Current Affairs (5th July 2021)
Arctic’s ‘Last Ice Area’
- A part of the Arctic’s ice called “Last Ice Area”, located north of Greenland, has melted before expected. Scientists had believed this area was strong enough to withstand global warming.
- The area where the Last Ice Area (LIA) is located experienced a record low concentration of sea ice.
What is the Last Ice Area?
- In an article published in 2015, the National Geographic noted that while climate projections forecast the total disappearance of summer ice in the Arctic by the year 2040, the only place that would be able to withstand a warming climate would be this area of ice called the “Last Ice Area”.
- The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that climate change is shrinking the extent of Arctic summer sea ice, which is not only important for animals but also the local Inuit communities.
- But while this piece of ice above northern Canada and Greenland was expected to last the longest time, it is now showing signs of melting. WWF claims that WWF-Canada was the first to call this area ‘Last Ice Area’.
Why is the area important?
- The area is important because it was thought to be able to help ice-dependent species as ice in the surrounding areas melted away.
- The area is used by polar bears to hunt for seals who use ice to build dens for their offspring. Walruses too, use the surface of the ice for foraging.
When did the area start changing?
- In the paper for which research was led by the University of Washington, researchers note that the first sign of change in LIA was observed in 2018.
- Further, in August last year, sea ice showed its “vulnerability” to the long-term effects of climate change. The ice in LIA has been thinning gradually over the years much like other parts of the Arctic Ocean.
What are the reasons that explain the change?
- Through satellite images, researchers noted that the sea ice concentration was at a record low of 50 percent, as of August 14, 2020.
- 80 percent of thinning can be attributed to weather-related factors such as winds that break up and move the ice around. The remaining 20 percent can be attributed to longer-term thinning of the ice due to global warming.
- India was responsible for the largest drop in open defecation since 2015, in terms of absolute numbers, according to a new report by the Wash Institute, a global non-profit organisation.
- Besides open defecation, the Joint Monitoring Report also emphasised universal access to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) to achieve the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 in achieving universal access to basic water, sanitation, and hygiene services.
- Within India, open defecation had been highly variable regionally since at least 2006. In 2006, the third round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) found open defecation to be practiced by less than 10 per cent of the population in four states and the Union Territory of Delhi, but by more than half the population in 11 states.
- By 2016, when the fourth round of the NFHS was conducted, open defecation had decreased in all states, with the largest drops seen in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.
- It, however, showed that progress in curbing open defecation in sub-Saharan Africa was slow.
Progress on SDG 6
The report also noted some progress towards the achieving SDG 6. Between 2016 and 2020, the global population with access to safely managed drinking water at home increased to 74 per cent, from 70 per cent.
SDG 6 states that ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 entails that water must be accessible at source, available when needed and free from any contamination.
The report has shown an improvement in at-source water resources including piped water, boreholes or tubewells, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater and packaged or delivered water.
Water sources are considered ‘accessible on premises’ if the point of water collection is within the dwelling, compound, yard or plot, or is supplied to the household through piped supply or tanks.
Water is counted as ‘available when needed’ if households report having ‘sufficient’ water.
For the purposes of global monitoring, drinking water is considered ‘free from contamination’ if the water is free and safe from contamination of bacteria like E coli.
There was an increase in safely managed sanitation services to 54 per cent, from 47 per cent between 2016 and 2020.
Onsite sanitation system, a system in which excreta and wastewater are collected, stored and / or treated on the plot where they are generated had shown a significant global increase.
Globally, access to safely managed sanitation services increased over the 2000-2020 period by an average of 1.27 percentage points per year.
To ensure long-term sustainability of both centralised and decentralised sanitation, proper funding and investment was required.
Hygiene in the context of COVID-19:
- It is now recognised by scientists and research studies that people are infected with SARS-COV-2 through exposure to respiratory droplets of infected peoples.
- Hence, hand hygiene becomes very important for COVID-19 response and is known to be an effective measure of many diseases.
- In June 2020, the World Health Organization and UNICEF jointly launched the ‘Hand Hygiene for All’ initiative, which aims to improve access to handwashing infrastructure as well as stimulating changes in handwashing practices where facilities are available.
- Handwashing facilities with soap and water increased to 71 per cent, from 67 per cent.
- However, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of water resources.
- The Education Ministry told a Parliamentary panel on education that it is still collating information from the States on learning losses caused by COVID-19 school closures and students’ access to digital education during the pandemic.
- The panel had ordered for the assessment of the existing learning losses, and the impact of the activities already being conducted to identify the gaps and formulate more activities to be undertaken, based on the findings.
- The parliamentary panel heard presentations on the use of satellite technology to bridge learning gaps.
- Indian Space Research Organisation, Prasar Bharati and the Bhaskaracharya National Institute for Space Applications and Geo-informatics, which possesses the infrastructure used to beam the Centre’s Swayam Prabha educational television channels, are looking at making the best use of satellite technology.
- While satellite technology, Swayam Prabha educational television channels and other such measures are in place, the focus needs to be on the infrastructure.
- Example: It must be ensured that community television sets are available for students to receive the content in each of the 2.6 lakh gram panchayats in the country.
“Green Pass” facility
- The European Union (EU) has started the “Green Pass” facility formally called the EU Digital COVID Certificate (EUDCC).
- The Green pass will allow people vaccinated with an authorised set of vaccines to travel within its zone, covering 26 countries.
- EU’s decision has set off a storm of protest from several quarters including India.
- Indian vaccines Covishield and Covaxin have not been recognised for the Green Pass by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that sets the guidelines.
- Russia and China have also raised concerns as their vaccines have also not been given the conditional marketing authorisation.
- There appears to be a hint of racism in the action as the EMA list only includes vaccines already used by Europe and North America.
- India’s External Affairs took up the exclusion strongly with EU authorities, particularly the case of Covishield, which is made under licensing and certification from Astra Zeneca, and cleared by WHO.
- India argues that the entire idea of vaccine passports would leave developing nations and the global south at a disadvantage, as they have restricted vaccine access.
- African Union and the Africa CDC have issued a letter of protest on green pass calling Covishield the backbone of the COVAX alliance’s programme, which has been administered in many African countries.
- While the fact that a few of the EU members have accommodated India’s concerns is welcome, there are still some hurdles before Indian travellers.
- Most of these countries are not at present accepting Indian travellers at all, as no non-essential travel is allowed to EU countries.
- The spread of the Delta Variant, first identified in India, has meant further travel restrictions.
- Indians who have taken doses of Covaxin will need to wait until it receives WHO clearance.
- As more nations complete their vaccine programmes, they will seek to tighten their border controls with vaccine passports and longer quarantines to curtail the spread of new variants.
- It is necessary for the Government to keep up with these actions worldwide and raise its voice against discriminatory practices.
- Furthermore, India’s priority must be to vaccinate as many Indians as possible.