The HINDU Notes – 02nd June 2020 - VISION

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Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 02nd June 2020

📰 Moody’s downgrades India’s rating

•Rating agency Moody’s downgraded India’s foreign currency and local currency long term issuer ratings to Baa3 from Baa2, while maintaining a negative outlook, citing prolonged period of low growth and further deterioration in the government’s fiscal position.

•Moody’s said the negative outlook reflects dominant, mutually-reinforcing, downside risks from deeper stresses in the economy and financial system that could lead to a more severe and prolonged erosion in fiscal strength.

Lowest grade

•Baa3 is the lowest in investment grade in Moody’s rating ladder. This means, India is just one notch above the non-investment grade or junk grade.

•The rating agency expects the country’s GDP to contract by 4% in the current financial year due to the shock from the pandemic and related lockdown measures. The GDP growth, however, is expected to pick up in the next fiscal to 8.7% and closer to 6% in the year after.

📰 A new architecture in quake-prone areas

With tremors, like cyclones, seeming to intensify, how prepared is India for the ‘big one’, should it visit us?

•A few days after the Kutch earthquake in January 2001, I was ringing the doorbell at Arthur C. Clarke’s Colombo villa-cum-futurist office. Its architecture was as unique as its occupant, its fitments as distinctive as their owner. It had been my intention to call on the great man ever since I arrived in that city to work in India’s High Commission. The urgent always overtakes the important and in some cities like Colombo, more than in others. So, with one urgency coming over another I could not pay that call.

Predicting earthquakes

•The visionary was ‘confined to a wheelchair’ is how one would normally put it. But Clarke was not confined to anything, let alone to something on wheels. He moved from room to room, inviting me into the house and into a conversation with the ease of a skater.

•I did not have to start. He opened the conversation with the subject of the earthquake. “I have spent three weeks in Ahmedabad as a guest of the Sarabhais,” he said, “and so my sense of sorrow is all the greater.”

•There is not much one can say in response to such a deeply felt remark and I was quiet for a long minute before asking Clarke if, in his view, we would ever come to the position of being able to predict earthquakes. “Strange, you should ask that,” he said with excitement. Wheeling himself to one of his bookshelves, he pulled out a squat volume. It was a book co-authored by him, Richter 10 . Clarke autographed the volume, placed it in my hands and wheeled himself to behind his desk.

Preparing for the ‘big one’

•Today India has a sophisticated set of monitors embedded beneath the soil’s surface in many vulnerable points as a result of President Kalam’s lively interest and the earnest follow-up by successive Ministers in charge of Earth Sciences. India probably has collaborations with other countries in this field as well which can only be described as a life-and-death one.

•But even as cyclones intensifying their frequency and velocity makes us anxious about our littoral safety, tremors having rocked Delhi with disturbing frequency since April this year must make us want to know how prepared we are for the ‘big one’, should it visit Himalayan and sub-Himalayan India . And this ‘over and above’ the pandemic.

•The Himalayas are young and restive. Are our cities, towns and villages on and around the Himalayas safe against such a shock? Are we regulating high-rise constructions in zones of high vulnerability like Delhi and hill stations? Is it time for a second look at dams and nuclear power installations in the region for their quake-resistant standards?

•Clarke’s Richter Ten is fiction but not fantasy. Not for us in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan where the subcontinent’s pushing into upper Asia has not stopped.

•How many of us recall how many died and were rendered homeless in Latur (1993), in Kutch (2001) or even in the Indian Ocean tsunami (2004)? And the one of 2005 which left 79,000 officially dead in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and 1,500 in Jammu and Kashmir, and more recently, the one that all but flattened Nepal (2015, 8.1 ‘Mercalli Severe’)?

•We are not to get alarmed. But we are to be alert. And that includes short-, medium- and long-term action. The short term requires that vulnerable buildings be identified and plans for their occupants’ safety made. The medium term requires that a new architecture regime be made mandatory for all builders and developers. The long-term action has to include a de-congesting of our cities. If South Africa can have one political capital, another legislative capital, a third judicial capital and a fourth business capital, why should we not think of such a dispersal at the Centre and in the States ? And it has to include a clear-eyed survey of dangerous densities, vulnerable heights, clogged accesses.

•New Delhi is receiving political and architectural attention for a major overhaul of its official buildings. New Delhi and much more seem to be receiving seismic attention as well that could do more than overhaul. But if not yet predictable and certainly not preventable, that seismic plan can yet have its impact blunted if we think and act betimes.

📰 India, China and fortifying the Africa outreach

Burnishing their credentials as humanitarian champions is the name of the game, but their approaches differ

•The COVID-19 pandemic has been a great leveller across the world. But its effects stand to be devastating particularly in Africa, where economic and public health conditions are extremely vulnerable. Although African countries moved quickly to curb the initial spread, they are still woefully ill-equipped to cope with a public health emergency of such magnitude due to shortages of masks, ventilators, and even basic necessities such as soap and water. Such conditions have meant that Africa’s cycle of chronic external aid dependence continues. Africa needs medical protective equipment and gear to support its front line public health workers. As Asia’s two largest economies and long-standing partners of Africa, India and China have increased their outreach to Africa through medical assistance. Their efforts are directed to fill a part of the growing African need at a time when not many others have stepped in to help.

