Detailed News Articles: 17 June 2019

1. ‘It’s too early to call off SAARC and say it isn’t relevant or viable’

The Prime Minister of Bhutan has called on India and Pakistan to work together for the growth of South Asia.

Image result for saarc


  • Bhutan is one of the eight member states of the regional bloc SAARC
  • These remarks come at a time when the SAARC process is stalled due to the hostile relationship between India and Pakistan due to cross-border terrorism issues.
  • The comments follow reported calls by Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena and Nepal’s Prime Minister K. P. Sharma Oli to revive the SAARC, which has not held a summit since 2014 due to the tensions between India and Pakistan.


  • SAARC is the acronym for an intergovernmental organisation of south Asian countries.
  • It stands for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.
  • SAARC was founded in 1985.
  • It is a geopolitical body comprising of 8 members.
  • It is headquartered in Kathmandu, Nepal.
  • Its members include India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping:

  • Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) had signed a framework MVA in 2015to enable movement of passenger and cargo vehicles across their borders.
  • Bhutan has not yet ratified the pact for its entry to come into force.
  • However, Bhutan had given its consent for the BBIN MVA to enter into force.
  • Bangladesh, India and Nepal have already ratified it.
  • The Prime Minister has expressed his country’s reservation over a Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) under the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping proposed by India a couple of years ago.
  • He has shared that there is a serious rift between the ruling and opposition parties of Bhutan over passing the MVA deal through the Parliament.

2. Assam temple bids adieu to rare turtle hatchlings

Hatchling of Indian roofed turtle displayed at Hayagriv Madhab Temple at Hajo in Assam.

A 294 years old Indian temple and its nature-loving caretaker are helping the black softshell turtle which is officially extinct in the wild make a tentative comeback.


  • Assam was once rich in freshwater turtles, but habitat loss and over-exploitation (once a popular local food) have massively depleted their population.
  • The pond of the Ugratara Temple has provided a safe haven.
  • In turtle hatchlings, that were hand-reared at the temple, are now released into a nearby wildlife sanctuary.
  • Jorpukhuri translates into twin tanks, one of which abuts Ugratara Temple that is dedicated to Goddess Tara, a ‘fiery’ avatar of Kali.
  • A similar initiative for 11 hatchlings of the equally endangered Indian roofed turtle (Pangshura tecta) and the Indian tent turtle (Pangshura tentoria) was organised at the Hayagriv Madhab Temple in Hajo.


  • The eggs of the freshwater turtles have a soft shell.
  • Unlike rivers or natural water bodies where they lay eggs a foot under silt, the clayey bottom of the ponds forces the turtles to lay eggs on the surface.
  • Only about 20% of the eggs laid in these ponds hatch because of factors such as shallowness and resultant water temperature.

Black softshell turtle:

  • Black softshell turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is a species of freshwater turtle found in India (Assam) and Bangladesh.
  • IUCN conservation status: Extinct in the Wild

Indian tent turtle:

  • The Indian tent turtle (Pangshura tentoria) is a species of turtle endemic to India and Bangladesh.
  • IUCN conservation status: Least Concerned

Indian Roofed Turtle:

  • The Indian roofed turtle (Pangshura tecta) can be distinguished by the distinct “roof” at the topmost part of the shell.
  • It is found in the major rivers of South Asia.
  • It is a common pet in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • IUCN conservation status: Least Concerned

3. G20 agrees to tackle ocean plastic waste

Environment and energy ministers of the Group of 20 major economies met in Karuizawa, northwest of Tokyo, ahead of the G20 summit in Osaka.


  • The environment ministers of the grouping have agreed to adopt a new implementation framework for actions to tackle the issue of marine plastic waste on a global scale.
  • One of the major issues is ocean plastic waste as images of plastic debris-strewn beaches and dead animals with stomachs full of plastic have sparked outrage.
  • Many countries have taken a drastic step of banning plastic bags outright.
  • The new framework is aimed at facilitating further concrete action on marine waste on a voluntary basis post the G20 Hamburg Summit in Germany adopted “G20 action plan on marine litter” in 2017.
  • Under the new framework, G20 members would promote a comprehensive life-cycle approach to prevent and reduce plastic litter discharge to the oceans through various measures and international cooperation.
  • Best practices will be shared, innovation promoted.

