The HINDU Notes – 17th October 2020 - VISION

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Saturday, October 17, 2020

The HINDU Notes – 17th October 2020


📰 India fares poorly in hunger index

India fares poorly in hunger index
Country has the highest prevalence of ‘wasted children’; even Bangladesh and Pakistan score better

•India has the highest prevalence of wasted children under five years in the world, which reflects acute undernutrition, according to the Global Hunger Index 2020. The situation has worsened in the 2015-19 period, when the prevalence of child wasting was 17.3%, in comparison to 2010-14, when it was 15.1%.

•Overall, India ranks 94 out of 107 countries in the Index, lower than neighbours such as Bangladesh (75) and Pakistan (88). 2020 scores reflect data from 2015-19. The Index, which was released on Friday, is a peer-reviewed report released annually by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe.

•It uses four parameters to determine its scores. India fares worst in child wasting (low weight for height, reflecting acute undernutrition) and child stunting (low height for age, reflecting chronic undernutrition), which together make up a third of the total score.

•Although it is still in the poorest category, however, child stunting has actually improved significantly, from 54% in 2000 to less than 35% now. Child wasting, on the other hand, has not improved in the last two decades, and is rather worse than it was decade ago.

•India has improved in both child mortality rates, which are now at 3.7%, and in terms of undernourishment, with about 14% of the total population which gets an insufficient caloric intake.

•In the region of south, east and south-eastern Asia, the only countries which fare worse than India are Timor-Leste, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Pandemic effect

•Globally, nearly 690 million people are undernourished, according to the report, which warns that the COVID-19 pandemic could have affected the progress made on reducing hunger and poverty.

•“The world is not on track to achieve the second Sustainable Development Goal — known as Zero Hunger for short — by 2030. At the current pace, approximately 37 countries will fail even to reach low hunger, as defined by the Global Hunger Index Severity Scale, by 2030,” says the report. “These projections do not account for the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may worsen hunger and undernutrition in the near term and affect countries’ trajectories into the future ... COVID-19 has made it clearer than ever that our food systems, as they stand, are inadequate to the task of achieving Zero Hunger.”

📰 Any stay on proceedings is valid only for 6 months: SC

‘An extension can be granted only for a good reason’

•Any stay on civil or criminal proceedings is valid for a period of six months, beyond which the trial will resume, the Supreme Court held in an order on Friday.

•“Whatever stay has been granted by any court, including the High Court, automatically expires within a period of six months,” a Bench led by Justice Rohinton F. Nariman said.

•An extension of the stay has to be granted only for a “good reason.”

2013 judgment

•The Bench was reiterating a 2013 judgment in the Asian Resurfacing of Road Agency Pvt. Ltd case. “The speaking order must show that the case was of such exceptional nature that continuing the stay was more important than having the trial finalised,” the court said.

•The judgment was concerned with the case of refusal of a magistrate court in Pune to resume trial as the Bombay High Court had previously stayed the proceedings.

Call to magistrates

•“We must remind the magistrates all over the country that in our pyramidical structure under the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court is at the apex, and the High Courts, though not subordinate administratively, are certainly subordinate judicially. This kind of orders fly in the face of our judgment [2013 one]. We expect that the magistrates all over the country will follow our order in letter and spirit,” the Supreme Court observed.

📰 New research sheds light on declining star formation in Milky Way

Astronomers use upgraded Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope to glean vital clues

•In a vital discovery which may help understand the mystery behind declining star formation activity in the Milky Way, a team of astronomers from the Pune-based National Centre for Radio Astrophysics (NCRA-TIFR) and Raman Research Institute (RRI) in Bengaluru have used the upgraded Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) to measure the atomic hydrogen content of galaxies seen as they were eight billion years ago when the universe was young.

•The research, carried out by Aditya Chowdhury, noted astrophysicist Nissim Kanekar, and Jayaram Chengalur of NCRA-TIFR, and Shiv Sethi, and K. S. Dwarakanath of RRI, has been published in the October 15 issue of the prestigious British scientific journal Nature.

•Explaining the importance behind the research, Mr. Chowdhury, a PhD scholar at NCRA-TIFR and the lead author of the study, said galaxies in the universe are made up mostly of gas and stars, with gas being converted into stars during the life of a galaxy.

•“Understanding galaxies requires us to determine how the amounts of both gas and stars change with time. Astronomers have long known that galaxies formed stars at a higher rate when the universe was young than they do today. The star formation activity in galaxies peaked about 8-10 billion years ago and has been declining steadily till today,” Mr. Chowdhury said.

Unlocking the mystery

•He observed that the cause of this decline was unknown as there had been no information regarding the amount of atomic hydrogen gas — the primary fuel for star formation — in galaxies in these early times.

•“We have, for the first time, measured the atomic hydrogen gas content of star forming galaxies about 8 billion years ago, using the upgraded GMRT. Given the intense star formation in these early galaxies, their atomic gas would be consumed by star formation in just one or two billion years. And, if the galaxies could not acquire more gas, their star formation activity would decline, and finally cease”, said Mr. Chowdhury, adding that the observed decline in star formation activity could thus be explained by the exhaustion of the atomic hydrogen.

