The HINDU Notes – 19th September 2018 - VISION

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 19th September 2018

📰 U.S., China step up trade war, slap tit-for-tat tariffs

U.S., China step up trade war, slap tit-for-tat tariffs
New rates on both sides will go into effect on September 24

•The trade rivalry between the U.S. and China escalated to an unprecedented level on Tuesday, with both countries announcing new tariffs on imports from each other.

•The U.S. has announced 10% tariff on $200 billion of imports from China, whose retaliatory tariffs between 5% and 10% will apply to $60 billion of imports from the U.S. The new tariffs on both sides will go into effect on September 24.

Rates to go up

•With the new announcements, U.S. tariffs will apply to $250 billion of Chinese goods and Chinese tariffs will apply to $110 billion of U.S. goods. The rate of the new tariffs will be raised to 25% by the end of 2018, the U.S. administration has said.

•Around 5,000 American items are expected to face the new measures, including aircraft, soya bean oil, smoked beef, coffee and flour, according to a provisional list released last month.

•The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that Washington’s decision to levy fresh tariffs was “deeply regrettable.” “We deeply regret the decision. China will be forced to take synchronous counter-measures to safeguard our legitimate rights ... as well as the global free trade order,” a spokesperson said.

•With President Donald Trump threatening to impose tariffs on all Chinese imports and Beijing appearing ready to retaliate, the two largest economies might be hurtling towards a prolonged trade war that could impact the world economy.

•China’s Vice-Premier Liu He may cancel his visit to the U.S. capital next week to restart negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the South China Morning Post reported. China is “out of bullets” to retaliate, as its exports to the U.S. is worth four times its imports from the U.S, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told a TV show on Tuesday morning.

📰 The pointlessness of hashtags

Twitter wars over the label ‘urban Naxal’ do nothing to address the deprivation of marginalised groups

•One of the main things that the 21st century will be known for is the formation of what Bruns and Burgess call “ad hoc issue publics” or the formation of selective channels centred on a particular topic. For keyboard knights of every ideological persuasion, hashtags have become a popular, swift and efficient way of marshalling and deploying public opinion. Recently, two hashtags became popular in India — UrbanNaxal and MeTooUrbanNaxal.

About a phrase

•For the uninitiated, an “urban Naxal” is apparently a member of the bourgeoisiethat sympathises with pro-poor and pro-tribal causes and does so from the relative comfort of middle-class and rich homes and offices. A film-maker, Vivek Agnihotri, used the term in a book titled Urban Naxals: The Making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam, and it has since achieved prominence. In the wake of the detention of five prominent activists and rights workers last month, Mr. Agnihotri asked for people on Twitter to identify urban Naxals. Given that the term was used by the Maharashtra police to detain activists, the term has come to assume automatic criminality if one is identified as an urban Naxal. In response to this, many began using a counter-hashtag, “MeTooUrbanNaxal”, to express solidarity with those charged with being Naxal sympathisers.

•This hashtag war begs many questions. First, why are people who work to advance the rights of underprivileged persons (tribal and Dalit) now being identified as dissenters, traitors and criminals? Second, how legitimate are these hashtags, i.e., do both hashtags actually map on to reality? Third, if they don’t map on to reality (as I will argue), then what is their applicability to public debate? Fourth, are these merely wars of idle rhetoric?

•My point of intervention in this debate is to identify the pointlessness of wars of rhetoric, especially when the wars are spearheaded by people with an inadequate and casual understanding of ground realities. Both tags, “UrbanNaxal” and “MeTooUrbanNaxal”, are dissociated from facts. Not everyone that leans left, or veers towards liberalism, supports the Communist Party of India (Maoist), although they may definitely care about the poor and the underprivileged. Similarly, not everyone who is a tribal person and hails from Chhattisgarh is automatically a member of the CPI (Maoist). Further, it is highly unlikely that most of those who use either of these hashtags really understand the meaning of the term “Naxal”.

The aim

•The ultimate goal of the CPI (Maoist) is state takeover. The Maoists are not secessionist in the traditional sense of the term, that they want their own piece of territory independent of the control of the Indian state (like the Kashmiri insurgents do, or the NSCN-IM once did). The Indian Maoists are secessionist in philosophy but their goal is to re-make the existing Indian state as a communist state. A high-ranking Border Security Force officer stationed in Durg Bhilai once told me during an interview that the “final target of the Maoists is the politician”. I strongly doubt whether most of the bourgeois merrily identifying with Naxalism on Twitter would be comfortable with this ultimate goal if they really knew what it was, and that they were precisely one of the targets of the CPI (Maoist). To be a committed Naxal is to have the wherewithal to battle the state not ideologically but also physically. I again strongly doubt whether those tweeting urban Naxal or MeTooUrbanNaxal would survive a week in the forests of Chhattisgarh, where access to Twitter may be deeply problematic.

