Daily Prelims Notes 6 November 2023
- November 6, 2023
- Posted by: OptimizeIAS Team
- Category: DPN
Daily Prelims Notes
6 November 2023
Table Of Contents
- Impact of high US Treasury yields on India
- Carbon emissions: India may accept EU’s default values
- Embedded finance on the cusp of a breakout
- Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) runs dry
- Flue gas desulphurisation (FGD)
- India set to auction valuable mineral blocks, including graphite, nickel, and chromium
- 157 killed as strong earthquake jolts Nepal’s mountainous western region
- NITI Aayog weighs discontinuing key water report launched 5 yrs ago
- How the US steals a march over Europe amid the UK’s showpiece Summit
- Jammu-Poonch highway upgradation
- India starts process to adopt National Security Strategy
- The story of Balban Tomb
- As Andhra Pradesh alters PMAY name, Centre puts ₹4,000cr. funds on hold
- Poppy growth has fallen by 95% in Afghanistan since Taliban ban: UN
- The Zika genome and insights into the era of emerging outbreaks
- Wolbachia: an unlikely hero
Section: External sector
Context: US treasury yields have touched 5%.
- Recent Trends in US Treasury Yields and Global Markets:
- US 10Yr Treasury yield was rangebound between 3.25% and 4.1% from January to April before gradually rising.
- A sharp increase in the yield to 5% in October resulted in a strong selloff in global equities.
- Gold prices rose in October due to increased risk aversion after the Hamas-Israel conflict.
- The recent fall in the US 10Yr yield post-Federal Reserve meeting provided relief for stock indices.
- Interest Rates and Peak Forecasts:
- The US Federal Reserve’s projection indicates a peak fund rate of 5.6% for 2023, with a potential rate cut in 2024.
- Historical data suggests that previous interest rate peaks were followed by recessions, indicating a possible recession in the US by 2024.
- US 10Year Yield Forecast:
- Anticipated range for the US 10Yr Treasury yield is 4.5% to 5% in the near term, with a possible peak around 5.3-5.5%.
- Forecast suggests a potential decline to 4.8-4.6% or 4.5% as the interest rate starts to decrease.
- Impact on Other Asset Classes:
- The US dollar index is expected to rise to 108-110 before falling back to 105-103.
- Equities may face prolonged pressure, with potential falls for the Dow Jones and Nasdaq Composite indices, as well as India’s Nifty.
- Gold is anticipated to reach $2,100-$2,150 in the coming months.
- Brent Crude oil may rise to $100-$105, supported by production cuts and supply disruption worries.
- Indian Yield Trends:
- India Government Bond (IGB) 10Yr yield is expected to rise to 7.5-7.6% and then fall back to 7.3-7.2% in the first half of the next year.
Highlights the recent trends in the US Treasury yields and their potential impact on various asset classes, as well as forecasts for the future movements of these assets.
- A bond is a form of debt investment issued by corporates or governments directly to investors for financing various projects and activities.
- It serves as a means to raise funds outside of traditional bank loans.
- A bond yield represents the return an investor gains from a bond.
- Investors lend money to bond issuers, who promise to pay interest and repay the bond’s face value.
- Yield includes earnings from holding and selling bonds.
- Bond prices and yields have an inverse relationship.
Factors Influencing Variation in Bond Yields:
- Economic conditions affect bond yields, with safer investments preferred during economic instability.
- Increasing interest rates generally lead to lower bond prices and vice versa.
- Lower-rated bonds offer higher yields due to the increased risk of default.
- Perceived risk of inflation influences bond yields.
Impact on the Economy:
- Banks face losses on treasury operations due to rising bond yields.
- Money market stability is affected by surging yields.
- Top-rated public-sector companies delay tapping into the debt market.
- Bond market weakness persists until stabilization of oil prices or global yields.
- Higher bond yields raise production costs, impacting earnings.
