Floods cause havoc in drought-prone Barmer, Rajasthan (DTE , Climate Change )


2006: A bad milestone for Kava

There’s a popular saying in western Rajasthan Jaankhiyon laare meh. Loosely translated, it means a good rain always follows dust storms. This summer when Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer and Barmer districts witnessed dust storms, people thought it augured relief after six years of drought. The rains did come but the boon fast became a bane. Barmer was deluged with 750 mm of rainfall in the last week of August five times the district’s average annual rainfall. Floods also ravaged arid Gujarat, and neighbouring Maharashtra, while usually-wet Assam reeled under droughts, causing many experts to argue that climate is changing.

“Extreme weather events occur in cycles. But worldwide, the frequency of such extreme events is increasing because of climate change,” says environmentalist Anupam Mishra. Similarly, in July 2003, un’s World Meteorological Organization had warned of an increase in frequency of extreme weather events because of climate change.The deluge in Rajasthan was caused by a low pressure zone over the area, itself a result of extreme heat conditions, experts note. Low pressure area in deserts that results from extreme heat is referred to as ‘thermal low’ in meteorological parlance. Such conditions could be caused by global warming, experts reason. “The thermal low caused southwest monsoons to bring rain over Barmer and Jaisalmer,” says Rajeevan M Nair, director of National Climate Centre, Pune.

Another school of thought ascribes the exceptional rainfall to Rajasthan’s usual weather cycle a good monsoon usually follows three or four years of drought, but there is excessive rainfall and flooding, once in 75-100 years.

Different now
Barmer received 720 mm of rainfall in 1990 and in 1994, 600 mm rain fell over the district. But such inordinate rainfall was spread over a year. This time, the downpour was a weeklong affair and was compounded by rainwater flow from neighbouring Jaisalmer. Elderly people in Barmer say that rainwater took the drainage route of rivers that once passed districts Rohali and Nimbala. These now-extinct rivers originated in the Jinjhiniali region in Jaisalmer, merged in Luni River before entering Barmer, and finally disappeared into the Rann of Kachchh in Gujarat, they say. Water gushing down the Rohali-Nimbala route drowned Kawas town and villages en route, the villagers maintain. Rainwater from Jaisalmer also took the drainage path of the extinct rivers, Leek and Sheepasaria — they add. Water that came along this path caused havoc in Maluva village.

There is no documentary proof of the rivers mentioned by Barmer’s residents. But experts do not rule out their theories. “It’s quite possible that developmental activities have disturbed the drainage path of these rivers, and water accumulated in Barmer,” says Mishra.

He also adds “Barmer’s subterranean layer of gypsum prevented rainwater from seeping down or draining away.” Geologists trace the gypsum layer to a big lake that occupied much of present day Barmer, some 1,000 years ago. The dried up water body has also left behind a zone of depression in the district that renders drainage difficult, they say.

The red river
Barmer’s vast network of reservoirs and anicuts — used for drought relief (see box The rich tradition) — was swept aside by rainwater from Jaisalmer. The reservoir water contributed to the spate, making the district resemble a cluster of lakes. The deluge also made Megha Ram — a 96-year-old resident of Kawas village in the district — recall a similar event, 75 years ago. “The village did not have much human or livestock population then. So, there was little damage. The scale of flooding was also much less,” he said. “The village was deluged with ratadiya magra (red-coloured river in local language),” he reminisces. Floodwaters had a similar colour this time as well, but that was only initially. Heavy rains diluted the red colour derived from red stones in Jaisalmer, subsequently.

15-feet water
Kawas and Maluva were the worst hit by the floods. Houses here are still 15 feet (about 4.5 metres) deep in water. Ironically, the region’s rich gypsum deposits have become a curse for it. The authorities are now discussing options to drain out the floodwater. These include breaking the gypsum layer and boring into the earth. But, environmentalists oppose this option it will contaminate groundwater and affect reservoirs in the region, they fear. Authorities also have another proposal on their anvil diverting the water to other areas, either through canals or by pumping it out. Whatever the option, it will take at least a month to drain out the floodwater, authorities say.

Barmer has become the focus of attention for scientists, environmentalists and ecologists across the world. And not all of them have bad news. Many environmentalists feel that the terrible costs notwithstanding, the floods could be a boon for the region. Floodwaters might increase the region’s groundwater level in long run, they feel. Oil companies operating in the region aren’t too unhappy either. Experts believe when floodwater seeps down, it will force oil to move up.