•Sure, the strength of the Naxals and their commitment to poor tribal groups evokes a romantic ideal of bold and brave soldiers fighting for a just cause. And there is no doubt in my mind that the Maoist movement in India is a product of India’s imbalanced development policies that have heightened exploitation and deprivation of the most vulnerable groups by big capital, and sheer political and economic neglect of the marginalised. However, the Maoist insurgency and the state’s counterinsurgent violence in Chhattisgarh have both been bloody and brutal. In short, while one can understand the reasons why the poor take up arms against the state, and, one can rationalise why the state thinks it should respond with disproportionate force, none of this makes either the Maoists’ violence or the state’s violence in the region morally defensible.

•Both hashtags promote a useless debate where not everyone is arguing about the same facts or they are not arguing about facts at all. There are repercussions for replacing meaningful debate with a war of inelegant rhetoric. Twitter, like every other social media platform, encourages the extension of one’s personal ego. It is a platform where people think what they say is valuable even though the thought itself may not possess logic and is not undergirded by fact. Yet the thought acquires legitimacy because it is enslaved as a hashtag and deployed in the service of ideologies and counter-ideologies. In doing so, something that is unreasonable and not factual acquires “truthiness” (to borrow from American television host Stephen Colbert) and becomes a new narrative displacing real fact.

•Both sides of this facetious debate do grave injustice to a severe and violent issue that has its roots in systemic deprivation of marginalised groups. Mr. Agnihotri’s call to identify urban Naxals is nothing short of a stupid witch-hunt, but the response to him has been equally dull-witted because it has ended up propping up the very term it was meant to destroy.

📰 Leaders of two Koreas meet in Pyongyang for talks on ending war

Moon lands in Pyongyang to discuss denuclearisation, end of war; Agreeing timeline to denuclearisation key after Kim pledge

•North Korean's Kim Jong Un greeted Moon Jae-in with hugs and smiles on Tuesday as the South Korean president arrived in Pyongyang to discuss faltering talks on denuclearisation and the prospect of officially ending the Korean War.

•Hundreds of North Koreans wearing suits and traditional dresses also greeted Mr. Moon, carrying flowers and waving Korean peninsula and North Korean flags. A sign behind them read: “We ardently welcome President Moon Jae-in's visit to Pyongyang!”

•The two leaders stepped out of the same black Mercedes vehicle with open-top rear seats to arrive at Paekhwawon State Guest House, where Moon will stay.

•The guesthouse was also used by two former South Korean presidents during their own summits with Mr. Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, in 2000 and 2007.

•Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon will hold formal talks from 3:30 pm to 5 pm (0630 to 0800 GMT), Moon's office said.

•The inter-Korean summit, the third between Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim, will be a litmus test for another meeting Mr. Kim has recently proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump.

•Mr. Trump has asked Mr. Moon to be “chief negotiator” between himself and Mr. Kim, according to Moon's aides, after Mr. Trump cancelled a trip to Pyongyang by his secretary of state last month.

•Washington wants to see concrete action toward denuclearisation by North Korea before agreeing to a key goal of Pyongyang - declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

•“If North Korea-U.S. dialogue is restarted after this visit, it would have much significance in itself,” Mr. Moon said before his departure.

•Underscoring the challenges ahead, North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun said on Tuesday “the responsibility falls squarely on the United States” for the stalled nuclear discussions.

•“It is due to its nonsensical, irrational stubbornness that other issues can only be discussed after our country has completely verifiably, irreversibly dismantled our nuclear capabilities... without showing the intention to build trust including declaring the end of war,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

•Mr. Moon, himself the offspring of a family displaced by the war, has met Mr. Kim twice this year at the border village of Panmunjom.

•As he landed at Pyongyang's Sunan International Airport on Tuesday morning, Mr. Moon was greeted by Mr. Kim, his wife Ri Sol Ju and other top North Korean officials, as well as a large honour guard and a military band.

•Kim Yo Jong, the younger sister of the leader and a key propaganda official, was seen preparing officials for Mr. Moon's arrival and accompanying Mr. Kim Jong Un and his wife.