Impact on Bond Investors:
- A rise in bond yield indicates an anticipation of increased interest rates, leading investors to sell their existing bond holdings to limit capital losses.
- Debt funds’ net asset values, comprising government securities, may decline due to falling bond prices caused by rising yields.
- Corporate bonds, priced higher than government bonds, are also affected by the decline in bond prices.
- Debt investors suffer as higher yields cause a decline in bond prices and net asset values of debt funds.
- Rising bond yields negatively impact equity investors as they lead to increased costs for companies, potentially affecting their earnings.
Bond Yields vs. Equity:
- Bond yields and equities have an inverse relationship, with a rise in bond yields suggesting a need for an increased risk premium on equities.
Relationship between Bond Price and Yield:
- Bonds and their yields have an inverse relationship, with higher bond prices leading to lower yields.
- Fixed-rate nature of bonds results in investors selling bonds when they expect interest rates to rise and vice versa.
- Conversely, bond investors might purchase bonds if they anticipate future interest rate reductions, thereby driving prices higher.
RBI’s Control of Bond Yields:
- The RBI endeavors to keep yields lower to reduce government borrowing costs and prevent upward movements in market lending rates.
- It achieves this by repurchasing government bonds or conducting open market operations to temper yields.
The potential impact of a rate hike in the US on other markets, including India, can be summarized as follows:
- Currency Carry Trade Impact:
- The narrowing gap between interest rates in the US and countries like India could make India less attractive for currency carry trade.
- This shift may result in capital outflows from India, affecting its currency value and overall market stability.
- Global Growth Concerns:
- A higher rate signal by the US Federal Reserve may indicate a reduced impetus to growth in the US, which could have negative implications for global economic growth.
- Slower growth in the US might indirectly impact the demand for goods and services globally, including in India.
- Equity Market Concerns:
- Higher returns in the US debt markets could lead to a reevaluation of investments by foreign investors, potentially impacting emerging market equities, including those in India.
- This could lead to a reduction in foreign investor enthusiasm and create volatility in Indian equity markets.
- Currency Market Volatility:
- The potential outflows of funds due to the shift in investor sentiment and changes in interest rate differentials may result in increased volatility in currency markets, impacting the value of the Indian rupee and other emerging market currencies.
Yield Curve Inversion:
- A yield curve represents the interest rates on bonds of increasing maturities.
- An inverted yield curve occurs when short-term debt instruments offer higher yields than long-term instruments of the same credit risk profile.
- Inverted yield curves are atypical and can signal an impending recession, with implications for consumers and investors.
Reverse Currency War:
- As a response to the US Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes, more investors are rushing to invest money in the US, strengthening the dollar against other currencies.
- Central banks are working to counter the US Fed by raising their own interest rates to prevent excessive devaluation of their currencies against the dollar.
- However, raising interest rates carries its own risks, potentially hampering the chances of achieving a soft landing for any economy.
- A soft landing refers to a cyclical slowdown in economic growth that avoids a recession.
- Central banks aim for a soft landing by raising interest rates to curb an overheating economy without causing a severe downturn.
- It can also indicate a gradual slowdown in a particular industry or economic sector, with a focus on minimizing negative impacts.
Section: Climate change
- During the ongoing transition phase of the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), India is likely to accept the bloc’s default values for calculating carbon emitted during production of identified polluting items, including steel & aluminium, in the country, for export to the region.
What is required under the transition period?
- Carbon taxes on carbon-intensive goods covered under CBAM will not kick in before 2026 and thus EU-based importers only need to report data on the embedded emissions only till end of 2025.
Why is India choosing to accept EU default embedded carbon values?
- India does not yet have a carbon verification and accreditation system in place and, therefore, may find it difficult to do its own carbon emission determination at the moment.
- Thus it may be a more practical idea to just allow them to apply the EU’s default value for both direct and indirect emissions for imports from India during the transition phase. This will allow time for our own systems to be read.
What are the default values?