But that’s the future. Despite heavy rains and floods, Barmer is thirsty and will remain so for sometime, say experts. The flood has destroyed the area’s water harvesting structures like the tankas and anicuts. “The villagers have to build all of them once again,” says Farhad Contractor, head of Sambhaav, an Ahmedabad-based ngo working in Barmer. Crops worth Rs 1,000 crore have been destroyed and the floods have claimed 140 people, and 50,000 livestock. 39 people have died in Maluva alone. “We have lost every thing livestock, crops, house,” Ghazi Khan a resident of the village said. Livestock are the only source of sustenance for many like him. Floodwater has also forced snakes and other rodents into the open snakebites have increased. The authorities also fear epidemics.

Down to Earth




Chaos in reforms(DTE,Environment )

Environmental degradation in India is a runaway problem. There are plethora of laws and regulatory bodies, both at the Central and state levels, to safeguard the environment. Yet the country continues to be burdened with pollution, its natural resources continue to be exploited and people’s participation in environmental management remains grossly inadequate. So in January 2015, when the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) released its vision “towards transparency and good governance”, it rekindled hope among those demanding reforms in environment governance. The ministry’s vision assured developing “clear laws, firm rules and transparent processes to ensure a policy-based predictable regime”. An analysis of the report, which will lay groundwork for this vision, shows that MoEF&CC may not realise this vision.

Prepared by a High Level Committee of MoEF&CC, chaired by former Cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, the report was to review and suggest amendments to six cornerstone laws: the Indian Forest Act of 1927, the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972, the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1974, the Forest Conservation Act of 1980, the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act of 1981 and the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986. Submitted to the ministry in November 2014, the report is being evaluated by stakeholders and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests. Analysis of the report shows that it has largely become a document about project clearances and approvals. Instead of dealing with nuances and complexities of environmental governance, the committee proposes a regulatory framework centred around clearances. This is precisely the problem with the current regulatory regime—reducing environmental governance to a sanctioning platform. For instance, the committee proposes a new law, the Environmental Laws (Management) Act (ELMA), and two new institutions—the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the State Environment Management Authority (SEMA)—to deal with clearance-related issues. Once in effect, NEMA and SEMA will replace the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and state pollution control boards (SPCBs). Besides, it recommends retaining the existing Environment (Protection) or EP Act, 1986, and proposes that the Water Act and the Air Act would be “eventually” subsumed by the EP Act. However it is not clear how the EP Act and provisions of ELMA will be integrated.

The Subramanian committee further suggests that the clearance procedure should be “single window, streamlined, purposeful and time-bound”. It also recommends devolving more projects to SEMA by revising category A and B projects (depending on the spatial extent and potential impacts, category A projects are cleared by the Centre while category B projects are cleared by the state authorities).

In many instances the committee has suggested provisions that can further weaken the clearance process of projects. One such provision is developing a “special fast-track” mechanism for clearing linear projects, such as transmission lines and irrigation canals, power and mining sectors and strategic border projects. Such hasty measure can dilute the environment impact assessment (EIA) of projects.

Even in the present scenario, most EIA reports hardly reflect the cumulative impact of projects, resulting in poor decision-making on part of the clearance authorities and making projects contentious. An analysis of the cases before the National Green Tribunal by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) shows that a large number of environment clearance disputes emanate from inaccuracies in the EIA report. Given that most of India’s mineral reserves are located in important forest habitats, ecologically sensitive regions, which are also inhabited by poor people, and the fact that many of India’s mining districts and power hubs suffer from high pollution, fast-track clearances can also accelerate resource exploitation, worsen pollution and increase social alienation.

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Instead of fast-tracking projects, CSE researchers recommend that the government should take a look at the potential of projects that have obtained green clearances. They are adequate to sustain the country’s growth vision. For instance, since the beginning of the 11th Five Year Plan in 2007 till January 2015, thermal power projects of more than 255,000 megawatt (MW) capacity have been cleared, which is much beyond the estimated capacity of 130,000 MW required till 2022 as per the Planning Commission. Similarly, though the de-allocation of coal blocks in 2014 put a question mark on the fate of many coal block clearances, more than 280 projects with cumulative production capacity of about 865 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) have been cleared since April 2007. The Subramanian committee has also left out several issues that need to be addressed to ensure a sustainable environment.

Public opinion sidelined

The Subramanian committee has recommended that public hearings must address “only environmental, rehabilitation and resettlement issues” and that a mechanism should be put in place to ensure “only genuine local participation”. The committee also suggests circumstances under which public hearing can be dispensed with. These include cases where “settlements are located away from the project sites” or when “local conditions are not conducive to conduct hearing” or in locations where the “cumulative pollution load is pre-determined”.

There is no dearth of evidence to show that over the years community opinion in the clearance process has been sidelined. The committee’s suggestions, if implemented, will further silence public opinion. The committee suggests “genuine local participation” in public hearings. But how does one determine genuine local participation? For example, a dam affects people living in the immediate vicinity of the river, as well as those living in the downstream and the watershed areas. In such cases, specifying “genuine local participation” can exclude a lot of people who will be significantly affected. Moreover, the committee’s suggestion about cases where public hearing can be dispensed with only suggests that the process would be done away with wherever there is a suspicion of dissent.