•The measurement of the atomic hydrogen mass of distant galaxies was done by using the upgraded GMRT to search for a spectral line in atomic hydrogen.

•Unlike stars which emit light strongly at optical wavelengths, the atomic hydrogen signal lies in the radio wavelengths, at a wavelength of 21 cm, and can only be detected with radio telescopes.

•Commenting on the measurements taken using the upgraded GMRT, Mr. Kanekar said, “Unfortunately, this 21 cm signal is intrinsically very weak, and difficult to detect from distant individual galaxies even with powerful telescopes like the upgraded GMRT. To overcome this limitation, the team used a technique called “stacking” to combine the 21 cm signals of nearly 8,000 galaxies that had earlier been identified with the help of optical telescopes. This method measures the average gas content of these galaxies.”

•Mr. Kanekar said studying the distant universe through the 21 cm signal has remained an important research area in astronomy, and one of the key science goals of the GMRT.

•Mr. Chengalur said the big jump in sensitivity was due to the upgrade of the GMRT in 2017. “The new wide band receivers and electronics allowed us to use 10 times more galaxies [8,000 galaxies were observed in the study] in the stacking analysis, giving sufficient sensitivity to detect the weak average 21 cm signal.”

•Detecting the 21 cm signal from the most distant galaxies in the universe was the main science goal of the GMRT, when it was designed and built by a team led by the late pioneering astrophysicist Govind Swarup in the 1980s and 1990s.

📰 Repurposed drugs did not cut down mortality, says WHO

Use of remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir, interferon was tracked in a multi-country study.

•Interim results from the Solidarity Therapeutics Trial, coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), have indicated that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalised patients as per information released by the World Health Organisation.

•Speaking exclusively to The Hindu, about the outcome Prof. K Srinath Reddy, member executive steering group, WHO Solidarity Trials and co-author of the study, said: “The SOLIDARITY trial is the largest trial to examine the effect of four treatments on the risk of death in hospitalised patients of COVID-19. As a multi-country study it offers the advantage of large patient numbers needed to reach meaningful conclusions on this very important clinical outcome and also provides generalisability of its conclusions across diverse populations across the world.’’

•He added that the trial has not shown any benefit on overall survival of any of the four tested drugs on reducing the risk of dying in hospitalised patients of COVID-19 .

•“The trial will continue to evaluate other promising interventions for their ability to save lives, through rigorously examined evidence from a large randomised trial methodology,” said Dr. Reddy.

•In six months, the world’s largest randomised control trial on COVID-19 therapeutics has generated conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of repurposed drugs for the treatment of COVID-19, noted the WHO release.

•It added that the study, which spans more than 30 countries, looked at the effects of these treatments on overall mortality, initiation of ventilation, and duration of hospital stay in hospitalized patients. Other uses of the drugs, for example in treatment of patients in the community or for prevention, would have to be examined using different trials.

•“The progress achieved by the Solidarity Therapeutics Trial shows that large international trials are possible, even during a pandemic, and offer the promise of quickly and reliably answering critical public health questions concerning therapeutics,” noted the WHO, adding that the results of the trial are under review for publication in a medical journal and have been uploaded as preprint at medRxiv.

•Meanwhile the global platform of the Solidarity Trial, according to experts, is ready to rapidly evaluate promising new treatment options, with nearly 500 hospitals open as trial sites.

•“Newer antiviral drugs, immune-modulators and anti-SARS COV-2 monoclonal antibodies are now being considered for evaluation,” said WHO.

•The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR), an active partner in the trials, said in a statement, “ICMR has succeeded in conducting this large randomised controlled study even during a pandemic situation and earlier lockdown. This study reliably answers to critical public health questions concerning therapeutics. Earlier, ICMR conducted PLACID trial for convalescent plasma indicating no benefit of it in COVID treatment.”

•“The trial comprised 26 actively randomizing sites with 937 participants in India. We are grateful to the trial participants and their families for contributing to these crucial findings,” said Samiran Panda, head, ICMR-Division of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases.

'We are looking at immunomodulators'

•WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday that during the study, hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir were stopped in June after they proved ineffective, but other trials continued in more than 500 hospitals and 30 countries.

•“We're looking at what's next. We're looking at monoclonal anti-bodies, we're looking at immunomodulators and some of the newer anti-viral drugs that have been developed in the last few months,” Ms. Swaminathan said.

📰 China’s rise and fall at the UN

It’s an opportune time for New Delhi to push for institutional changes and reformed multilateralism in the global system

•The United Nations turned 75 this year. In normal times, September would have seen a grand Summit in New York but because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, world leaders were forced to do with video messages to the UN General Assembly. The UN season, though, started on an auspicious note for India, with India besting China in the elections for a seat on the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This was the first such victory in a decade.