- Based on averages and their own estimates, the EU is working on a country-wise list of ‘default’ values of embedded emissions for the identified carbon intensive items, and is expected to share it soon, the official said.
- The items include cement, iron & steel, aluminium, fertilisers, electricity, and hydrogen.
|Embodied/embedded carbon emissions of goods, also known as embedded carbon emissions, refer to the greenhouse gas emissions generated during the production and transportation of goods, from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing process and final delivery to the consumer.|
- Indian steel and aluminium sectors are likely to be hit the most by CBAM as some estimates show that they may attract additional levies up to 20-35 per cent if compliance cannot be established.
What is carbon price?
- CBAM is an EU regulation to put a “fair” price on carbon emitted during production of carbon intensive items in non-EU countries when they are imported into the bloc.
- It seeks to level the field for producers in the EU already facing a carbon price for their emissions under the EU Emission Trading System (ETS).
- While the transition period for CBAM began on October 1 2023, wherein importers need to report the embedded carbon content in their imports on a quarterly basis till end of 2025, the carbon tax regime will kick in from January 2026
Section: Monetary Policy
- As financial institutions press the pedal on digital adoption to enhance customer experience and widen their reach, embedded finance has emerged as an innovative approach to connect with a vast pool of consumers who may have a digital footprint but no direct interaction with the financial institution.
What is embedded finance?
- Embedded finance is the integration of financial services into non-financial offerings.
- Examples of embedded finance might include an e-commerce merchant providing insurance, a coffee shop app that offers 1-click payments, or a department store’s branded credit card.
- Effective embedded finance solutions meet the customer where they are with a financial option they need, whether that be a loan, payment program, insurance plan, or easy way to make a payment.
- Some embedded financial services have been around for a while, like airline credit cards, car rental insurance, and payment plans for high-priced items.
- Now embedded finance is taking hold online, as e-commerce retailers are offering banking services directly on their websites without re-directing customers to a bank.
- This phenomenon is enabled by third-party ‘banking-as-a-service’ companies that use API integrations to embed financial services into the user experience of non-financial companies.
Some use cases of embedded finance are:
- Non-financial companies offer their users a branded checking account to hold funds and make payments. Embedded banking typically makes the most sense for sellers or service providers using a company’s platform to conduct business. It likely offers faster access to funds and perks that only platform users can access.
- Branded credit cards predate fintech, as shoppers have long been able to get branded cards from their favorite department stores. However, fintech has expanded companies’ ability to offer branded credit cards and increased the use cases where it makes sense.
- Embedded lending is a type of embedded finance that allows users to access more favorable loan options at the point of sale. “Buy now, pay later” (BNPL) is one of the most visible forms of embedded lending seen by online shoppers.
Section: Monetary Policy
- Department of consumer affairs (DoCA) under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution plans to approach the Union finance ministry for about ₹5,400 crore for its price stabilization fund (PSF) to procure onion and pulses in the rest of the financial year.
- When prices of vegetables and pulses shot up this year, the department began buying them at steep prices and selling them at cheaper rates.
- Since the department needs to procure more onions and masur (lentil) to enhance the buffer stock, it has decided to move the finance ministry without waiting for a budget allocation.
Setting up of PSF:
- The Price Stabilization Fund (PSF) was set up in 2014-15 under the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Famers Welfare (DAC&FW) to help regulate the price volatility of important agri-horticultural commodities like onion, potatoes and pulses were also added subsequently.
- The PSF scheme was transferred from DAC&FW to the Department of Consumer Affairs (DOCA) w.e.f. 1st April, 2016.
- The fund allowed the government agency National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India (Nafed) to purchase a food item for which the government foresaw a possibility of high inflation and then sell it at a reasonable rate when the prices go up.
- Nafed procured rabi onions from the open market in March-April of 2016-17 and sold them in July-October when onion prices shot up.