Public hearing is an important part of the environmental clearance process as it gives opportunity to the local communities to voice their opinion or express concerns about a proposed project. Therefore, under no circumstance should this be restricted, say CSE researchers.

Forests undermined

The Committee claims that the revisions it has proposed for forest clearance are “intended to reduce the time taken (for forest clearance projects), without compromising the quality of examination”. The recommendations, however, seem to only focus on reducing time while quality of examination is severely compromised.

While advocating clearance mechanism, the committee does not offer anything to ensure the protection of forests, ecosystems, and forest-dependent communities. Its suggestion that enumeration of trees, required for physical verification of forest, can be done after Stage I clearance, will further dilute the assessment of forestlands which already is very weak. At present, diversion is allowed without any detailed assessment of the ecological values of forestland.

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The most problematic recommendation is regarding the consent of communities. The committee suggests that “for the purpose of according first stage clearance, a certificate under the Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006, may not be insisted upon”. The certificate under FRA “can be obtained during the prescribed period for compliance with the conditions of first stage clearance”. For linear projects, the committee further recommends doing away with the requirement for gram sabha consent under the pretext that these projects “benefit community at large”.

The recommendation will only make settlement of forest rights difficult. The committee itself observed that “a large number of cases are pending in the MoEF&CC as applications are not accompanied by a certificate under the FRA” and information is presented in an “ambiguous” manner which needs verification. What is required is a revamping of forest clearance process with a strong focus on thorough assessment of impacts of forestland diversion, considering both ecological and social consequences.

Institutional deficit

Laws can be reformed and processes can be streamlined only if the institutions concerned with implementing them have adequate resources, competence and infrastructure, and function in a transparent manner. However, most of SPCBs, the country’s largest environment regulators, lack man-power, infrastructure and competence. They are also riddled with corruption. These issues are well recognised within SPCBs themselves. Increasing industrial activities in recent years and formulation of new legislation have increased the workload of SPCBs.

However, there is not enough human power to match the increased administrative responsibilities. For example, Odisha Pollution Control Board officials say that between 1996-97 and 2006- 07 the administrative responsibilities of the board have increased three to four times. However, the technical human power to handle such responsibilities has increased only 1.5 times.

This is despite the fact that many SPCBs have high number of vacancies. While 60 per cent of posts in Bihar SPCB is lying vacant, for Karnataka and Meghalaya the figure is 50 per cent, and for Kerala, Punjab and Goa 30 per cent. Besides, the archaic recruitment rules have made it difficult to hire competent people. The entry level salary of Bihar SPCB is still Rs 2,500. No SPCB has a position for an economist or a biologist or an ecologist or a statistician or a public relation officer. Given the diversity of projects that SPCBs deal with, they need experts who can understand the other impacts of projects, not just pollution. The situation is only a little better at CPCB, which has been operating without a full-time chairperson for the past few years and the vacancy is being filled through ad-hoc appointment.

A major problem that stems from weak institutions is poor monitoring of environmental conditions and ensuring compliance. For instance, the six regional offices of MoEF&CC are supposed to monitor thousands of projects every year, but they hardly monitor 100 projects. The entire compliance system is based on periodic submission of compliance reports by the project proponents. MoEF&CC does not have the human power to even check these compliance reports. Most of the information provided goes unverified and offenders are rarely penalised. Moreover, as these “self-compliance” reports are not put in the public domain, there is little possibility of public scrutiny. As far as projects cleared by the state environment authorities are concerned, there is no clarity on whom they are accountable to. The situation is equally bad when it comes to SPCBs. It is estimated that SPCBs monitor only 25 per cent of the grossly air polluting factories every year; the remaining submit self-monitored data. They monitor less than one per cent of hazardous waste samples.

However, the new institutions proposed by the committee—NEMA and SEMA—do not offer ways to resolve this crisis. The new environmental institutions should integrate the existing institutions and make them strong and effective by increasing resources and manpower, infrastructure and encouraging technological innovations, integrating multidisciplinary expertise, institutionalising systems for transparency and accountability and putting into practice an institutional assessment process.

Technology replaces monitoring

Though the committee has recognised lack of monitoring and enforcement, it has probably failed to understand the reasons and offered technological solutions. Its report specifies that “while physical inspections may be required, increasingly, measuring instruments need to be inducted in the monitoring process”. The use of technology needs to be accompanied by processes to strengthen the regulatory agencies.

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

The committee has also proposed the concept of “utmost good faith”, which is essentially to hold applicants seeking clearance legally responsible for their statements, and penalise them for any falsehood, misrepresentation or suppression of facts. It argues that the concept will curb “inspector raj” by reducing dependency on regulators. This is when regulatory agencies do not have enough inspectors.