G 20:

  • The G20 (Group of 20) is an international forum which includes 19 of the world’s largest economies and the European Union.
  • It was founded in 1999 with the aim to discuss policy pertaining to the promotion of international financial stability.
  • While economic and financial issues tend to lead the agenda, other areas have gained momentum.
  • Traditional topics include the global economy, financial markets, fiscal affairs, trade, agriculture, employment, energy and the fight against corruption.
  • India is a member country.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is the largest of the five offshore plastic accumulation zones in the world’s oceans. It is located halfway between Hawaii and California.


It is estimated that 1.15 to 2.41 million tonnes of plastic are entering the ocean each year from rivers. More than half of this plastic is less dense than the water, meaning that it will not sink once it encounters the sea.

The stronger, more buoyant plastics show resiliency in the marine environment, allowing them to be transported over extended distances. They persist at the sea surface as they make their way offshore, transported by converging currents and finally accumulating in the patch.

Once these plastics enter the gyre, they are unlikely to leave the area until they degrade into smaller microplastics under the effects of sun, waves and marine life.


Plastic within the patch was categorized into four size classes:
– Microplastics (0.05 – 0.5 cm)
– Mesoplastics (0.5 – 5 cm)
– Macroplastics (5 – 50 cm)
– Megaplastics (anything above 50 cm)


Once the plastics were collected, a team of volunteers classified the plastic into:
– Type H: Hard plastic, plastic sheet or film;
– Type N: Plastic lines, ropes, and fishing nets;
– Type P: Pre-production plastics (cylinders, spheres or disks);
– Type F: Fragments made of foamed materials


4. Explained: Why healthy animals mean healthy humans, and how to meet that goal

Frequent Outbreaks of Zoonotic Diseases

  • Not so long ago, the widespread prevalence of avian influenza in poultry, or bird flu as it commonly became known, created nationwide panic resulting in the culling of millions of poultry birds.
  • It was concern for human health that prompted the extreme reaction and subsequent establishment of protocols; containment of avian influenza is managed quite effectively now.
  • Similarly in 2003, SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome emanated suddenly in China and vanished soon.

Followed by hues and panic

  • These outbreaks culminated emergency response that included extreme measures like travel bans and restrictions.
  • In both cases, panic spread much faster than the virus.
  • Besides drawing a response from governments, these events also brought forth the hitherto forgotten philosophy of One Health.
  • This idea recognizes inter-connectivity among human health, the health of animals, and the environment.

The One Health concept

  • The World Organization of Animal Health, commonly known as OIE (an abbreviation of its French title), summarizes the One Health concept.
  • It says that as “human health and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist”.
  • Circa 400 BC, Hippocrates in his treatise On Airs, Waters and Places had urged physicians that all aspects of patients’ lives need to be considered including their environment; disease was a result of imbalance between man and environment.
  • So One Health is not a new concept, though it is of late that it has been formalized in health governance systems.

Why rise in such outbreaks?

  • As human populations expand, it results in greater contact with domestic and wild animals, providing more opportunities for diseases to pass from one to the other.
  • Climate change, deforestation and intensive farming further disrupt environment characteristics, while increased trade and travel result in closer and more frequent interaction, thus increasing the possibility of transmission of diseases.
  • According to the OIE, 60% of existing human infectious diseases are zoonotic i.e. they are transmitted from animals to humans; 75% of emerging infectious human diseases have an animal origin.
  • Of the five new human diseases appearing every year, three originate in animals. If this is not scary enough, 80% biological agents with potential bio-terrorist use are zoonotic pathogens.
  • It is estimated that zoonotic diseases account for nearly two billion cases per year resulting in more than two million deaths — more than from HIV/AIDS and diarrhoea.
  • One-fifth of premature deaths in poor countries are attributed to diseases transmitted from animals to humans.