•To add to China’s woes, soon after the CSW vote, it lost another election, this time to tiny Samoa for a seat on the UN Statistical Commission. And a couple of days ago, it just about managed to get elected to the UN High Rights Council, coming fourth out of five contestants for four vacancies. Earlier, China’s candidate had lost to a Singaporean in the race for DG World Intellectual Property Organization.

China’s strengths

•In 2011, India defeated China in a one-on-one election at the UN for a place on the Joint Inspection Unit. Thereafter, taking advantage of its position as a member of the P-5 and as a huge aid giver, China made itself invincible in UN elections, capturing, among others, the top positions at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Indeed, India, too, felt this was a UN election behemoth not to be trifled with, and even as late as last year, pulled out its candidate against the Chinese from the race for the Director-General, FAO.

•But how did China rise to this pre-eminent position at the UN. It all began, as is the case with India and multilateralism, a century ago with World War I. India was one of the largest contributors of soldiers in the war against Germany and Turkey and became a founding member of the League of Nations even though it was a colony. At the end of WWII, India participated in all the three UN conferences becoming a charter member of the UN even before Independence. Pakistan, on the other hand, joined the UN in September 1947 on application.

•China saw an opportunity in World War I to rid itself of German occupation from some of its territory and allied with the United Kingdom and France. But they could not send soldiers as the Japanese, who were in competition with the Germans for the same Chinese territories, also allied against the Germans and refused to countenance Chinese troops in action. So, the Chinese sent large numbers of labour to support the western war efforts against Germany and won an invite at the Versailles Peace Conference. Things, however, did not turn out well as the West sided with the Japanese and China refused to sign the Versailles Peace Treaty.

•The United States, though, was sympathetic to the Chinese cause, and a few years later helped reach a peace deal between China and Germany.

•World War II saw strong U.S.-China collaboration against the Japanese, including U.S. operations conducted from India. An incidental but pleasant fallout of the stationing of U.S. forces in India was the establishment of ice-cream makers in India who, at the end of the war, bought the plants brought by the U.S. for its forces.

America’s ‘forgotten ally’

•These old trans-Pacific linkages of the U.S. and China, including the presence of a very large Chinese community on the west coast of the U.S., are not well known, especially in India, but China is really “the forgotten ally” of the U.S. to use an expression coined by Oxford Professor Rana Mitter. This is important to bear in mind as the world, and India, pontificates the outcome of a U.S.-China contestation and its implications for multilateralism.

•Their bilateral ties saw the U.S. include the Chinese in the ‘Four Policemen’, a group of the most important countries for ensuring world peace post- World War II, along with the real victors of World War II — the U.S., the USSR and the U.K. This number morphed into the P-5, with France being added by the UK at the San Francisco conference held in 1945 where the UN charter was finalised. The pure multilateralism of the League of Nations was thus infused with a multipolarity, with the U.S. as the sheet anchor.

•The U.S. also thought that China would act as a bulwark against the USSR. But that was the Republic of China (RoC) led by the Kuomintang who were soon routed on the mainland by the communists and found themselves on the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). This is important as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) would have us believe that it was a founder of the UN.

•RoC retained the UN seat of China till 1971 when it was expelled from the UN and the PRC admitted as a member giving it a de jure pole position at the UN. U.S. President Richard Nixon visited Beijing in 1972 and the U.S.’s opening to the PRC certainly paved the way for the unprecedented economic growth of China. However, in its march to global hegemony, the COVID-19 pandemic may have caught China on the wrong foot.

Institutional transformations

•Multilateralism is under unprecedented stress fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and a certain disenchantment with globalisation. At the root, of course, is the rise of China and its challenge to U.S. global hegemony. But for global action there are no substitutes for multilateralism backed by strong multipolarity relevant to contemporary realities. This demands institutional reform and not just engagement with extant issues which form the song and dance of diplomacy.

•Perhaps most important are institutional reforms in the UN Security Council (UNSC) and at the Bretton Woods Institutions so that their governance leverages the capabilities of the major players among both the developed and developing countries. In this context, it is good that recently India, Germany, Japan and Brazil (G-4) have sought to refocus the UN on UNSC reform. As proponents of reform, they must remain focused and determined even if these changes do not happen easily or come soon. This is also the way forward for India which is not yet in the front row.

A window opens

•Earlier in the year, India was elected as a non-permanent member of the UNSC for a two-year term. India will also host the BRICS Summit next year and G-20 Summit in 2022. These are openings for India in coalescing the world in critical areas that require global cooperation especially climate change, pandemics and counter-terrorism. India also needs to invest in the UN with increased financial contributions in line with its share of the world economy and by placing its people in key multilateral positions.

•Three defeats and a near defeat for China in elections to UN bodies post-COVID-19 and the negative reaction to its threat of veto to forestall a discussion on the pandemic in the UNSC clearly point to a disenchantment with China in the globe and is a thumbs down for them. It is also an opportune moment for India and a Reformed Multilateralism.