Besides, the idea of “utmost good faith” will ensure that the burden of proof regarding pollution lies with the industries and not with the regulator as is the present case. Provisions equivalent to “utmost good faith”, already exist under the EIA Notification, 2006, the Water Act and the Air Act. However, they have never been enforced because a system has not been put in place to identify non-compliance and there is not enough deterrence. Moreover, to use and interpret information derived from using scientific tools effectively, the capacity of the concerned authorities must be developed in the first place.

Given the complexity of issues, a reform exercise to ensure better environmental governance requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on revising and synergising laws, streamlining regulatory processes and strengthening institutions. For this, CSE researchers suggest, the government needs to move away from a clearance-centric vision.

The environmental problems that India is burdened with are not because of problems in project approval and clearance processes. The problems persist because the government has not addressed the issues of planning, management, regulation, monitoring and enforcement of regulatory provisions. The potential of most laws, rules and notifications have not been realised because of weak regulatory institutions.

While the committee has focused on some of the issues related to environmental clearances, and management of industrial and infrastructure projects, it has failed to address critical issues, such as waste generated from various sources in the cities. For example, dealing with sewage, municipal solid waste and hospital waste is a major challenge across the country. The government will need huge investments to upgrade and develop infrastructure to effectively address waste management. Moreover, climate change that is now threatening lives and livelihoods needs to be factored in.

To ensure environmental protection in the long term, overall environmental responsiveness needs to be improved. The establishment of an exclusive “National Environment Research Institute” through a parliamentary Act, as the committee has suggested, is not required. Instead of creating one exclusive institute, the government needs to bring environmental research into the mainstream and improve capacities of existing institutes. All these aspects must be considered to develop a reform framework. The focus of the regulatory system must move towards environmental planning and management.




Money for fuel subsidy could finance water and electricity for all(Essay,Economy,DTE)

Around 18 per cent of India’s fossil fuel subsidies could provide universal access to sanitation
A new study has found that if the subsidies given to fossil fuels were instead redirected to infrastructure development, it would free up enough funds to provide universal access to water, sanitation and electricity.

The study uses fossil fuel subsidies from 2011, which amounted to US $550 billion per year globally, as the standard based on which to make calculations. While evaluating the costs of providing universal access to water, sanitation, electricity, telecommunication and paved roads, researchers argue against the fear that removal of fossil fuel subsidies would worsen the living conditions of the poorest by making energy more expensive.

According to the study, “universal access to water for all people on the planet could be achieved by investing $190 billion, $370 billion could cover universal access to sanitation, and $430 billion could finance access to electricity”. If these costs are distributed over the next 15 years, they add up to just a fraction of the $8.2 trillion that would be allotted for fossil fuel subsidies in the same time period.

Researchers found that while universal access to water, sanitation and electricity through subsidies is relatively inexpensive to achieve, providing universal access to telecommunication and paved roads would be more complicated. For several countries that have large access gaps in telecommunication and paved roads, the required investment to provide universal access would exceed the savings achieved by fossil fuel subsidy reform.

With regard to India, researchers have noted that while providing access to the 370 million people that lack accessibility to electricity could be covered by investment that would be less than 6 per cent of the country’s fossil fuel subsidies, providing telecommunication services would require investments considerably higher than savings made through the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies. About 18 per cent of the country’s fossil fuel subsidies would be able to provide for universal access to sanitation.

The study highlights that “redirecting fossil fuel subsidies to infrastructure investments could, at least for some countries, close a large share of current infrastructure access gaps, in addition to the indirect benefits of economic efficiency and environmental improvements”. But researchers have also sounded a note of caution that their analyses would only hold true if there was a gradual and natural decline of subsidies and simultaneous implementation of infrastructure-building initiatives at national levels. The absence of the latter could cause some people to be affected by higher energy prices while missing out on increased infrastructure access during the transitional period of infrastructure development.

The study comes only a couple of months before members of the UN assembly in New York deliberate over Sustainable Development Goals for the period 2015-2030. Earlier this month, world leaders and delegates met in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to finance projects covered under the Sustainable Development Goals programme.