- Some states have used the Public Distribution System and ration shops to distribute certain food items, apart from wheat and rice, at a lower rate than the market.
- The Union government has also directly sold pulses and edible oils through Mother Dairy booths and outlets of government-owned retail stores.
What is the Price Stabilisation Fund?
- Under the PSF, government agencies can even purchase a food item at a price higher than the minimum support price (MSP), and the same can be sold with a reasonable markup or even at a subsidy if the market prices move up in the off-season.
- The PSF is utilized for granting interest free advance of working capital to Central Agencies, State/UT Governments/Agencies to undertake market intervention operations.
- Apart from domestic procurement from farmers/wholesale mandis, import may also be undertaken with support from the Fund.
- The Price Stabilization Fund will be managed centrally by a Price Stabilization Fund Management Committee (PSFMC) which will approve all proposals from State Governments and Central Agencies.
- The PSF will be maintained in a Central Corpus Fund account to be opened by Small Farmers Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC), which will act as Fund Manager.
Context Coal-fired power plants in India are spewing sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere way above the allowed limit. The biggest culprits are those built after January 1, 2017, which are also wayward in putting out nitrous oxides, data from the Central Electricity Authority (CEA).
This brings into question the issue of installing ‘flue gas desulphurisation’ (FGD) in coal-fired plants, for which thermal power companies have managed to secure repeated extensions from the initial 2017 deadline.
Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FED):
- Removal of Sulfur Dioxide is called as Flue-gas Desulphurization (FGD).
- It seeks to remove gaseous pollutants viz. SO2 from exhaust flue gases generated in furnaces, boilers, and other industrial processes due to thermal processing, treatment, and combustion.
- FGD systems may involve wet scrubbing or dry scrubbing.
- In wet FGD systems, flue gases are brought in contact with an absorbent, which can be either a liquid or a slurry of solid material. The sulfur dioxide dissolves in or reacts with the absorbent and becomes trapped in it.
- In dry FGD systems, the absorbent is dry pulverized lime or limestone; once absorption occurs, the solid particles are removed by means of baghouse filters.
Benefits of Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FED):
According to the Centre for Atmospheric Science, IIT Delhi, an FGD unit can remove anywhere between 50 and 99.8 per cent of SOx emissions, depending on the power plant’s vintage. CEA data shows that most of the plants with FGD have been able to keep SO2 emissions below the norm – only NTPC’s Dadri units 1, 3 and 4 – each of 210 MW capacity – are wayward.
India has 2,07,045 MW of coal and lignite-fired power plants, of which only 22 units with a total capacity of 9,280 MW – less than 5 per cent – have been fitted with FGD
Sulfur Dioxide Pollution
- According to a report by Greenpeace (an environmental Non-Governmental Organization), India is the largest emitter of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) in the world
- The primary reason for India’s high emission output is the expansion of coal-based electricity generation over the past decade.
- The largest source of SO2 in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities.
- Smaller sources of SO2 emissions include: industrial processes such as extracting metal from ore; natural sources such as volcanoes; and locomotives, ships and other vehicles and heavy equipment that burn fuel with a high sulfur content.
Impact: SO2 can affect both health and the environment.
- Sulphur dioxide is bad for health and the environment.
- Short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. People with asthma, particularly children, are sensitive to these effects of SO2.
- SO2 emissions that lead to high concentrations of SO2 in the air generally also lead to the formation of other sulfur oxides (SOx). SOx can react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form small particles. These particles contribute to particulate matter (PM) pollution.
- Small particles may penetrate deeply into the lungs and in sufficient quantities can contribute to health problems.
- At high concentrations, SO2 can harm trees by damaging foliage and stunting growth. When the gas mixes with falling raindrops, we get a shower of sulphuric acid.
Regulation of Sulphur/ Flue Gas Desulphurisation (FED):
In December 2015, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change stipulated SO2 emission norms for coal-based power plants, compliance with which is possible only with the installation of FGD.
