Daily Current affairs 10 February 2019UPSC - Daily Current Affair
Outdoor air pollution a major issue globally:
- Air pollution affects everyone and can be linked to several adverse health effects.
- Over the past decades, outdoor air pollution has become a leading cause of concern globally.
- In South Asia, it has been identified as the primary cause for millions of premature deaths in 2015.
India one of the most polluted:
- Air pollution levels (PM2.5, particulate matter with a size less than 2.5 micrometres) in most of the Indian cities are far beyond the WHO’s guidelines of 10 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3).
- In 2016, 18 of 25 most polluted cities in the world were in India.
- Major contributors to air pollution include:
- On-road vehicles
- Industrial emissions
- Road Dust
- Biomass burning for cooking
- Solid-waste burning
- Crop burning
Needs a collaborative effort to combat:
- Mitigating pollutants at source would require action from various stakeholders and policymakers.
- The centre’s recently launched National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) attempts to achieve this by calling for a collaborative and participatory approach to focus on all sources of pollution, with a time-bound national-levelstrategy.
National Clean Air Programme:
- NCAP sets a target of 20-30% reduction of PM2.5 and PM10 by 2024, with 2017 as the base year for comparison.
- It seeks to combat air pollution in a comprehensive and time-bound manner.
- The programme’s objective is to put in place mitigation actions for prevention, control and abatement of air pollution.
- To achieve this, NCAP requires detailed knowledge of data, research findings and time-to-time policy impact analysis.
Reliable data is a major constraint in studying source contribution and policy impact
- Emissions inventory, air pollution modelling, ambient air quality monitoring, chemical characterization of pollutants and source apportionment studies are some of the conventional measures to understand source contribution and evaluate policy impacts.
- Today, except for Delhi, most Indian cities and regions lack such measures.
Data is not robust enough:
- Data at local scale is a crucial input for developing city-centric strategies.
- However, currently available knowledge on the sources of air pollution is inadequate to understand source contribution.
- There is also minimal knowledge available for rural areas.
Many studies with contradictory findings on source contribution:
- Today, newer studies are being released at regular intervals on various platforms, analysing and discussing source contribution towards air pollution in Indian cities.
- These reports often contradict each other—citing different data for the same location in almost similar timelines and drawing different inferences.
- Gaps in input data and data access constraints play a major role in delivering dissimilarities in studies.
Robust, open-source data is needed for reliable findings:
- For better implementation of NCAP, there is a need for researchers and policymakers to access robust, open-source data.
- Identifying the need to implement control strategies at local and regional level, NCAP urged participation from relevant central ministries, states, local bodies and other stakeholders to understand source contribution.
- India needs to develop a platform for reliable and timely data sharing, to understand source contribution and evaluate policy impacts at local and regional scale.
Developing an ‘emission inventory’:
- The government needs to focus on collating a local and regional database for different sectoral activities (like vehicle kilometre travel, biomass use, industrial energy use) as primary inputs for developing an ‘emission inventory’.
- To develop an accurate emissions inventory, there is a need to calculate the emissions rate of various activities.
- Emissions rate (or emissions factor) is a representative value that attempts to relate the quantity of a pollutant released to the atmosphere with an associated activity.
- For example, a 20-year-old Indian diesel passenger car emits 0.145 gm of PM every kilometre travelled.
- India needs its own emissions factor database:
- Currently, most of the activity-based emissions factor used by India is developed outside the country, which may give erroneous results.
- India needs to develop its own emissions factor database relevant to local air pollution sources and activities.
Air pollution monitoring network needs improvement
- Air pollution monitoring network plays a crucial role in identifying problem and evaluating policy impacts.
Current monitoring network insufficient:
- Today, monitoring stations are far below the numbers required.
- Many existing ones are under stress due to
- External issues in the process of collecting data, like lack of electricity supply,
- Inadequate workforce to handle and calibrate the monitoring instrument, etc.
- There is minimal knowledge of source apportionment studies in Indian cities, thanks to limited expertise and resources.
Capacity building required:
- For monitoring air quality, ample workforce and proper training for handling equipment, installation, time-to-time calibration and data analysis, are mandatory.
- For effective implementation of NCAP, this is as an immediate focus area to improve.
Expansion of monitoring stations to rural areas:
- Air pollution levels in rural India are also unsafe, with 75% of indoor air pollution-related deaths being reported from villages.
- At the policy and scientific front, air pollution has so far been perceived as a problem of urban India and hence no rural-focused policy has been developed.
- A majority of monitoring stations in India are in cities, and there is limited or no information available for rural areas.
- This needs to be rectified.
Conclusion - studying sources as well as devising mitigation strategies at regional level:
- It is crucial to perceive air pollution as a rural and urban crisis while studying, monitoring and developing mitigation measures.
- Geographic locations, location-wise sources of pollution, dispersal of pollutants across regions and other factors should be considered.