•South Korean corporate executives, including Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Jay Y. Lee and the chiefs of SK Group and LG Group, will meet with North Korean Deputy Prime Minister Ri Ryong Nam, who is in charge of economic affairs.

•On Wednesday, Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim plan to hold a second round of officials talks after which they are expected to unveil a joint statement, and a separate military pact designed to defuse tensions and prevent armed clashes. Mr. Moon will return home early Thursday.

Sanctions pressure

•This week's summit comes as the United States presses other countries to strictly observe U.N. sanctions aimed at choking off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

•North Korea says it has destroyed its main nuclear and missile engine test site, and has halted atomic and ballistic missile tests but U.S. officials and analysts believe it is continuing to work on its weapons plans covertly.

•U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

•Mr. Moon is hoping to engineer a proposal that combines a framework for the North's denuclearisation and a joint declaration ending the Korean War, Seoul officials said.

•The conflict ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces including South Korea technically still at war with the North.

•But U.S. officials remain “unenthusiastic” about declaring an end to the war without any substantial action toward denuclearisation from the North, Seoul officials said.

•South Korea is pinning high hopes on Mr. Kim's remarks to Mr. Moon's special envoys earlier this month that he wants to achieve denuclearisation within Trump's first term in office ending in early 2021.

•Agreeing on a timetable is a core task for Mr. Moon, as it would induce U.S. action, said Lee Jung-chul, a professor at Soongsil University in Seoul.

•“Given U.S. scepticism that South Korea may have oversold Kim's willingness to denuclearise, how President Moon delivers his sincerity toward denuclearisation to Trump would be a key factor for the fate of their second summit,” Prof. Lee told a forum on Monday in Seoul.

📰 India targets slight increase in 2018-19 foodgrain output

India targets slight increase in 2018-19 foodgrain output
M.P., Gujarat likely to opt for new payment scheme

•Despite patchy rainfall in some parts, the Agriculture Ministry has set a foodgrain production target of 285.2 million tonnes for 2018-19, a marginal increase from the previous year’s harvest of 284.8 million tonnes.

•Rainfall deficit during the current monsoon season is now at 10%, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

•“Some areas got extra rainfall, some areas were deficient. But in spite of the patchy rains, we are expecting that the overall production will still be good for the kharif season,” Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala told participants at the Ministry’s annual conference on strategies for the rabi, or winter crop season, on Tuesday.

•The 2018-19 targets for rice, at 113 million tonnes, and wheat, at 100 million tonnes, are marginally higher than last year’s harvest. However, the targets for pulses, coarse cereals and maize are slightly lower.

‘Balanced targets’

•“Targets should be balanced, not too high,” Agriculture Commissioner S.K. Malhotra told The Hindu. “We must produce enough to address food and nutrition security needs, but we must also address the income security of farmers. If targets are too high, and there is excess production, farmers will suffer,” he said, adding that there was a need to improve access to export markets in the case of high production.

•Over the last two years of normal monsoons and record harvests, prices of several commodities have crashed, hurting many farmers. The government has ramped up procurement of pulses and oilseeds in an effort to ensure that more farmers receive the minimum support price (MSP) for these crops even as the market rates fall, but that has led to a shortage of storage capacity.

•“We are holding 44 lakh tonnes of pulses, 57 lakh tonnes including oilseeds,” S.K. Verma, executive director of the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (NAFED), said. “In States like Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, there is no space left in the godowns.” Warehouse capacity is making some States consider the new Central scheme to pay oilseed farmers the cash differential between MSP and market prices. A ministry official told The Hindu that Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have expressed interest in opting for the scheme, which was approved by the Union Cabinet as part of a wider ₹15,053 crore procurement policy.

📰 ISRO to tap small cities for innovations

Agartala gets space technology incubation centre

•The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched a space technology incubation centre in Tripura capital Agartala on Tuesday. It is the first of six such centres planned nationally to build capacity in new locations.

•More such space research activities will be splashed in a big way across small cities to tap their talent and include them in the space footprint, ISRO Chairman K. Sivan, said.

•The incubation centre will be located in the National Institute of Technology, Agartala. Inaugurating it from Bengaluru, Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb said it was time high technology programmes reached the remote northeast India.

•The space agency’s new Capacity Building Programme directorate will invest ₹2 crore in incubation facilities in Jalandhar, Bhubaneswar, Tiruchi, Nagpur and Indore.

•“We want to go to locations that have a good presence of academia and industry but do not have activities related to space. The centres will bring out prototypes and innovations for ISRO in electronics, propulsion and others. We will buy the innovations back if we can use them in our programmes,” Dr. Sivan said.

