- CURRENT AFFAIRS – 03/10/2023
CURRENT AFFAIRS – 03/10/2023
Why 32 European countries are facing the largest climate action lawsuit till date?
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
On September 27, 2023, a landmark legal battle begins in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.
- This historic case involves 32 European governments, including the U.K., Russia, and Turkey, facing off against six young people from Portugal, aged 11 to 24.
- The young plaintiffs argue that their governments have failed to take adequate action against the climate crisis, violating their human rights and discriminating against young people worldwide.
- Unprecedented Scale:
- The lawsuit is unprecedented in scale, with so many countries defending themselves in court simultaneously.
- It is often likened to a David and Goliath scenario.
- Rising Tide of Climate-Related Lawsuits
- The narrative of young people taking their governments to court over climate inaction is gaining momentum globally.
- As of December 2022, 2,180 climate-related cases were filed in 65 countries across international and regional courts, tribunals, and quasi-judicial bodies.
- At least 34 of these cases were brought by or on behalf of children and young people under 25, highlighting the role of youth in driving climate change governance reform.
- Details of the Duarte Agostinho Case
- The case, Duarte Agostinho and Others v. Portugal and Others, was filed in September 2020 following devastating wildfires in Portugal’s Leiria region in 2017, resulting in numerous casualties and extensive forest destruction.
- The Portuguese youth plaintiffs claim that European nations have failed to meet their climate emissions targets, exceeding the global carbon budgets consistent with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to under 1.5°C.
- They argue that this breach of international commitments violates human rights, including the right to life, freedom from inhuman treatment, privacy, and freedom from discrimination.
- Scientific Evidence:
- The plaintiffs are expected to present scientific evidence demonstrating that if countries continue at their current pace, global heating will reach 3°C within the plaintiffs’ lifetimes.
- Demands and Proposed Measures
- The lawsuit demands that the 32 defendant countries rapidly increase their emissions reductions efforts and adopt more ambitious targets in line with scientific evidence.
- Suggested measures include reducing fossil fuel production and addressing global supply chains’ environmental impact.
- The European Scientific Advisory Board on Climate Change recommends emissions reductions of 75% below 1990 levels, exceeding the EU’s current target of 55%.
- This aligns with the plaintiffs’ claims that European countries have overstated their carbon budget claims.
- Impact of Climate Change on Children
- UNICEF terms the climate crisis a “child rights crisis” as unchecked carbon emissions and extreme weather events threaten access to education, health, nutrition, and children’s futures.
- Research links climate change to poor birth outcomes, increased risks of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, mental health issues, and disruptions to education.
- Governments’ Responses
- Several governments have denied a direct link between climate change and its impact on human health, even in the face of severe climate-related events such as wildfires.
- The Portuguese and Irish governments have dismissed concerns as “future fears” and assumptions without immediate evidence.
- The U.K. government’s policy changes, such as scrapping the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, have been criticized as backtracking on climate commitments.
- Emerging Age of Climate Lawsuits
- The European Convention on Human Rights covers 47 member states, with two other climate-related cases pending before the Grand Chamber.
- In VereinKlimaseniorinnenSchweiz and Others v. Switzerland, over 2,000 women argued that Switzerland’s climate policies threatened their lives and health.
- The Duarte Agostinho case questions current and future generations’ right to an equitable future while highlighting the severe impact of anthropogenic climate change on human health.
About European Court of Human Rights
- The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) is an international judicial body established to hear cases related to the violation of human rights as defined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
- The ECHR was established in 1959 and is located in Strasbourg, France.
- It operates under the jurisdiction of the Council of Europe, which is a separate entity from the European Union.
- The ECHR hears cases from individuals, groups, or states that allege violations of human rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights.
- The Convention guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial.
- The Court is composed of judges from each of the Council of Europe’s member states, with the number of judges equal to the number of member states.
- Judges are elected for nine-year terms and are expected to be impartial and independent in their decision-making.