- These steps will help build a systematic mitigation plan by setting up priorities at different scales and as per different regional requirements.
GS Paper III: Environment
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Section : Editorial Analysis
- Maharashtra’s Palghar district has been hit by a series of low-intensity earthquakes since November last year.
- The National Centre for Seismology (NCS) has categorised these unusual tremors as an ‘earthquake swarm’.
What is Earthquake swarm?
- In 'earthquake swarms', numerous earthquakes occur locally over an extended period without a clear sequence of foreshocks, main quakes and aftershocks.
- When seismic energy piles up inside the Earth and is released in small amounts from certain points, such a series of earthquakes can occur.
- The development of an earthquake swarm over time is just as difficult to predict as earthquakes are in general.
- Many earthquake swarms occur in regions with complex contiguous fracture systems.
- The theory is that they are related to the movement of fluid gases and liquids in the Earth’s crust.
Note: If earthquake swarm is followed by a big earthquake, then it is considered as a foreshock.
- Palghar has been witnessing an unusual frequency of earthquakes since November, 2018.
- Researchers have concluded that the swarms were related to the monsoon, and were attributable to a phenomenon called “hydro-seismicity.”
- Hydro-seismicity: When water from heavy rainfall enters small fractures in rocks, this raises the pressure. This pressure is released in earthquake swarms.
- In 2007, a study by researchers from IIT-Bombay suggested that swarm activity along the west coast was due to a major fault parallel to it. However, more evidence is needed to determine the extent of this fault and how active it is.
- In general, earthquakes are caused by geological faults, or cracks in the earth’s crust across which rocks get displaced and there are plenty of faults along the Konkan coast of India (where Palghar lies), although how many of these are active isn’t known.
- Thus, It is still not clear whether these earthquakes are swarms only or a series of foreshocks before a major earthquake.
- In areas of high seismicity, buildings construction should be based upon Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) codes, which are likely to survive swarms and even larger quakes. So, it is crucial for the code to be implemented stringently.
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Section : Miscellaneous
- India has strongly reiterated its claims on Arunachal Pradesh, after China objected to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the state.
India China Dispute borders:
- Western sector: In the western sector, China has occupied a large tract of Aksai Chin and built a highway through it to connect with its eastern province of Xinjiang, which India considers as an illegal occupation.
- Middle sector: The dispute in the middle sector, along the boundary between Tibet and Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh is a minor one.
- Eastern sector: And in the east, it lays claim to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.
India China dispute over Arunachal Pradesh
- In 1914, at the Anglo‐Tibetan Simla Conference, the British colonial authorities drew the McMahon Line (named after the chief negotiator Sir Henry McMahon), which established the boundary between British India and Tibet.
- However, following the 1950 Chinese invasion of Tibet, China viewed the McMahon Line as an illegal, colonial and customary borderline, while India considered the Line to be its international boundary.
- In 1962, India and China warred over the region but China retreated from this sector after the war.
- Since then India has established complete control over the region. However, China has continued to assert its claim over the whole of Arunachal Pradesh.
- After China "firmly opposed" Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the Arunachal Pradesh, India said that Arunachal Pradesh is an "integral and inalienable part" of the country.
- During the recent visit, PM Modi has laid the foundation stone for the Sela Tunnel Project.
- The Sela Tunnel Project will create an all weather connectivity between Tawang (in Arunachal Pradesh) and the rest of Arunachal and Indian mainland.
- It provides a short cut below the dangerous and often snow-covered Sela Pass which is currently the gateway to Tawang.
- It will provide all-weather connectivity to Tawang and other forward areas and allow faster troop mobility along the border providing a strategic thrust to Indian military forces against China.
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Section : International Relation
- 2019 is celebrated as ‘The International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements’ as the Period Table of Elements has turned 150 years in 2019.
Periodic Table of Elements: A backgrounder
- The ‘Periodic Table of Elements’ was written by Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev on in 1869.
- While there were other efforts to classify elements, Mendeleev was unique in that he was the first one to propound a ‘law of periodicity of elements’.
- According to Mendeleev’s law of periodicity, ‘elements, if arranged according to their atomic weights, exhibit an evident periodicity of properties’.
- Currently, the modern periodic table has 118 elements, compared to 63 in Mendeleev’s version.
- Out of 118 elements, 100 are naturally occurring and 18 and artificially produced.
- While Mendeleev’s law put emphasis on ‘atomic weight’ to classify elements, modern periodic law classifies elements based on periodicity of their properties in accordance with their ‘atomic number’.
- In recognition of his achievement, Mendeleev has found a place in the periodic table in the form of an element 101 named as Mendelevium (Md).
Basics of Periodic Table
- Each chemical element is made of a specific type of atom.
- Each specific atom has a characteristic number of protons in its nucleus which defines the atomic number for that particular element.
