States in terms of farmer suicides. Agricultural distress across the country has to be addressed.

Conclusion

  • Agricultural distress across the country has to be addressed. Andhra Pradesh is one of the top five States in terms of farmer suicides.
  • Technology is simply the systematic application of knowledge for practical purposes and the ZBNF is a technology of the future with a traditional idiom. Agricultural scientists in India have to rework their entire strategy so that farming is in consonance with nature. The dominant paradigm of chemical-based agriculture has failed and regenerative agriculture is the emerging new science.
  • The world is at critical junctures on many planetary boundaries, and establishing a system that shows promise in improving them while supporting people sustainably is surely one worth pursuing.

4. How high altitude shapes human body

The research

  • Nepalese men and women born and raised at 3,500 metres and up are more likely to have curtailed forearms compared to people of similar ancestry from lowland areas, scientists reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
  • Intriguingly, adjoining parts of the anatomy — the upper arms and hand — remain the same for both groups.
  • A similar pattern was uncovered in earlier research among Peruvian children, reinforcing the notion that harsh mountain conditions were somehow responsible.

Questions raised

  • The findings raise a host of questions, starting with this one: What is it about a high-altitude living that makes the body shape-shift?
  • This is most likely an adaptation to improving oxygen uptake.
  • For similar reasons, indigenous peoples of the Himalayas and Andes often have barrel chests, the better to expand lung capacity and take in more oxygen.
  • Although air contains 21% oxygen at all altitudes, it feels as if there is less of it in the mountains due to lower air pressure.
  • Using the measure of effective oxygen, the level drops by just under 40% at 3,500 metres compared to sea level.

Not evolution

  • In high-mountain regions, low oxygen availability results in inefficient conversion of food into energy, which means that there is less energy available for growth.
  • This becomes especially true when combined with a nutrient-poor diet.
  • But what possible advantage is there to diminished forearms and lower legs, which also tend to be foreshortened among mountain-folk? And why not other parts of the body?
  • The human body prioritises which segments to grow when there is limited energy available for growth, such as at high altitude.
  • Disagreements over water-sharing and difficulty in acquiring non-forest land impede the Rs.18,000-crore Ken- Betwa river interlink project.
  • The project, which involves deforesting a portion of the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh, was accorded clearance by the National Wildlife Board on the condition that the land lost would be made good by acquiring contiguous, revenue land.
  • This is to ensure that wildlife corridors in the region aren’t hit.

Water dispute

  • Another hurdle is a dispute over how Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — the two beneficiaries — will share water in the Rabi season.

The project

  • Conceived as a two-part project, this is India’s first river interlinking project.
  • It is perceived as a model plan for similar interstate river transfer missions.
  • Phase 1 involves building a 77 m-tall and a 2 km-wide dam, the Dhaudhan dam, and a 230 km canal to transfer extra water from the Ken river for irrigating 3.64 lakh hectares in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.
  • Originally, this phase envisaged irrigating 6,35,661 ha annually (3,69,881 ha in M.P. and 2,65,780 ha in U.P.).
  • In addition, the project was to provide 49 million cubic metres (MCM) of water for en route drinking water supply.

Concerns

  • While there’s a 2005 agreement between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh on how water would be shared, Madhya Pradesh said last year that these assumptions were no longer valid and the only way to meet increased water requirements would be to include certain local water management projects — the Kotha barrage, Lower Orr and Bina complex that were envisaged in the second phase of the project — in the first phase.
  • In theory, this could mean a completely fresh environmental appraisal.
  • The Central Water Commission is yet to officially take a call, though government sources say the Centre is agreeable to the change.
  • However, new demands by Madhya Pradesh for more water during the Rabi season are yet to be negotiated.

6. Toothpaste contribute to antibiotic resistance

  • A common ingredient found in toothpastes and hand washes could be contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, a study has found.
  • Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.
  • The study, led by Jianhua Guo from University of Queensland in Australia, focused on triclosan, a compound used in more than 2,000 personal care products.
  • While it was well-known the overuse and misuse of antibiotics could create ‘superbugs’, researchers were unaware that other chemicals could also induce antibiotic resistance until now.
  • These chemicals are used in much larger quantities at an everyday level, so you end up with high residual levels in the wider environment, which can induce multi-drug resistance.
  • The discovery should be a wake-up call to re-evaluate the potential impact of such chemicals.
  • Antimicrobial resistance has become a major threat to public health globally with about 700,000 people a year dying from superbug infections.
  • The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance report predicted this will reach 10 million deaths a year by 2050 if no action is taken now.

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