International food standards revised; safe limit for lead reduced(DownToEarth)

Codex standards now also contain a prescribed daily intake value of potassium, a mineral known to reduce the risk of heart disease
Recognising the detrimental health impacts of consuming lead in high quantities, international food standards body Codex accepted a proposed reduction in the safe limit of lead from 0.2 mg/kg to 0.1 mg/kg in foods such as berries and other small fruits (excluding cranberry, elderberry and currant).
Meeting at the ongoing 38th session of Codex Alimentarius Commission in Geneva, Codex also reduced lead levels from 0.3 mg/kg to 0.1 mg/kg for Brassica vegetables belonging to the mustard family, except kale and leafy brassica vegetables.
Codex Alimentarius, associated with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), issues international food standards and guidelines.
Other changes in food standards
Codex acknowledged that increased potassium intake can lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke and, hence, adopted an achievable intake value of 3,500 mg potassium per day for adults to be included in its Guidelines on Nutrition Labelling. Potassium is also known to have positive effects on bone mineral density.
Codex adopted another recommendation asking countries to not use certain antibacterial agents—Dimetridazole, Ipronidazole, Metronidazole and Ronidazole—in the treatment and prevention of diseases in food-producing animals. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), which looks into residues of veterinary drugs in food, had advised Codex that it was not possible to establish safe levels of residues of the four veterinary drugs in meat due to lack of data.
Discussions on the first day of the Commission included other topics like pesticide residues, standard for ginseng products and safe use of food additives, the control of Trichinella spp. parasites in pork and the maximum level of a mould-producing toxin in cereal-based foods.
The Indian scenario
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently proposed to set maximum levels for lead for more food categories in addition to those mentioned in the existing regulations. While these limits are aligned with the initial limits set by Codex, FSSAI will now be expected to focus on the revised lead standards too.
Indian regulations on antibiotic use in food-producing animals are largely ineffective. In July 2014, Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment conducted a study that revealed indiscriminate use of antibiotics in the poultry industry for non-therapeutic purposes. Such indiscriminate use contributes to the development of antibiotic resistance, a major global health concern today.



MDG final reports highlights the success of strategic intervention (DTE , GS paper 2 < prelims )

Human society has achieved several milestones on all eight goals: Report
imagePhoto: Vikas Choudhary
The final report measuring the achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set by the United Nations, highlights that they have saved millions of lives and improved conditions for many more. This is the last report of the MDGs, which will work as a base for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the world community is discussing.
The report, which was released on July 6, highlights that human society across the globe has achieved several milestones on all eight aspirational goals set in 2000. Most of the MDG targets have a deadline of 2015, using 1990 as the baseline against which progress is checked.
The MDG Report 2015 found that the 15-year effort to achieve these goals were largely successful across the globe. The report also acknowledged shortfalls that remain to be achieved. For example, nearly half of the developing world lived in extreme poverty two decades ago. The number of people now living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. The world has also witnessed dramatic improvement in gender equality in schooling since the MDGs, and gender parity in primary school has been achieved in the majority of countries.
The report highlights the importance of targeted intervention. “Following profound and consistent gains, we now know that extreme poverty can be eradicated within one more generation,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. “The MDGs have greatly contributed to this progress and have taught us how governments, business and civil society can work together to achieve transformational breakthroughs”.
Milestones achieved under different goals

 
GOAL 1- Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger
  • In 1990, nearly half of the population in the developing world lived on less than $1.25 a day; that proportion dropped to 14 per cent in 2015.
     
  • Globally, the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015.
     
  • The proportion of undernourished people in the developing regions has fallen by almost half since 1990, from 23.3 per cent to 12.9 per cent.
     
GOAL 2- Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • The primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91 per cent in 2015, up from 83 per cent in 2000. In 2000, 100 million children were out-of school globally where 57 million were out-of school in 2015.
     
  • The literacy rate among youth aged 15 to 24 increased globally from 83 per cent to 91 per cent between 1990 and 2015.
     
GOAL 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • In South Asia, only 74 girls were enrolled in primary school for every 100 boys in 1990. Today, 103 girls are enrolled for every 100 boys.
     
  • Women now make up 41 per cent of paid workers outside the agricultural sector, an increase from 35 per cent in 1990.
     
GOAL 4- Reduce Child Mortality
  • The global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015.
     
  • Since the early 1990s, the rate of reduction of under-five mortality has more than tripled globally.
     
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, the annual rate of reduction of under-five mortality was over five times faster during 2005-2013 than it was during 1990-1995.
     
GOAL 5- Improve Maternal Health
  • Since 1990, the maternal mortality ratio has declined by 45 per cent worldwide and most of the reduction has occurred since 2000.
     
  • In South Asia, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 64 per cent between 1990 and 2013 while in sub-Saharan Africa, it fell by 49 per cent.
     
  • More than 71 per cent of births were assisted by skilled health personnel globally in 2014, an increase from 59 per cent in 1990.
     
GOAL 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • New HIV infection fell by approximately 40 per cent between 2000 and 2012 from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million.
     
  • Over 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted between 2000 and 2015.
     
  • Between 2000 and 2013, tuberculosis prevention, diagnosis and treatment intervention saved and estimated 37 million lives.
     
GOAL7: Ensure Environmental sustainability
  • Ozone-depleting substances have been virtually eliminated since 1990 and the ozone layer is expected to recover by the middle of this century.
     
