6th December Current Affairs

1.Iran’s Uranium Enrichment

News: Iran has begun enriching uranium up to 20% at an underground facility and seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker in the crucial Strait of Hormuz, further escalating tensions in West Asia between Tehran and the West.

What is Uranium Enrichment?

  • Uranium enrichment is a process that is necessary to create an effective nuclear fuel out of mined uranium by increasing the percentage of uranium-235 which undergoes fission with thermal neutrons.
  • Nuclear fuel is mined from naturally occurring uranium ore deposits and then isolated through chemical reactions and separation processes.
  • These chemical processes used to separate the uranium from the ore are not to be confused with the physical and chemical processes used to enrich the uranium.
  • Naturally occurring uranium does not have a high enough concentration of Uranium-235 at only about 0.72% with the remainder being Uranium-238.
  • Due to the fact that uranium-238 is fissionable and not fissile, the concentration of uranium-235 must be increased before it can be effectively used as a nuclear fuel.

Implications:

  • Enriched uranium can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear bombs. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% purity.
  • The move could complicate the incoming Biden administration’s plans to restart nuclear talks with Tehran.
  • Iran, which insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful, has rolled back a number of commitments under the deal. It has said it is retaliating for the US economic sanctions that were reinstated in 2018 by President Donald Trump when he abandoned the accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

2015 Nuclear Deal:

  • In 2015,Iran with the P5+1 group of world powers – the USA, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany agreed on a long-term deal on its nuclear programme. The deal was named as Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and in common parlance as Iran Nuclear Deal.
  • Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activityin return for the lifting of sanctions and access to global trade. The agreement allowed Iran to accumulate small amounts of uranium for research but it banned the enrichment of uranium, which is used to make reactor fuel and nuclear weapons.
  • Iran was also required to redesign a heavy-water reactorbeing built, whose spent fuel would contain plutonium suitable for a bomb and to allow international inspections.
  • In May 2018,the USA abandoned the deal criticising it as flawed and reinstated and tightened its sanctions.
  • Since sanctions were tightened, Iran has been steadily breaking some of its commitmentsto pressure the remaining signatories to find a way to provide sanctions relief.

Strait of Hormuz

  • It is the waterway separating Iran and Oman,linking the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
  • On the north coast lies Iran, and on the south are the UAE and Musandam, an enclave of Oman.
  • The Strait is21 miles wide at its narrowest point, but the shipping lane is just two miles wide in either direction.
  • The Strait of Hormuz is one of the world’s most strategically important choke points. Two-thirds of the oil and half the Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Indian importscome through the strait between Iran and Oman.
  • As much as18 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz every day, accounting for one-third of the global oil trade. A third of the world’s LNG trade also passes through the strait.

2.Bird Flu

News: An outbreak of bird flu was confirmed in Kerala, Rajasthan and Himachal.

What is Bird Flu?

  • Bird flu is an infection caused by avian influenza viruses, which are of different types A, B and C.
  • Type A avian influenza viruses are the most frequently associated with avian influenza epidemics and pandemics.
  • There are 16 hemagglutinin (H1 to H16) and 9 neuraminidase types (N1 to N9) identified till date.
  • There are various modes of transmission of human influenza including inhalation, direct or indirect contact etc. can have manifestations ranging from mild to severe or fatal disease. Avian influenza A (H5N1) results in a high death rate amongst infants and young children.
  • The first outbreak of human infection by avian influenza viruses (H5N1) was observed in 1997 in Hong Kong. Since then a large number of outbreaks have been reported in different parts of the world.

Influenza A(H5N8) virus:

  • According to Paris-based World Organisation for Animal Health, H5N8 avian influenza is a disease of birds, caused by Type “A” influenza viruses, which can affect several species of domestic poultry, such as chickens, turkeys, quails, guinea fowl, ducks, as well as pet birds, wild migratory birds and water fowl.

Can the virus transfer to humans?

  • There are no known cases of H5N8 in human beings. Risk to general public is very low. There is also no evidence that consumption of poultry meat or eggs could transmit the virus to humans. But necessary precautions are required while handling sick/dead birds and contaminated material during control and containment operations. It is considered safe to eat properly cooked poultry products.