Medicine Nobel 2023
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 2023 has been jointly awarded to KatalinKarikó and Drew Weissman.
- The Nobel committee recognized their groundbreaking discoveries related to nucleoside base modification and its role in the development of effective mRNA vaccines against COVID-19.
- This recognition comes as a result of their contributions during one of the most significant health threats in recent times.
- Contributions to mRNA Vaccine Development
- KatalinKarikó, a biochemist, and Drew Weissman, an immunologist, laid the foundation for mRNA therapeutics as far back as the 1990s.
- In 2005, they published a seminal paper that explored the impact of nucleoside modification on the immune system.
- Subsequent research in 2008 and 2010 further refined their findings, reducing inflammatory responses and improving protein production, overcoming critical obstacles in the clinical use of mRNA.
- Impact on Vaccine Development
- The laureates’ work significantly accelerated vaccine development, particularly the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, against COVID-19.
- Their research revolutionized our understanding of how mRNA interacts with the immune system.
- Break with Tradition
- The Nobel committee broke from its tradition of recognizing decades-old research to honor contemporary contributions.
- Karikó and Weissman have received prior recognition, including the prestigious Lasker Award in 2021.
About Nobel Prize
- The Nobel Prize is one of the most prestigious international awards presented annually in recognition of outstanding contributions in various fields.
- It was established based on the will of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor, engineer, scientist, and philanthropist, who left the majority of his fortune to fund the prizes.
- Alfred Nobel, a Swedish inventor known for inventing dynamite, established the Nobel Prizes through his will.
- He was inspired to create the prizes after reading an obituary that erroneously described him as the “merchant of death” due to his invention of explosives.
- Nobel left the bulk of his estate to establish prizes in six categories: Physics, Chemistry, Medicine (Physiology or Medicine), Literature, Peace, and a later-added category, Economic Sciences.
- Physics: Awarded for outstanding contributions to the field of physics.
- Chemistry: Recognizes exceptional achievements in chemistry.
- Medicine (Physiology or Medicine): Honors ground breaking discoveries in the field of medicine, specifically in physiology or medicine.
- Literature: Acknowledges exceptional literary contributions, including novels, poetry, and plays.
- Peace: Presented to individuals or organizations that have made significant efforts to promote peace and resolve conflicts.
- Economic Sciences: Added in 1968, this prize recognizes outstanding contributions in the field of economics.
- Prize Amount:
- Each Nobel Prize includes a cash award, which varies from year to year depending on the funds available in the Nobel Foundation.
- As of recent years, the prize amount is 10 million Swedish kronor (approximately $900,000).
Capturing the monsoon: its variance and the message
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
India experienced a deficit monsoon in 2023, with total rainfall of 82 cm, which is nearly 6% lower than the normal average of 89 cm.
- The deficit monsoon had been predicted due to the presence of El Niño, a cyclical warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, which typically results in reduced rainfall over India, particularly in the north-west.
- Unusual Monsoon Patterns
- Despite the predictions of a deficit monsoon, the actual monsoon pattern in 2023 was far from ordinary.
- Approximately 9% of the country received ‘excess’ rainfall, while 18% experienced ‘deficient’ rainfall.
- The remaining regions received ‘normal’ rainfall.
- The unusual monsoon was characterized by significant variations in rainfall across different parts of the country.
- Impact of Western Disturbances
- One notable feature was the influence of western disturbances, which are extra-tropical storms originating from the Mediterranean region.
- These disturbances led to intense rainfall in areas not typically associated with heavy monsoon rainfall. In July, states like Chandigarh, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh experienced exceptionally heavy rainfall, resulting in floods and landslides. Cloudbursts were also reported in Himachal Pradesh in August.
- Drought-Like Conditions
- Conversely, Maharashtra faced drought-like conditions, and extreme water stress was reported in Chhattisgarh, Bihar, and Karnataka.
- The water-sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over the Cauvery river exacerbated water-related challenges.