Urgent care needed

  • Humans require a regular diet of animal protein.
  • This calls for strict health surveillance to incorporate domestic animals, livestock and poultry too.
  • Thus, loss of food animals on account of poor health or disease too becomes a public health issue even though there may be no disease transmission, and we lose 20% of our animals this way.

 India: The forerunner of global health

  • The WHO was set up in 1948 to, among other objectives; promote cooperation to control human diseases.
  • India, a founding member, also hosted the first meeting of WHO’s South East Asia Regional Committee in October that year.
  • The cooperation and collaboration among nations to control and contain animal diseases is a sine qua non for achieving the WHO objectives.
  • This has been recognised as early as in 1924 when OIE was established to fight animal diseases at the global level.
  • India has been at the forefront of both these apex bodies, though for different reasons.

India is at the forefront

  • The size of India’s human and animal populations is almost the same; 121 crore people (2011 Census) and 125.5 crore livestock and poultry.
  • A network of 1.90 lakh health institutions in the government sector form the backbone of health governance, supported by a large number of private facilities.
  • On the other hand, only 65,000 veterinary institutions tend to the health needs of 125.5 crore animals; and this includes 28,000 mobile dispensaries and first aid centres with bare minimum facilities.

Need for a robust animal health system

  • Private sector presence in veterinary services is close to being nonexistent.
  • Unlike a physician, a veterinarian is always on a house call on account of the logistic challenge of transporting livestock to the hospital, unless they are domestic pets.
  • There could not be a stronger case for reinventing the entire animal husbandry sector to be able to reach every livestock farmer, not only for disease treatment but for prevention and surveillance to minimize the threat to human health.
  • Early detection at animal source can prevent disease transmission to humans and introduction of pathogens into the food chain. So a robust animal health system is the first and a crucial step in human health.

Way Forward

  • Developing countries like India have much greater stake in strong One Health systems on account of agricultural systems resulting in uncomfortably close proximity of animals and humans.
  • This builds a strong case for strengthening veterinary institutions and services.
  • The most effective and economical approach is to control zoonotic pathogens at their animal source.
  • It calls not only for close collaboration at local, regional and global levels among veterinary, health and environmental governance, but also for greater investment in animal health infrastructure.

5. Scientists Predict Giant ‘Dead Zone’ The Size of Massachusetts in The Gulf of Mexico

  • Scientists say this year’s oceanic ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico will be one of the largest in recorded history.
  • It’s expected to grow to over 8,000 sq. miles, and scientists predict severe harm to marine habitat, impacting fish harvests.

Dead Zone

  • Dead zones are hypoxic (low-oxygen) areas in the world’s oceans and large lakes.
  • They are caused by “excessive nutrient pollution from human activities coupled with other factors that deplete the oxygen required to support most marine life in bottom and near-bottom water.
  • Historically, many of these sites were naturally occurring.
  • However, in the 1970s, oceanographers began noting increased instances and expanses of dead zones.
  • These occur near inhabited coastlines, where aquatic life is most concentrated.
  • The vast middle portions of the oceans, which naturally have little life, are not considered “dead zones”.

Why do they occur?

  • Dead zones can be caused by natural and by anthropogenic factors.
  • Natural causes include coastal upwelling and changes in wind and water circulation patterns.
  • Use of chemical fertilizers is considered the major human-related cause of dead zones around the world.
  • Runoff from sewage, urban land use, and fertilizers can also contribute to eutrophication
  • They can be caused by an increase in nutrients (particularly nitrogen and phosphorus) in the water, known as eutrophication.
  • These chemicals are the fundamental building blocks of single-celled, plant-like organisms that live in the water column, and whose growth is limited in part by the availability of these materials.
  • Eutrophication can lead to rapid increases in the density of certain types of these phytoplankton, a phenomenon known as an algal bloom.

How is hypoxia created?

  • The major groups of algae are Cyanobacteria, green algae, Dinoflagellates, Coccolithophores and Diatom algae.
  • Cyanobacteria are not good food for zooplankton and fish and hence accumulate in water, die, and then decompose.
  • The bacterial degradation of their biomass consumes the oxygen in the water, thereby creating the state of hypoxia.

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