•He was speaking at the annual event of the India Electronics and Semiconductor Association (IESA), which has enlarged its ambit to space electronics this year.

•Domestic industry should increase the production of critical electronics items needed in space and other programmes, as 75% of it is now imported, Dr. Sivan said.

•IESA Chairman Anil Kumar Muniswamy said the Indian space market offers big opportunity to industry as it is estimated to grow to $1.6 billion by 2023.

📰 Ten years on, in uncharted waters

The crises in emerging economies show how vulnerable they remain to the vagaries of U.S. economic policy

•Economists thrive on crises. The East Asian crisis of 1997 caused a rethink on full capital account convertibility and fixed exchange rates. The Internet bubble and bust of the early 2000s led many to question the impact of new technology on long-term productivity growth. The scandals in the corporate world through the 2000s in the U.S. provided grist for a fresh debate on corporate governance.

•None of these was any match for the opportunities for cerebration created by the financial crisis of 2007. The crisis, which peaked in early September 2008, occasioned an enormous outpouring of scholarly papers, articles and books on the causes of the crisis and the lessons to be learnt. Have these made the world any safer? Unlikely, as we shall see later.

Centred in regulation failure

•The crisis of 2007 had multiple causes. Global macroeconomic imbalances, a loose monetary policy in the U.S., the housing bubble in the U.S. again and elsewhere, a bloated financial sector, a flawed belief in efficient markets, greedy bankers, incompetent rating agencies — these and others have been identified as among the villains of the crisis. All of them undoubtedly contributed their part. But each has happened before without on its own bringing on a global economic crisis.

•Most of the blame for the implosion of the financial sector in 2007-08 lies elsewhere — in a failure of regulation. This failure manifested itself in several ways. One, banks were allowed extraordinarily high levels of debt in relation to equity capital. Two, banks in the advanced economies moved away from the business of making loans to investing their funds instead in complex assets called “securitised” assets. The securitised assets consisted of bundles of securities derived from sub-prime loans, that is, housing loans of relatively higher risk.

•The switch from loans to securitised assets had enormous implications for banks. With a loan, losses are recognised over time. In contrast, investments are ‘mark to market’, that is, losses or gains on these have to be recorded instantly. As housing prices started falling and the securitised assets lost value, it translated into enormous losses for banks.

•These losses eroded bank capital and created panic among those who had lent funds to banks. The lenders to banks, it turned out, were not primarily retail depositors but short-term lenders in the wholesale market. This was the third element in the failure of regulation, allowing banks excess dependence on short-term funds.

•There were other failures of regulation. Banks had low standards for making housing loans. Bankers’ pay was designed so that it allowed them to take excessive risk. The boards of banks did not exercise adequate oversight.

•These failures were not confined to the U.S. They infected banks in Europe and some in Asia as well. These banks were not merely exposed to American assets. As economic historian Adam Tooze has pointed out in a recent book and in an article in Foreign Affairs (September/October 2018), they had financed these assets through large borrowings in the American wholesale market. The sub-prime problem was thus not just an American problem but a problem for large chunks of the global banking system.

•As wholesale markets dried up, the Fed provided dollar funds to central banks in Europe and in Asia. Governments everywhere rushed to save their financial institutions. Central banks provided liquidity support to banks. The failure of banks was sought to be counteracted by fiscal and monetary expansion. The loss of jobs and output has been enormous. Various political consequences have unfolded: the Eurozone crisis, Brexit, the rise of nationalism and anti-immigrant policies, the Trump phenomenon in the U.S. and the return of protectionism.

•How did such a colossal failure of regulation occur? The problem was ‘regulatory capture’, the ability of financial institutions to influence polices of governments and regulators. Financial institutions are a big source of political funding. There is also the ‘revolving door’ syndrome. Bankers in the U.S. and Europe hop on to jobs in government and regulation. Government officials and regulators land lucrative jobs and assignments with banks.

No accountability

•The ‘revolving door’ plays havoc with regulation. It must also explain the total lack of accountability of bankers for the havoc they created. No top banker has been prosecuted or jailed. Instead, banks have paid up hefty fines for assorted violations, the fines coming from the pockets of shareholders.

•India has not suffered much on account of the financial crisis. Growth has slowed down to 7% but that is in line with the trend rate over the past two decades. Several prudent policies have helped. India has not embraced full capital account convertibility. It has kept short-term foreign borrowings within stringent limits. India did not open up to foreign banks despite pressure from the U.S. and the international agencies. Foreign banks retreated from overseas markets following the crisis, causing a severe credit crunch in places such as Eastern Europe. India escaped this fate.