  • In 2015, 91 per cent of the global population is using an improved drinking water source, compared to 76 per cent in 1990.
     
  • Worldwide, 2.1 billion people have gained access to improved sanitation. The proportion of people practicing open defecation has fallen almost by half since 1990.
     
GOAL 8: Develop a global partnership for development
  • Official development assistance from developed countries increased by 66 per cent in real terms between 2000 and 2014.
     
  • In 2014, 79 per cent of imports from developing to developed countries were admitted duty free, up from 65 per cent in 2000.
     



Colour-changing condom can help detect sexually transmitted infection(DTE,Health)

Molecules in the condom react with bacteria in the infection, triggering a change in colour on both sides of the condom

For representation purpose only (Photo: Dedi Efendi/Flickr)For representation purpose only (Photo: Dedi Efendi/Flickr)
A group of students at the Isaac Newton Academy in Essex, England, have invented a “smart” condom to detect sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the wearer. Called S.T.Eye, the latex condom is covered with antibodies that would react with the bacteria found in STIs, triggering a change of colour. This would occur on both sides of the condom. In the presence of STI, the condom would turn green for chlamydia, purple for genital warts, blue for syphilis and yellow for herpes.
The idea, which is still at the concept stage, is the brainchild of Daanyaal Ali (14), Chirag Shah (14) and Muaz Nawaz (13), who won the TeenTech award this week for their proposal. The competition encourages 11-16-year-olds to create “technology to make life better, simpler or easier”, and includes prize money of £1,571 and a trip to Buckingham Palace.
The winners told BBC Newsbeat that they took inspiration from an HIV testing method called Elisa which utilises colour-changing technique. “Once the bodily fluids come into contact with the latex, if the person does have some sort of STI, it will cause a reaction through antibodies and antigens hanging on to each other, which triggers an antibody reaction causing a colour change,” Ali explained. They wanted to make detecting harmful STIs safer and easier, in the comfort of one’s home and without the embarrassment of going to a clinic. “We noticed how big the condom market was—there were over 4,50,000 STI cases in England in 2013 alone,” Ali said.
The young students have already been contacted by a condom company who is keen on developing the concept further. “The technology for colour change in the presence of an antigen is certainly something that does happen. It normally requires some additional chemicals in that process and with a condom you would obviously need to make sure that those chemicals are not going to be harmful or toxic or in any way cause irritation,” Mark Lawton, a consultant in sexual health and HIV at the Royal Liverpool Hospital, told BBC.



World Bank sets up commission on poverty(DTE)

The commission has been set up to measure and monitor poverty in the best way possible (Photo: Vikas Choudhary)The commission has been set up to measure and monitor poverty in the best way possible (Photo: Vikas Choudhary)
In order to measure and monitor poverty in the best way possible, the World Bank in Washington announced the setting up of a commission on global poverty on June 22. The commission will come up with a report by April 2016.
According to a press release of the World Bank, the new commission, made up of 24 leading international economists, will be chaired by Anthony Atkinson, a leading authority on the measurement of poverty and inequality and the centennial professor at the London School of Economics.
The commission has been formed against the backdrop of the upcoming post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the foremost target of which is to eradicate extreme poverty everywhere.
In 2013, the World Bank group announced two goals that would guide its development work worldwide. The first goal was to reduce the number of “extremely poor people” of the world to below 3 per cent by 2030. Extremely poor people are characterised as those who survive on less than $1.25 a day.
The second goal was to boost “shared prosperity”. Shared prosperity is defined as promoting the growth of per capita real income of the poorest 40 per cent population in each country. 
 
Announcing the new advisory body, the World Bank’s chief economist, Kaushik Basu, said he expects the commission to also provide advice on how to adjust the measurement of extreme poverty as and when new Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and other price and exchange rate data become available.
PPP calculations allow economists to compare different global exchange rates to assess household consumption and real income in US dollars, since nominal exchange rates do not accurately capture differences in costs of living across countries.
“We want to hold the yardstick constant for measuring extreme poverty till 2030, our target year for bringing extreme and chronic poverty to an end,” said Basu, who will travel to Europe this week for the commission’s inaugural meeting.
Indicators and data collated and made available by the World Bank shape opinion and policies globally.



Book says climate change will affect global food security and trade (climate Change ,GS paper 3 ,DTE )

In several regions of the world, water scarcity will reduce the capacity to grow crops

Warmer, drier conditions nearer the equator may reduce crop production while moderate warming may, at least for a short-term, benefit yields further away, the book says (Credit: Vikas Choudhary)Warmer,
drier conditions nearer the equator may reduce crop production while
moderate warming may, at least for a short-term, benefit yields further
away, the book says (Credit: Vikas Choudhary)

Global warming will have a profound impact on food production
worldwide, leading to a reduction in the nutritional properties of some
major crops, according to a new book.