Control measures:

  • Culling is usually undertaken to control the infection when it is detected in animals. Besides culling, safe disposal of all such culled animals and animal products is also important. The authorities also need to strictly enforce decontamination of infected premises and undertake quarantine of contaminated vehicles and personnel.

3.Statement of Climate during 2020

News: The Climate Research and Services (CRS) of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has issued a Statement on Climate of India during 2020.

Highlights:

  • The annual mean land surface air temperature averaged over India during 2020 was above normal. During the year, annual mean land surface air temperature averaged over the country was+0.290C above normal (based on the data of 1981-2010).
  • The year 2020 was the eighth warmest year on record since nation-wide records commenced in 1901. However, this is substantially lower than the highest warming observed over India during 2016 (+0.710C). The monsoon and post-monsoon seasons with mean temperature anomalies (Actual temperature-Normal temperature) of +0.430C and +0.530C respectively mainly contributed to this warming.
  • Mean temperature during the winter was also above normal with anomaly of +0.140 However, during the pre-monsoon season temperature was below normal (-0.030C).
  • The Global mean surface temperature anomaly during 2020 (January to October as per WMO state of the global climate) is +1.20C (source: https://public.wmo.int/en/our-mandate/climate/wmo-statement-state-of-global-climate).
  • The 2020 annual rainfall over the country as a whole was 109% of its Long Period Average (LPA) based on the data of 1961-2010. The monsoon season rainfall over the country as a whole was above normal and was 109% of its LPA.

Temperatures

  • The 2020 annual mean land surface air temperature for the country was +0.290C above the 1981-2010 period average, thus making the year 2020 as the eighth warmest year on record since 1901 (Fig. 1).The five warmest years on record in order were: 2016 (+0.710C), 2009 (+0.550C), 2017 (+0.5410C), 2010 (+0.5390C), and 2015 (+0.420C).
  • It may be mentioned that 12 out of 15 warmest years were during the recent fifteen years (2006-2020).Past decade (2001-2010/ 2011-2020) was also the warmest decade on record with anomalies of 0.230C /0.340
  • The country averaged annual mean temperature during 1901-2020 showed an increasing trend of 0.620C/100 years (Fig.1) with significant increasing trend in maximum temperature (0.990C/100 years) and relatively lower increasing trend (0.240C/100 years) in minimum temperature.
  • The country averaged seasonal mean temperatures were also above the average during all the seasons except pre-monsoon season. The country averaged mean monthly temperatures were warmer than the normal during all the months of the year except March and June.

Rainfall

  • The annual rainfall over the country was 109 % of long period average (LPA) of 117.7 cms. Time series of percentage departure of annual rainfall over the country as a whole since 1901 is shown in Fig. 2. Rainfall over the country as a whole during the SW monsoon season (June-September), which is the principal rainy season of the country, was above normal (109 % of LPA of 88 cms).
  • During this season, among the four broad geographical regions of the country, Central India, South Peninsular and East & Northeast India received seasonal rainfall of 115%, 129% and 106% of its LPA respectively, while Northwest India received seasonal rainfall of 84% of its LPA.
  • The 2020 Northeast monsoon season (October-December) rainfall over the country as a whole was normal (101% of LPA). The seasonal rainfall during the northeast monsoon season over the core region of the south peninsula (comprising of 5 subdivisions viz. Coastal Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema, Tamil Nadu & Puducherry, South Interior Karnataka and Kerala), was also normal (110% of LPA). All the five subdivisions of the core region except Kerala received excess/normal rainfall.