- According to the Ministry of Power the implementation of the emission norms, requiring the installation ofFGD technology, got delayed due to various techno-economic constraints faced by thermal power plants and further affected by the impact of Covid -19 pandemic
- The government initially decided on phased implementation of FGDs with maximum timelines up to December 2022 but later granted an extension of the time limit twice for implementation of the new emission norms for SO2 parameters up to December 2024, December 2025 and December 2026 for different categories of plants, based on their location.
- In July 2022, the Centre for Atmospheric Science, IIT Delhi, recommended a “phased implementation” of FGDs across the country, the fifth phase ending in July 2034.
Central Electricity Authority
- The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) is a statutory organization constituted under Section 3 (1) of the repealed Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948 and continued under Section 70 of the Electricity Act, 2003.
- It was established as a part time body in 1951 and made a full time body in the year 1975. As per Section 70 (3) of the Electricity Act, 2003, the authority shall consist of not more than 14 members, including its chairperson of whom not more than eight shall be full time members to be appointed by the Central Government.
- The CEA is headed by a chairperson who, as the Chief Executive of the authority, oversees largely the development of power sector in the country.
- It advises the government on matters relating to the National Electricity Policy (NEP) and formulates short-term and perspective plans for the development of electricity systems.
- It is the designated authority for cross border trade of electricity.
- It also prescribes the standards on matters such as construction of electrical plants, electric lines and connectivity to the grid, safety and grid standards and installation and operation of meters.
- It is also responsible for concurrence of hydro power development schemes of central, state and private sectors for efficient development of river and its tributaries for power generation.
Section: Economic geography
- India’s Mines Ministry would look at the auction of select critical mineral blocks.
- Amendments to the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act allowed for private investments in select critical minerals, including lithium, the cornerstone for India’s switch to green mobility.
- The Mines Ministry also released a list of 30 key critical minerals, including 17 rare earth elements (REEs) and six platinum-group elements (PGE). These are classified as ‘critical’ because of their economic importance and limited availability in India.
- Critical minerals are elements that are the building blocks of essential modern-day technologies, and are at risk of supply chain disruptions.
- These minerals are now used everywhere from making mobile phones, computers to batteries, electric vehicles and green technologies like solar panels and wind turbines.
- Based on their individual needs and strategic considerations, different countries create their own lists.
- However, such lists mostly include graphite, lithium, cobalt, rare earths and silicon which is a key mineral for making computer chips, solar panels and batteries.
- Aerospace, communications and defence industries also rely on several such minerals as they are used in manufacturing fighter jets, drones, radio sets and other critical equipment.
- Government has released a list of 30 critical minerals for India. These minerals are Antimony, Beryllium, Bismuth, Cobalt, Copper, Gallium, Germanium, Graphite, Hafnium, Indium, Lithium, Molybdenum, Niobium, Nickel, PGE, Phosphorous, Potash, REE, Rhenium, Silicon, Strontium, Tantalum, Tellurium, Tin, Titanium, Tungsten, Vanadium, Zirconium, Selenium and Cadmium.
Rare earth Elements:
- These are a set of 17 chemical elements in the periodic table, specifically the 15 lanthanides plus scandium (Atomic Number 21) and Yttrium (Atomic Number 39).
- Lanthanide series comprises 15 metallic chemical elements with atomic numbers 57 through 71, from lanthanum through lutetium.
- Scandium and yttrium are considered rare-earth elements because they tend to occur in the same ore deposits as the lanthanides and exhibit similar chemical properties, but have different electronic and magnetic properties.
- Cerium (AN 58) is the most abundant rare earth metal.
- Their colour ranges from Shiny Silver to Iron Gray. They are soft, malleable, ductile and usually reactive, especially at elevated temperatures or when finely divided.
- Its application ranges from Civilian (smartphones, laptops, petroleum refining catalysts) to military including nuclear applications. Rare minerals that are essential to electric vehicles, wind turbines and drones.