The book, Climate Change and Food Systems,
contains the findings of researchers, who have studied the impact of
climate change on agriculture at both regional as well as global levels.

Threat to nutrition, health and water

The book underlines the potential impact climate change can have on
health and nutrition. A higher concentration of carbon dioxide—the
primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities—lowers the
amount of zinc, iron and protein and raises the starch and sugar content
in wheat and rice.

The nutrition and health implications of this can be great, the book
says. In India, where up to a third of the rural population is at risk
of not meeting protein requirements, the higher protein deficit from
non-legume food crops can have serious health consequences.

“As temperatures rise and water becomes scarce, wheat yields in
developing countries are expected to fall by 13 per cent and rice by 15
per cent by 2050. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) estimates that production of potato, banana and other
cash crops will slump. Several studies points to a bleak scenario in the
years ahead. However, other studies show that yields should be able to
increase with more carbon dioxide available in the atmosphere (as it)
would help to make more carbohydrates,” Devinder Sharma, food and
agriculture policy analyst at FAO India, said.

Though this may be true, the combined effect of falling water tables
and acute weather aberrations will surely lead to a decline in
production, he added.

“In a country which is largely vegetarian, much of the protein intake
is through pulses (and) non-legume crops. Any reduction in the
nutritional levels in these crops is sure to hit the nutritional intake
of the Indian population. Given the fact that India already has the
largest population affected by malnutrition and under-nutrition, climate
change will pose a much serious problem in the years to come,” Sharma
said.

The book also shows how in several regions across the world, water
scarcity due to climate change will reduce the capacity to produce food.

It cites recent research that has assessed the global impact of diet
change on both irrigated and rain-fed water consumption patterns. Some
results suggest that reducing animal products in diet offers the
potential to save water resources to a large extent.

Pressure on agriculture

According to the authors, the global demand for agricultural
commodities is increasing with the rise in population and income levels.

Agriculture depends on local weather conditions and is expected to be sensitive to climate change in the future, the book says.

Warmer, drier conditions near the equator are likely to reduce crop
production while moderate warming may, at least for a short-term,
benefit yields further away.

“Climate change is likely to exacerbate growing global inequality as
the brunt of the negative climate effects is expected to fall on those
countries that are least developed and most vulnerable,” said editor
Aziz Elbehri of FAO’s Trade and Markets Division.

However, Sharma begs to differ here. “Although it is being projected
that developing countries would be the worst hit, I think the worst
impact would be on rich and developed countries. Several studies have
shown that developed countries, especially in North America and parts of
Europe, will become inhospitable. With the kind of epic drought being
faced by California and Texas for the past three years, it is clearly
being seen as a pointer to the disaster that awaits ahead,” he told Down
To Earth.

Trade flows

The book cites studies that indicate that trade would probably expand
under climate change—with flows increasing from mid to high latitudes
towards low-latitude regions, where production and export potential
would be reduced.

At the same time, more frequent extreme weather events, such as
droughts and cyclones, can adversely impact trade by disrupting
transportation, supply and logistics.

According to Sharma not enough is being done to lessen the harmful
impact of climate change. “The G-20 Heads of State meeting in Brisbane
in December 2014 ended with the usual rhetoric of boosting food and
nutritional requirement and called for increased investments. The G-20
Food Security and Nutritional Framework does not look beyond helping
small holders to mitigate the impact of climate change. What is required
is to bring about systemic changes that move away from farming systems
that led modern agriculture to become a villain of the story. According
to CGIAR, agriculture is responsible for 41 per cent green house gas
emissions,” he added.

The entire effort, so far, seems to be industry-driven with hardly
any space for reinventing sustainable agro-ecological methods of
farming. The G-20 needs to adopt the recommendations of the
International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and
Technology for Development which calls for a radical change in the
‘business as usual’ approach, Sharma told Down To Earth.




Government report reveals weak spots in functioning of Indian pharma industry (Pharma Industry ,GS paper 3 ,DTE )

Staff crunch, transparency issues and outdated trial methods plague monitoring activity

To bring about transparency, digitalisation of clinical trials has been recommended by the government task force (Credit: Taki Steve/Flickr)To
bring about transparency, digitalisation of clinical trials has been
recommended by the government task force (Credit: Taki Steve/Flickr)

A latest government report shows that India suffers from poor
monitoring quality when it comes to drug inspection due to the lack of
adequate staff.

The Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), which
regulates the import of medicines in the country and gives approval to
new drugs and clinical trials, has only 340 sanctioned posts.

This is compared to the 13,000 sanctioned posts comprising technical
as well as administrative staff of the US Food and Drug Administration
(USFDA). The CDSCO also conducts meetings of the Drugs Consultative
Committee (DCC) and the Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB).