- Need for Resilient Infrastructure
- The variance in monsoon patterns underscores the need for resilient infrastructure that can withstand the unpredictable impacts of global climate change.
- There is a call for increased investment in improving forecast models to better predict significant weather changes and provide advance warnings.
- This investment should focus on capturing the dynamics of the Indian monsoon and enhancing forecasting capabilities to mitigate the adverse effects of erratic monsoon patterns.
Counting deaths in India’s prisons
(General Studies- Paper II)
Source : The Hindu
P.Ramkumar, the prime accused in the Swathi murder case, was found dead in Chennai’s Puzhal Central prison in 2016.
- Officials claimed he died by suicide by biting into a live electric wire, but his father alleged homicide.
- The Supreme Court Committee on Prison Reforms found that suicide is the leading cause of ‘unnatural’ deaths among Indian prisoners.
- Uttar Pradesh recorded the highest number of suicides in prisons between 2017 and 2021.
- The report also noted a steady rise in custodial deaths since 2019, with 2021 recording the highest number of such deaths.
- Classification of Prison Deaths
- Prison deaths are categorized as ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural’ in the Prison Statistics India (PSI) report published by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) each year.
- In 2021, there were a total of 2,116 prisoner deaths in judicial custody, with nearly 90% of cases recorded as natural deaths.
- ‘Natural’ deaths include those resulting from aging and various illnesses, which have been further subdivided into disease categories like heart conditions, HIV, tuberculosis, and cancer.
- ‘Unnatural’ deaths encompass a wide range of classifications:
- Suicide (hanging, poisoning, self-inflicted injury, drug overdose, electrocution, etc.)
- Death due to inmates
- Death due to assault by outside elements
- Death due to firing
- Death due to negligence or excesses
- Accidental deaths (natural calamities, snakebites, drowning, accidental fall, burn injury, drug/alcohol consumption, etc.)
- The suicide rate among inmates is more than twice that of the general population.
- Ambiguity in Classification
- Justice M.B. Lokur raised concerns about the unclear distinction between natural and unnatural deaths in the NCRB’s report.
- Ambiguity arises when a prisoner dies due to a lack of proper medical attention or timely medical care, as it is uncertain whether to classify it as a natural death (due to illness) or an unnatural death (due to negligence).
- This ambiguity, combined with underreporting and inadequate investigations, often results in a majority of deaths being classified as ‘natural.’
- Impact of Congested Prisons
- Custodial deaths are closely linked to prison conditions, including overcrowding, access to medical help, staffing levels, and staff training.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, deaths due to the virus were classified as ‘natural,’ even though prisons were overcrowded and lacked adequate medical staff and testing.
- Infrastructural deficiencies, including lack of medical care, food, and safety, contribute to ‘unnatural’ deaths, which may otherwise be categorized as ‘natural’ deaths.
- Neglect of prisoners’ medical, psychological, and healthcare needs can result in preventable deaths.
- In some cases, prisoners are denied access to advanced medical care or transferred to hospitals when needed, reflecting a callous and neglectful attitude.
- The neglect of inmates’ health is both a cause and an effect of infrastructural deficiencies within the prison system.
- Neglect and callousness in prisons have been criticized by courts, highlighting the need for improved conditions and care for inmates.
- Investigation of Custodial Deaths
- The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) is responsible for classifying custodial deaths as ‘natural’ or ‘unnatural.’
- In cases of custodial deaths, the NCRB must report the incident within 24 hours, followed by the submission of post-mortem reports, magisterial inquest reports, or videography reports of the post-mortem.
- If an inquiry reveals negligence by a public servant, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) may recommend compensation to the Next of Kin (NoK) and initiate disciplinary proceedings or prosecution against the erring official.
- However, disciplinary actions against officials have been limited, with only one recorded between 2021-22.
- In cases of custodial rape and death, a judicial magisterial inquiry is required instead of an executive magistrate inquiry, although the NHRC has suggested that this requirement is not mandatory under certain circumstances.