- China has the largest reserve (37 percent), followed by Brazil and Vietnam (18 percent each), Russia (15 percent), and the remaining countries (12 percent). Deng Xiaoping said once, The Middle East has oil and China has rare earth.
- Why these elements called RARE?
- There is no shortage of rare earths. But their extraction is difficult (Requires high skill, Capital intensive, Environmental issues).
- Deposits of economic importance are located in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Tamil Nadu.
- Arunachal Pradesh accounts for 36% of the total resources which is followed by Jammu & Kashmir (29%), Jharkhand (9%) Madhya Pradesh (5%) Odisha (9%), and Tamil Nadu (4%). However, in terms of reserves, Tamil Nadu has the leading share of about 36% followed by Jharkhand (30%) and Odisha (33%) of the total reserves
- Mining can be started in Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar.
- Odisha was the leading producing State contributing 42% to the total output during 2020- 21, followed by Tamil Nadu.
- Active mining centres of graphite are in Palamu district in Jharkhand; Nawapara & Balangir districts in Odisha; and Madurai & Sivagangai districts in Tamil Nadu.
- Graphite is used across industries covering categories like writing instruments, lubricants, refractory, batteries, nuclear reactors and graphene sheets.
- China is the world’s largest producer and exporter of graphite minerals.
- Pentlaudite (a mixture of nickel, iron, and sulfur) is Nickel Ore.
- Nickel is a hard, silvery-white metal. Nickel does not occur naturally. It is found in association with copper, uranium and other metals. It is an important alloying element.
- Mining in Odisha.
- Distribution in India:
- The Sukinda valley in the Jajapur district of Odisha has significant occurrences of nickeliferous limonite. It appears as oxide here.
- Nickel occurs in sulphide form alongside copper mineralization in Jharkhand’s east Sighbhum district.
- Furthermore, it has been discovered in association with uranium deposits in Jaduguda, Jharkhand. Nickel is also found in significant quantities in Karnataka, Kerala, and Rajasthan.
- Global distribution:
- Indonesia is the world’s largest producer, followed by the Philippines and Russia. Australia has the highest reserves, followed by Brazil, Russia, and Cuba.
- Nickel mineral is currently not mined in India.
- Properties: High tensile strength, magnetic properties, good thermal and electric conductivity, not highly reactive, but can react with strong acids and oxidizing agents.
- It is used as a coating item to slow down corrosion. It is used for a variety of purposes, including the production of coins, nickel-cadmium and nickel-metal hydride batteries; bulletproof jackets, aircraft and internal combustion engine, and also as a catalyst for certain chemical reactions.
- Chromite (Cr) is the only commercially viable chromium ore, also known chemically as iron chromium oxide.
- Industrial production of chromium proceeds from chromite ore (mostly, FeCr2O4) to produce ferro-chromium, an iron-chromium alloy. Ferro-chromium is then used to produce alloys such as stainless steel.
- Chromium increases the strength, hardness, and toughness of its alloys.
- Distribution in India:
- Odisha has more than 93 per cent of the resources (Sukinda valley in Cuttack and Jajapur). Manipur, Nagaland, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh have minor deposits. Odisha is the sole producer of Chromite Ore (around 99 per cent). More than 85% of the ore is of high quality (Keonjhar, Cuttack, and Dhenkanal).
- Karnataka is the state with the second-highest production. The main production comes from the districts of Mysore and Hassan. Other producers include Andhra Pradesh’s Krishna district and Manipur’s Tamenglong and Ukhrul districts.
- Global distribution:
- South Africa, Kazakhstan, India, Albania, and Turkey are among the countries that mine it.
- Uses of chromium: production of stainless steel, electroplating to provide a hard, durable, and corrosion-resistant coating, alloying element, leather tanning process, used as pigments in paint, ceramics and plastic industries, and used to produce refractory materials, which are used in high-temperature applications such as furnace linings.