•Is the world safer from a financial crisis today? The key reform measures have focussed on getting banks to have more equity capital and to reduce dependence on short-term borrowings. The design of executive pay has been changed so as to reduce incentives for taking excessive short-term risk. Some improvements in governance have been effected. These measures have made banks safer than before the crisis but still not safe enough.

Core issues

•That is because three issues remain significantly unaddressed. First, the ‘too big to fail problem’ — some banks being so large that they cannot be allowed to fail. Some of the biggest banks in the world have grown even bigger after the crisis. Concentration in banking has increased.

•Second, the size of debt in various forms in the world economy. A crucial aspect of the financial crisis was the build-up of private debt, that is, the debt of households and non-financial firms. Two Chicago economists, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, argued in a well-received book, House of Debt, that the expression ‘financial crisis’ was something of a misnomer. The key driver of the recession in the U.S. was the rise in household debt and the consequent drop in household consumption. This does not negate the view that regulatory failure was the principal cause. It only means that regulation must address growth in credit as well as the flow of credit into sectors such as real estate.

•In the years following the crisis, private debt has fallen but government debt and corporate debt have risen. The former head of the U.K.’s Financial Services Authority, Adair Turner, says that total debt — government, corporate, and household — as a percentage of GDP is higher than ever before (Financial Times, September 11). For the global economy as a whole, the overhang of debt poses serious challenges.

•Third, financial globalisation makes the world vulnerable to U.S. monetary and fiscal policy. From time to time, the U.S. unleashes a flood of dollars at low rates. The world laps up the cheap finance. Then, the U.S. raises interest rates. Other economies find themselves staring at huge debt repayments. Further, the dollar remains the reserve currency of the world. The U.S. can borrow to the hilt but the dollar will not depreciate, it may even appreciate!

•The present crisis in emerging economies highlights how vulnerable emerging markets are to the vagaries of American economic policy. The world needs to be weaned away from its dependence on the dollar. Alas, an alternative global financial architecture is nowhere in sight. Economists are free to draw their lessons from financial crises but the world is ultimately shaped by political and business interests, not by economists.

📰 Banking on mergers

The move to merge banks is understandable, but shareholders should have been consulted

•Asking healthy banks to take over weak banks appears to be the strategy to handle the bad loans crisis. On Monday the Union government proposed the merger of three public sector banks — Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank — to create an amalgamated entity that will become the country’s third largest lender. The merger is part of the government’s efforts to consolidate the banking industry with an eye on overcoming the bad loan crisis. After the announcement of the merger, shares of Bank of Baroda and Vijaya Bank shed a significant part of their value, while Dena Bank gained sharply to hit upper circuit on Tuesday. This is not surprising at all. Dena Bank is the bank in the worst financial situation among the three entities and is currently under the Reserve Bank of India’s prompt corrective action framework. Unlike the other two banks, its shareholders are set to gain from being part of a new bank with greater financial strength. The current merger, it is worth noting, comes after the government let State Bank of India’s associate banks merge with their parent last year and the Life Insurance Corporation of India take over the troubled IDBI Bank this year.

•Forced mergers such as the current one make little business sense for the stronger banks as the weaker banks tend to be a drag on their operations. They are also unlikely to solve the bad loan crisis that has gripped the banking system as a whole. It is important to ensure that such mergers do not end up creating an entity that is weaker than the original pre-merger strong bank. That said, the fact is that mergers are one way of managing the problem and therefore cannot be discounted totally. However, the trick lies in ensuring that the merger fallout is managed prudently; identifying synergies and exploiting scale efficiencies will be crucial here. There is no denying the fact that there are too many public sector banks in India; given this, consolidation is a good idea in principle. But ideally, mergers ought to be between strong banks. Then again, these are not normal times and with many banks in a precarious situation, the immediate compulsions for merging the weak Dena Bank with the stronger Bank of Baroda and Vijaya Bank are clear. From a corporate governance perspective, however, the merger sends out rather poor signals. Here is a dominant shareholder in the form of the government that is dictating critical moves that impact the minority shareholders, who are left with no say in the matter. A merger as significant as this one ought to have been first discussed and approved in the board rooms of the banks concerned. If the shareholders of Bank of Baroda, whose share fell by 16% on Tuesday, feel unhappy, that is perfectly understandable.