- Government Initiatives and Recommendations
- The Supreme Court has recognized the social obligation towards prisoners’ health, acknowledging their limited access to medical expertise and exposure to more health hazards due to incarceration.
- The Model Prison Manual of 2016 and the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 outline inmates’ rights to healthcare, including investment in healthcare facilities, mental health units, training officers for basic and emergency care, and suicide prevention programs.
- The NHRC issued a comprehensive advisory in June 2023, emphasizing the role of both medical and mental health issues in suicides among inmates.
- Recommendations include scaling the quantity and quality of staff, filling positions such as Prison Welfare Officers, Probation Officers, Psychologists, and Medical Staff, and augmenting mental health professionals.
- There is a severe shortage of staff, and vacancies are unevenly distributed across states.
- The Model Prison Manual specifies bed strength, pathology laboratories, qualifications, and the number of medical officers and nursing assistants required, but many jails lack well-equipped prison hospitals.
- Inmates are recommended to have access to an adequate number of telephones to contact friends and family, as well as access to newspapers or periodicals to reduce isolation.
- To prevent suicides, guidelines suggest strict checks on tools that could be used for self-harm, mental health screening upon entry into jail, and installing CCTV cameras to monitor high-risk inmates.
- However, concerns have been raised about the surveillance violating prisoners’ rights.
- Approximately 1.5% of the prison population suffers from mental illnesses, highlighting the need for increased mental healthcare resources and staff.
- A major overhaul is needed in both the public and official mindset regarding prisoners, along with structural changes in the criminal justice system.
- NHRC’s Recommendations to Prevent Custodial Suicides
- Regular checks on bed sheets and blankets to prevent their use in suicide attempts.
- Inclusion of mental health literacy in the basic training of prison staff with refresher courses.
- Regular observation by prison staff and assignment of a trained prisoner as a ‘buddy’ for psychological first aid.
- Implementation of the Gatekeeper Model devised by WHO to train selected inmates in identifying prisoners at risk of suicide.
- Measures to address addiction among prisoners through visits by mental health care professionals and de-addiction experts.
- Provision of life-skill based education and activities like yoga, sports, crafts, drama, music, dance, and spiritual and religious instructions to occupy prisoners’ time, with the assistance of NGOs if necessary.
IAF to induct Astra missiles by end-2023
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has signed two contracts with Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) for the indigenous Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Air to Air Missile.
- The first batch of Astra missiles is expected to be inducted by the end of 2023, according to defense sources.
- Development is underway for the more advanced and longer-range Astra-Mk2 missile, and static firing tests have been conducted.
- BDL has received Bulk Production Clearance for the Astra-MK1 missiles from the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC).
- The IAF plans to complete proof firing and induction of these missiles in the current financial year.
- Astra missiles are fully integrated into the SU-30MKI aircraft and have been successfully test-fired from the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas.
- The IAF aims to equip its frontline fighters with Astra-MK1 missiles and sees Astra-2 becoming a primary component of its BVR missile arsenal, reducing the need for imports.
- Advanced Air-to-Air Missile
- Astra is an advanced BVR air-to-air missile with a range of over 100 km, designed to engage and destroy highly maneuverable supersonic aerial targets.
- It was developed by DRDO laboratories, including the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) and Research Centre Imarat (RCI).
About Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL)
- Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) is a prominent defense and aerospace company based in India.
- BDL was established on July 16, 1970, as a public-sector undertaking (PSU) under the Ministry of Defence, Government of India.
- It was founded to meet the increasing demand for indigenous defense equipment and technology.
- The company’s headquarters are located in Hyderabad, Telangana.
- BDL is known for its expertise in missile technology.
- The company is involved in the production of a wide range of missiles, including surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), air-to-air missiles (AAMs), anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), and anti-ship missiles (AShMs).
- Some of its notable missile systems include the Akash missile, Astra missile, and Prithvi missile.