Tropical Storms in the Indian Seas

  • During 2020, 5 cyclones formed over the North Indian Ocean.
  • These are Super cyclonic Storm AMPHAN, Very Severe Cyclonic Storms NIVAR & GATI, Severe Cyclonic Storm NISARGA, and Cyclonic Storm ‘BUREVI’.
  • Of these, NISARGA &GATI formed over Arabian Sea, while the remaining 3 cyclones viz. AMPHAN, NIVAR & BUREVI formed over the Bay of Bengal.
  • Out of these five most devastating cyclones, the Super Cyclonic Storm AMPHAN formed in the pre-monsoon season and crossed West Bengal coast over Sundarbans on 20th May. It claimed 90 lives & about 4,000 livestock mainly in West Bengal.
  • The Severe Cyclonic Storm NISARGA, formed in the Monsoon season, crossed Maharashtra coast on 3rdJune claimed 4 lives & 2000 livestock in Maharashtra.
  • The remaining three cyclones viz. NIVAR, BUREVI & GATI formed during the post monsoon season. The Very Severe Cyclonic Storm NIVAR crossed Tamil Nadu & Puducherry coasts close to north of Puducherry and claimed 12 lives & 10836 livestock in Tamil Nadu & Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Cyclonic Storm BUREVI claimed 9 lives & 200 livestock in Tamil Nadu. The VSCS “GATI” made landfall over Somalia coast.
  • All these weather systems and their remnants and other low-pressure systems caused above normal rainfall over central and peninsular India.

High Impact Weather Events

  • The country also experienced other high impact weather events like, extremely heavy rainfall, floods, landslide, thunderstorm, lightning, cold waves, etc. A few are listed below. The causalities mentioned here are based on the media and government reports.
  • Bihar & Uttar Pradesh were the most adversely affected states during the year which reportedly claimed more than 350 deaths from each state mainly due to thunderstorm, lightning & cold wave events.
  • Heavy rainfall & flood related incidents reportedly claimed over 600 lives from different parts of the country during pre-monsoon, monsoon & post-monsoon seasons.

4.Quality gigs, a solution to urban unemployment

News: With the lack of NREGA equivalent in the urban area government has to find ways to provide income support and employment. The article suggests ways to do the same.

Background:

  • The Indian economy has been gradually recovering from historic contraction of negative 23.9%.
  • This recovery has shifted focus away from the employment question, considered resolved after a sharp rally following the collapse in employment numbers in April. More recent data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, however, point to a gradual slowdown in employment recovery.

Role of NREGA in Rural employment:

  • For labour coming back to rural India, employment support came in the form of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which witnessed a 243% increase in person workdays.
  • This increased dependency on NREGA, has seen the Rural Development Ministry spend nearly 90% of its increased ₹86,4000 crore allocation by the month of November.
  • In several Indian cities, however, closed businesses have meant that millions of workers have either had to leave or have had to take up new forms of work.

Urban Scenario

  • With no urban equivalent to the NREGA on the horizon, there must be an increased impetus on evaluating, regulating and supporting new forms of employment. Our current understanding of gig work is based on the limited disclosures made by the platforms themselves. Furthermore, most regulators continue to remain in the dark on basic questions surrounding platform labour.
  • As of now, there exists no authoritative estimate on the total number of gig workers in India.
  • The centralised nature of the platforms and the larger platform labour market should make the collating of this data relatively straightforward for the Labour Ministry.

Regulation

  • The next step is significantly more sensitive and involves regulation. The reason for the sensitivity primarily revolves around the varied nature of gig work. While some workers use these platforms as a “side hustle”, for others it continues to serve as a primary source of employment.
  • This dynamic is further complicated by the risk ofa one-size-fits-all regulatory strategy.
  • Such regulatory strategies are unintentionally hurting the similar, yet distinct, market for highly skilled (and highly paid) freelancers.

Way forward

  • A more viable strategy then would involve conditional government partnerships with platformsunder some of its flagship schemes. The successful pilot of Swiggy’s Street Food Vendors programme under the PM SVANidhi, or PM Street Vendor’s Atma Nirbhar Nidhi scheme, may prove to be an illustrative example. Creation of jobs, alongside the voluntary adoption of quality standards, is an example of a mutually beneficial partnership between the state and platforms.
  • Similar collaborations on urban employment, that require labour platforms to comply with disclosure norms and worker compensation standards to access government support, could create jobs while ensuring compliance.
  • Collaborating with platforms to employ workers, would bring down costs significantly (for both the state and their partners) it would also create an environment where firms would be more likely to cooperate with the state.
  • Limited fiscal space and a growing need to fuel the country’s consumption base, must push the government to build symbiotic relationships with new partners.