📰 Celestial misfit

We should accept Pluto as a dwarf planet, though an exceptional one

•After years of arguing over whether Pluto is a planet, in 2006 the International Astronomical Union (IAU) voted to remove Pluto’s planetary status. Now some researchers are challenging this decision, citing the manner in which scientific tradition has dealt with the taxonomy of planets. The IAU, in 2006, designated Pluto a ‘dwarf planet’ along with Ceres in the asteroid belt and Xena, an object in the Kuiper belt, which is an icy ring of frozen objects that circle the solar system beyond Neptune’s orbit. It was a bid to overcome sentiment and go by scientific rationale. The meeting defined three conditions for a celestial object to be called a planet: one, it must orbit the Sun; two, it should be massive enough to acquire an approximately spherical shape; three, it has to ‘clear its orbit’, that is, be the object that exerts the maximum gravitational pull within its orbit. Owing to this third property, if an object ventures close to a planet’s orbit, it will either collide with it and be accreted, or be ejected out. However, Pluto is affected by Neptune’s gravity. It also shares its orbit with the frozen objects in the Kuiper belt. Based on this, the IAU deemed that Pluto did not ‘clear its orbit’. Dwarf planets, on the other hand, need only satisfy the first two conditions.

•This rationale has been questioned by Philip Metzger, a planetary physicist who has worked with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others who have studied the history of classifying planets and come up with several exceptions to the third rule. In a paper published in the journal Icarus, they point out that the only work in history that used this rule to classify planets was an article by William Herschel in 1802. They also argue that this work was based on reasoning and observations that have since been disproved. However, the last argument does not build up a strong enough case to give up what is, in fact, a sensible rule. Physics has many examples where an idea was once discarded for being incorrect, and much later emerged in a different form and gained acceptance — the concept of photons, for instance. And then again, if Pluto were to be re-designated a planet, many more complications would arise. For one thing, Charon, Pluto’s moon, is much too large to be called a satellite. Judging by this, the Charon-Pluto system should then rightly be called a binary planet system. This would then lead to classifying several other sets of bodies as binary planets. Recent research shows that both the Kuiper Belt and the Oort cloud, a shell of objects that surrounds the entire solar system far beyond the Kuiper belt, contain objects that can then be called planets, thereby complicating the issue. Denying planetary status to Pluto is then nothing less than a sweep of Occam’s razor, and Pluto remains a dwarf planet, albeit an exceptional one.

📰 A child under 15 dies every 5 seconds around the world: UN

Most children under five die due to preventable or treatable causes, says report

•An estimated 6.3 million children under 15 years of age died in 2017, or 1 every 5 seconds, mostly of preventable causes, according to the new mortality estimates released by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Population Division and the World Bank Group on Tuesday.

•The report notes that for children everywhere, the most risky period of life is the first month.

•In 2017, 2.5 million newborns died in their first month while 5.4 million deaths — occur in the first five years of life, with newborns accounting for around half of the deaths.

•Also, a baby born in sub-Saharan Africa or in South Asia was nine times more likely to die in the first month than a baby born in a high-income country. And progress towards saving newborns has been slower than for children under five years of age since 1990.

•Most children under 5 die due to preventable or treatable causes such as complications during birth, pneumonia, diarrhea, neonatal sepsis and malaria. By comparison, among children between 5 and 14 years of age, injuries become a more prominent cause of death, especially from drowning and road traffic.

•Within this age group, regional differences exist, with the risk of dying for a child from sub-Saharan Africa 15 times higher than in Europe.

•The report adds that even within countries, disparities persist. Under-five mortality rates among children in rural areas are, on average, 50% higher than among children in urban areas. In addition, those born to uneducated mothers are more than twice as likely to die before turning five than those born to mothers with a secondary or higher education.

•Laurence Chandy, UNICEF director, data, research and policy, said: “Without urgent action, 56 million children under five will die from now until 2030 – half of them newborns.”

Simple solutions

•He added that though the world has made remarkable progress to save children since 1990, but millions are still dying because of who they are and where they are born.

•“With simple solutions like medicines, clean water, electricity and vaccines, we can change that reality for every child,” the report said.

•Globally, in 2017, half of all deaths under five years of age took place in sub-Saharan Africa, and another 30% in Southern Asia.

•Despite these challenges, fewer children are dying each year worldwide. The number of children dying under five has fallen dramatically from 12.6 million in 1990 to 5.4 million in 2017. The number of deaths in older children aged between 5 to 14 years dropped from 1.7 million to under a million in the same period.