The irony is that of these 340 posts, only a few have been filled up
so far, reveals a task force report released on Monday. It was set up to
give suggestions on the future growth of the Indian pharmaceutical
industry. The task force was constituted by the Ministry of Chemicals
and Fertilizers, Government of India, in 2014.

More drug inspectors needed

The number of foot soldiers is very few, according to the report.
India needs at least 3,200 drug inspectors, but has only 1,349
sanctioned posts at present. Of this, 500 posts are lying vacant.

The report says that drug inspectors should be recruited for
effective monitoring of various drug manufacturing units and
distribution outlets. There should be one drug inspector each to look
after 50 such units and monitor distribution outlets. There are
approximately 600,000 drug retail sales outlets and around 10,500 drug
manufacturing units across the country.

Transparency, drug pricing

As far as transparency in clinical trials is concerned, the task
force has recommended the digitalisation of clinical trials. The report
says trials, licensing and quality control need to be computerised and
made available online to expedite the process.

Besides, the ministry also favours the creation of a single window
medicine monitoring IT system to link the headquarters, respective state
offices and government hospitals for smooth communication.

The task force report also gives suggestions on effective price
control. It says that there is a need to review the implementation of
Drug Price Control Order (DPCO), 2013 to resolve the problems of
implementation. This is a notification-cum-order which empowers the
National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority (NPPA) to regulate the prices
of essential drugs. The DPCO suggests that the government should
implement price control mechanisms through a consultative approach.

The report has been prepared after consulting private players and the
issue of accessibility of drugs to the masses has been largely
overlooked, the ministry says. Industries have challenged all efforts to
minimise the prices of essential medicines.

The civil society has also raised the issue, claiming that the
existing mechanism does not make essential drugs accessible to the poor
and that drug manufacturing companies are still making huge profits on
their products.

Government’s stand

While releasing the report, Union Minister of Chemicals and
Fertilizers Ananth Kumar said that the government wanted to encourage a
robust pharmaceutical industry in the country that is standardised,
innovative and competitive.

Setting up the task force was one of the major initiatives of the
Centre, he added. According to the minister, the government is keen on
the early implementation of the recommendations of the task force and it
would come out with an action-taken report based on these
recommendations in 100 days.

Secretary of the Department of Pharmaceuticals V K Subburaj said
exports by Indian pharmaceutical companies was a successful venture.
However, regulations in this sector, are weak and it is affecting
further growth, he added.




Exposure to toxic parts of PM2.5 during pregnancy harmful for newborn health (DTE ,Pollution,Health ,GS paper 3 )

Inhaling sulphur, sulphate, copper, iron, nickel and zinc through
PM2.5 can trigger maternal oxidative stress and affect the growth of
the foetus

Photo: Sayantoni PalchoudhuriPhoto: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri

A new study conducted in Europe has found that maternal exposure to
particulate matter (PM) constituents such as sulphur and secondary
combustion particles may adversely affect birth weight and head
circumference of newborns. LBW (birth weight less than 2.5 kg) is a
predictor of infant morbidity and mortality.

A mere 200 nanogramme per cubic metre-increase in sulphur in PM2.5 is
found to be associated with an increased risk of low birth weight
(LBW). Nickel and zinc in PM2.5 concentrations were also associated with
this outcome.

The study—Elemental Constituents of Particulate Matter and Newborn’s Size in Eight European Cohorts—published
in Environmental Health Perspective examined the associations of eight
elemental constituents in PM2.5 and PM10. It assessed data of 34,923
births during 1994 to 2008 in Europe and estimated the annual average
concentrations of eight constituents of PM2.5 and PM10 including copper,
iron, potassium, nickel, sulphur, silicon, vanadium and zinc at
maternal homes in different parts of Europe during pregnancy.

It was found that exposure to specific constituents of PM2.5,
especially traffic-related particles, sulphur constituents, and metals
was associated with decreased birth weight. Inhalation of PM can trigger
maternal oxidative stress, damage cells, cause inflammation and changes
in the blood system, decrease placental blood flow, disrupt
transplacental oxygenation, leading to poor growth of the foetus.

The study also found that all the elemental components, with the
exception of potassium, were significantly associated with smaller head
circumference in newborns. Head circumference is associated with
cognitive ability and child intellectual quotient.

The study was led by scientists from Centre for Research in
Environmental Epidemiology, Barcelona, Spain, and jointly carried out by
several research institutions.

In India, it is often stated that PM from crustal sources (such as
dust) is largely responsible for poor air quality in cities like Delhi.
But emerging evidence, such as the findings of this study, makes it
imperative for regulators to also look into the effects of tinier toxic
constituents of combustion sources in PM