- It is a refractory metal used principally as an alloying agent in steel, cast iron & superalloys to enhance strength and resistivity to wear & corrosion.
- It does not occur in nature in a free state. Usually, it is found in a chemically combined form with other elements. Molybdenite (MoS2) is the principal ore of molybdenum.
- About two-thirds of global molybdenum production is as a by-product of copper mining and only about one-third is obtained from primary molybdenum mines.
- Distribution In India:
- By-product concentrates of molybdenum are produced intermittently from the uranium ore of the Jaduguda mine belonging to Uranium Corporation of India Ltd (UCIL) in Jharkhand. The internal demand for molybdenum and its products is met mostly through imports.
- Rakha copper deposit in Jharkhand, Malanjkhand copper deposit in Madhya Pradesh, Dariba-Rajpura lead-zinc deposit in Rajasthan, Multimetal deposit at Umpyrtha in Khasi and Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya, Karadikuttam in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu,
- Molybdenum block auctions are likely in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
- Most molybdenum is used to make alloys. It is used in steel alloys to increase strength, hardness, electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion and wear.
- Global distribution:
- The world reserves of molybdenum are at 18 million tonnes, located mainly in China (46%), Peru (16%), USA(15%), Chile (8%) and Russia (6%).
- Use of molybdenum:
- It is a versatile alloying agent for alloy steel, cast iron, nickel, cobalt and titanium alloys.
- The ‘moly steel’ alloys are also used in parts of engines. Estimate global use of the metal is around 35 per cent in structural steel, 25 per cent in stainless steel, 14 per cent in chemicals, 9 per cent in tool and high-speed steel, and 6 per cent in cast iron, among others.
- Used as refractory metal, lubricants, catalysts, pigments, as an additive in oil and greases, in aerosol sprays, in reducing surface friction and as an antiwear and antifriction agent in plastics, critical role in energy industries and green technologies.
- It’s a silvery-white metal with a delicate texture, the lightest metal and the lightest solid element under normal circumstances.
- It is both an alkali and a rare metal.
- Global production:
- Australia, Chile, China and Argentina are the world’s top four lithium-producing countries.
- Australia is by far the world’s top producer of lithium, with an output of 42,000 tonnes in 2019.
- Distribution in India:
- According to the Indian Mines Ministry, the government agencies made the small discovery of lithium resources at a site in Mandya, Karnataka. It is the country’s first lithium reserve.
- Now, Lithium-influenced resources have been found in the Reasi District of Jammu & Kashmir (UT).
- Other states: Rajasthan and Jharkhand.
Source of this article: TH Businessline
Section: Physical geography
- A powerful 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the worst since 2015, struck Nepal’s remote mountainous region.
- According to the National Earthquake Monitoring and Research Centre, the epicentre of the earthquake was in Jajarkot district, about 500km west of Kathmandu.
- Areas affected: Jajarkot and Rukum districts of Nepal, New Delhi and neighbouring areas of India.
- Earthquakes are natural geological phenomena that occur when there is a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust.
- Epicenter: The epicentre is the point on the Earth’s surface directly above the underground point where an earthquake originates. It is the location where the seismic waves, generated by the release of energy during the earthquake, first reach the Earth’s surface.
- Hypocenter (or Focus): The hypocenter, also known as the focus, is the actual point within the Earth where the seismic energy is released during an earthquake. It is underground, and its depth can vary. Earthquakes can have shallow hypocenters, which are closer to the Earth’s surface, or deep hypocenters, which are further below the surface.
Why is Nepal prone to so many earthquakes?
- Nepal lies in one of the most active tectonic zones (seismic zone IV and V) of the world, making the country extremely vulnerable to earthquakes.
- Large tectonic plates make up the crust of the Earth. These land masses, which contain entire continents, are in motion and colliding with one another all the time.