Beijing’s donation diplomacy

•China, being Africa’s largest trading partner, was quick to signal its intent to help Africa cope with the pandemic. It despatched medical protective equipment, testing kits, ventilators, and medical masks to several African countries. The primary motive of such donations has been to raise Beijing’s profile as a leading provider of humanitarian assistance and “public goods” in the global public health sector. China’s billionaire philanthropy was also in full display when tech founder Jack Ma donated three rounds of anti-coronavirus supplies. These consignments were transported mostly by Ethiopian aircraft. Chinese embassies across Africa have taken the lead by coordinating both public and private donations to local stakeholders and have also embarked on a donation blitz of cash even as the sub-optimal quality of China’s medical supplies and its deputing of medical experts have been a major cause for concern.

•Beijing’s ‘donation diplomacy’ in Africa aims to achieve three immediate objectives: shift the focus away from talking about the origins of the virus in Wuhan, build goodwill overseas, and establish an image makeover. For the most part, it succeeded in achieving these ends until China faced widespread backlash over the ill-treatment of African nationals in Guangzhou city. The issue quickly grew into a full-blown political crisis for Beijing. But for the most part, China has been successful in controlling the Guangzhou narrative due to the depth of its political influence in Africa. It is no secret that China relies heavily on diplomatic support and cooperation from African countries on key issues in multilateral fora. For example, Beijing used African support for securing a win for Chinese candidates as the head of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and in the World Health Organization (WHO). On Africa’s part, the problem lies in the deep disjuncture and credibility gap between Africa’s governing class, the people, the media and civil society. Even when criticisms have been levelled against Chinese indiscretions, it has hardly ever surfaced at the elite level. Overall, China’s donation diplomacy towards Africa during COVID-19 has received mixed reactions, but Beijing’s advantage lies in its economic heft and political influence in Africa.

New Delhi’s focus

•For India, the pandemic presents an opportunity to demonstrate its willingness and capacity to shoulder more responsibility. The fact that even with limited resources, India can fight the virus at home while reaching out to developing countries in need is testament to India’s status as a responsible and reliable global stakeholder. Nowhere has India’s developmental outreach been more evident than in Africa with the continent occupying a central place in Indian government’s foreign and economic policy in the last six years. Africa has been the focus of India’s development assistance and also diplomatic outreach, as evident in plans to open 18 new embassies. These efforts have been supplemented by an improved record of Indian project implementation in Africa.

•India’s role as ‘the pharmacy of the world’, as the supplier of low-cost, generic medicines is widely acknowledged. Pharmaceutical products along with refined petroleum products account for 40% of India’s total exports to African markets. India is sending consignments of essential medicines, including hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and paracetamol, to 25 African countries in addition to doctors and paramedics at a total cost of around Rs. 600 million ($7.9 million) on a commercial and grant basis. The initial beneficiaries were the African Indian Ocean island nations of Mauritius, the Seychelles, Comoros, and Madagascar under India’s ‘Mission Sagar’. While transportation and logistics remain a concern, most of the consignments have already reached various African states.

•A timely initiative has been the e-ITEC COVID-19 management strategies training webinars exclusively aimed at training health-care professionals from Africa and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations and sharing of best practices by Indian health experts. Nigeria, Kenya, Mauritius, and Namibia have been beneficiaries. Across Africa, there is a keen interest to understand the developments and best practices in India because the two share similar socioeconomic and developmental challenges. There is also growing interest in research and development in drugs and vaccines. A few African countries such as Mauritius are pushing for health-care partnerships in traditional medicines and Ayurveda for boosting immunity. The Indian community, especially in East African countries, has also been playing a crucial role in helping spread awareness. Prominent Indian businessmen and companies in Nigeria and Kenya have donated money to the respective national emergency response funds. Country-specific chapters of gurdwaras and temples have fed thousands of families by setting up community kitchens, helplines for seniors and distributing disinfectants and sanitisers.

The contrasts

•Both India and China, through their respective health and donation diplomacy, are vying to carve a space and position for themselves as reliable partners of Africa in its time of need. Burnishing their credentials as humanitarian champions is the name of the game. But there are significant differences in the approaches. For China, three aspects are critical: money, political influence and elite level wealth creation; strong state-to-state relations as opposed to people-to-people ties; and hard-infrastructure projects and resource extraction. India’s approach on the other hand is one that focuses on building local capacities and an equal partnership with Africans and not merely with African elites concerned. As these two powers rise in Africa, their two distinct models will come under even greater scrutiny. And both New Delhi and Beijing might find that they need to adapt to the rising aspirations of the African continent.