- Elements in the periodic table are arranged in the increasing order of their atomic number.
Position of Elements in the Periodic Table (See figure below)
- The elements in the periodic table are classified into ‘groups’.
- ‘Groups’ are the vertical columns in the periodic table.
- There 18 such ‘groups’ in the periodic table.
- Elements in the same group have similar chemical properties.
Alkali Metals (Group 1)
- Alkali Metals are elements found in ‘group 1’ except hydrogen.
- Hydrogen is an exception in group 1 and is a non-metal.
- Alkali Metals are soft, silvery metals that are very reactive.
- Therefore, they not found in pure form in nature and often found in combination with other elements.
- All alkali metals react with water.
Alkaline Earth Metals (Group 2)
- Alkaline Earth Metals are found in group 2.
- Alkaline earth metals are also reactive and thus not found in pure form in nature.
- However they are not as reactive as alkali metals in group 1.
Metals (Groups 3 to 12)
- Elements in groups 3 to 12 are classified as metals in general.
- Metals are solids at room temperature except for mercury (Hg) which is a liquid at room temperature.
- Metals are very malleable which means they are not brittle and thus can be worked into different shapes.
- Metals are also ductile which means they can be formed into wires.
- Further metals are good conductors of heat and electricity.
- Non-metals in general are found in different states of matter in nature.
- Solid non-metals are brittle unlike metals.
- Non-metals are poor conductors of heat and electricity.
Halogens (Group 17)
- One type of non-metals are halogens found in group 17 in the periodic table.
- Halogens are very reactive non-metals and ‘salt formers’ and hence the name.
- They are usually very corrosive.
Nobel Gases (Group 18)
- Nobel gases are found in group 18 of the periodic table.
- They are colorless gases and generally very unreactive and thus very stable in nature.
- The zig-zag line shown in the figure divides the metals from non-metals in the periodic table.
- However some of the elements on the zig-zag line exhibit properties in between metals and non-metals and are called metalloids.
- Boron, Silicon, Germanium, Arsenic, Antimony, Tellurium are some of the famous metalloids.
- Silicon is the most famous metalloid because of its semiconducting properties.
- A ‘period’ is a horizontal row in the periodic table.
- There are 7 such ‘periods’ in the periodic table.
- The elements in the periods are arranged based on their electron configuration.
- Elements of the same period have the same number of electron shells.
- Elements in Period 1 has its electrons arranged in one shell, those in Period 2 in 2 electron shells, 3 shells in period 3 and so on and so forth.
Note to students: This comes under basic science part of the syllabus. a detailed note is provided considering the significance of the year.
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Section : Science & Tech
- In a significant milestone in gene therapy, researchers have safely performed the first ever in-vivo (in body) gene-editing to treat Hunter’s disease in an adult patient.
- However, the efficacy of the therapy is not completely established.
- Hunter’s syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that occurs as a result of a mutation in a gene that produces an enzyme that helps in breakdown of certain sugars.
- The enzyme activates parts in the cells in order to breakdown sugars.
- However, in the absence of the enzyme, these sugars build up in tissues causing damage to organs such as the heart, lungs, brain etc.
First in-vivo Gene Editing
- In a bid to treat Hunter’s syndrome, scientists conducted gene editing inside the human body (in-vivo) for the first time ever using a gene editing technique called zinc finger nucleases (ZNF).
- Under the zinc finger nucleases (ZNF) technique, the corrective gene was inserted in the DNA of the patient through Intravenous therapy (IV).
- While the in-vivo gene editing tool was found to be safe, its therapeutic efficacy could not be completely established.
- As per the Preliminary results, patients now have a corrective gene at very low levels, which may not be enough to make the therapy a success. However, it still represents a scientific milestone toward one day doctoring DNA to treat many diseases caused by faulty genes.
- The therapeutic efficacy will be established once the patient’s body will start making the missing enzyme that breaks down the sugars on its own.
What is Gene Editing?
- Gene editing is a form of gene therapy that is used to rewrite DNA.
- DNA is a biological code that guides the building of an organism.
- If there is a problem in this information storehouse, generally called a mutation, the organism may not be able to manufacture that protein and hence that organ in the body.
- Thus, a mutation could lead to absence of an organ or presence of a defective organ in the body.
- Gene Editing is the process of disabling faulty genes, correct the harmful mutation, insert a missing gene or change the activity of specific genes in living organisms.
Applications of gene editing
- Treating genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anaemia and muscular dystrophy.
- Gene editing is widely used to modify immune cells to fight cancer, increase resistance in HIV cases.
- It can be used correct defective genes in human embryos and prevent inheritance of genetic disorders
- Gene editing techniques are faster, cheaper and more precise than conventional techniques in genetic modification of crops.
- Further gene editing techniques are extremely helpful in gene therapies including building of new diagnostic tools, drugs, organ transplantations etc.
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Section : Science & Tech