Oxford-Serum institute malaria vaccine recommended for use by WHO
(General Studies- Paper III)
Source : The Hindu
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine for use.
- The recommendation followed a thorough scientific review by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG).
- The vaccine was developed through collaboration between the University of Oxford, the Serum Institute of India, and Novavax, leveraging Novavax’s proprietary Matrix-M adjuvant technology.
- This recommendation is a significant milestone in the fight against malaria, as it signifies that the vaccine has met the required safety, quality, and effectiveness standards set by the WHO.
- Production Capacity and Scaling Up
- The Serum Institute of India has already established production capacity for 100 million doses of the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine per annum.
- This production capacity will be doubled over the next two years.
- The scale of production is essential because widespread vaccination of high-risk populations is crucial in preventing the spread of malaria and protecting those who receive the vaccine.
- Novavax’s Matrix-M adjuvant is a key component of the vaccine, and it has been licensed to the Serum Institute for use in endemic countries, with Novavax retaining commercial rights in non-endemic countries.
- Development and Support
- The vaccine’s development received support from various organizations, including the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), the Wellcome Trust, and the European Investment Bank (EIB).
- It has been licensed for use in Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.
- Phase III Trial Results
- The vaccine recently reached the primary one-year endpoint in a large-scale Phase III clinical trial involving 4,800 children across Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, and Tanzania.
- The Phase III trial results, which are under peer review before publication, showed the vaccine’s efficacy of 75% at sites with high seasonal malaria transmission and 68% at sites with more perennial transmission using standard age-based administration.
- Although there was some waning of efficacy over the first year of follow-up, a booster dose restored efficacy at the seasonal sites, with a vaccine efficacy over 18 months of 74%.
- Scaling Up Vaccine Production
- Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India, expressed the company’s commitment to scaling up vaccine production to make it accessible to those in need.
- John C. Jacobs, president and CEO of Novavax, highlighted the vaccine’s potential to accelerate and expand access to a safe and effective vaccine for controlling malaria, especially among children who are disproportionately affected by the disease.
- Malaria is a life-threatening infectious disease caused by parasitic protozoa of the Plasmodium genus.
- It is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.
- Malaria remains a significant global health challenge, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world.
- Types of Malaria Parasites:
- There are several species of Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria in humans, with P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. knowlesi being the most common.
- Malaria symptoms typically include fever, chills, sweats, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and fatigue.
- In severe cases, it can lead to complications such as cerebral malaria, organ failure, and death.
- Geographic Distribution:
- Malaria is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and parts of Central and South America.
- The risk of infection is higher in regions with a tropical climate and suitable mosquito vectors.
- Malaria is transmitted through the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes that carry the Plasmodium parasite.
- When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite is introduced into the bloodstream.
- Malaria prevention measures include the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor residual spraying to kill mosquitoes, and antimalarial drugs for prophylaxis or treatment.
- Travelers to malaria-endemic areas are often advised to take preventive medication.
- Malaria can be diagnosed through blood tests that detect the presence of the parasite or its genetic material.
- Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are commonly used in resource-limited settings.
- Antimalarial drugs are used to treat malaria.
- The choice of drug depends on the type of parasite and the severity of the infection.
- Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) are often recommended.
- Malaria has a significant impact on public health, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, mainly among children under five years old in sub-Saharan Africa.
- It also imposes a substantial economic burden on affected countries.
- Malaria control and elimination face challenges such as drug resistance, insecticide resistance in mosquitoes, and limited access to healthcare services in affected regions.
- Other Key Facts:
- The majority of malaria cases and deaths are concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, with significant numbers also reported in the WHO regions of South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the Americas.
- In 2021, there were an estimated 247 million cases of malaria worldwide, and the estimated number of malaria-related deaths reached 619,000.
- The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high burden of malaria, accounting for 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of malaria-related deaths in 2020.
- Children under the age of 5 are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria, comprising nearly 80% of all malaria-related deaths in the WHO African Region in 2021.