- Earthquakes are common in Nepal which is situated on the ridge where the Tibetan and Indian tectonic plates meet and advance two meters closer to one another every century which results in pressure which is released in the form of earthquakes.
- A collision between the Indian and Tibetan plates has been going on underground for a long time which has accumulated tremendous energy due to which western Nepal is under the threat of bigger earthquakes.
- United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranks Nepal 11th on the list of the most vulnerable countries to earthquakes and Nepal’s capital Kathmandu is one of the top cities prone to earthquakes.
Context: NITI weighs discontinuing key water report launched 5 years ago
More about the news:
- Niti Aayog, the Indian government’s think tank, has decided to keep the ‘Composite Water Management Index’ (CWMI) reports for 2018-19 and 2019-20 for “internal use” instead of releasing them publicly.
- The CWMI reports, which evaluate states’ performance in water management based on 28 parameters, have previously been made public.
- This decision comes as the Union Ministry of Jal Shakti has not responded to Niti Aayog’s request regarding the “use and applicability” of the Index.
- The latest unreleased report states that water scarcity is a “national problem” in India, with Gujarat leading in performance, closely followed by Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh.
What is Composite Water Management Index (CWMI):
- NITI Aayog introduced the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) in 2018 to enhance water management in Indian states.
- The CWMI report is prepared in collaboration with three key ministries: Water Resources, Drinking Water & Sanitation, and Rural Development.
- The Objectives of the Index include fostering improvements in water resource management, providing an annual snapshot of water sector status across states and UTs, and measuring progress over time.
- The CWMI aims to promote evidence-based policy decisions for sustainable water management and encourages competitive and cooperative federalism.
- The Index comprises 9 themes (each having an attached weight) with 28 different indicators.
- For the CWMI, the reporting states were also divided into two special groups – Non-Himalayan states and North-Eastern and Himalayan states, to account for the different hydrological conditions across these groups
Subject: Science and Tech
Section: Awareness in IT
More about the news:
- Over the past decade, Europe has taken the lead in tech regulation, but the United States has made strides in AI regulation with a detailed executive order aiming to address AI threats and safety benchmarks, setting it up as a potential global AI regulation model.
- The US Executive Order on AI outlines regulations and safeguards for the most advanced AI technologies.
- The United States aims to lead in AI regulation, particularly focusing on AI safety and protecting the public from potential harm.
- The EU has made advances in tech regulation, including GDPR and sub-legislations – the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), but the US is now emerging as a leader in AI regulation.
- The executive order requires AI companies to conduct safety tests before launching new AI products and aims to limit threats such as deepfakes. It also calls for watermarks on AI-generated content to alert consumers.
- A key feature is the establishment of an AI safety institute to evaluate AI risks, echoing the UK’s plan to set up a United Kingdom Safety Institute.
- The US executive order sets standards for the use of AI in biotech and critical infrastructure and encourages private-sector adoption of best practices.
- The move aims to address concerns of generative AI, encompassing issues related to privacy, system bias, and intellectual property rights, which have prompted regulatory scrutiny.
- The US, EU, UK, and China each have distinct approaches to AI regulation, with the US now positioning itself as a significant player in defining AI regulation guidelines.
- Tech leaders, including Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak, have called for a pause in AI development, highlighting concerns about the potential existential risks posed by AI.
What is Bletchley Declaration:
- The declaration provides a comprehensive overview of the global consensus on both the potential benefits and risks associated with artificial intelligence.
- It underscores the importance of aligning AI systems with human intentions and encourages a deeper exploration of the full range of AI capabilities.
- The declaration acknowledges the potential for significant harm, including catastrophic consequences, arising from AI, whether these harms are intentional or unintentional.
- It places a strong emphasis on safeguarding human rights, ensuring transparency, explainability, fairness, accountability, regulation, safety, human oversight, ethical considerations, bias mitigation, privacy protection, and data security within AI development and deployment.
- The declaration reflects the intricate negotiations that took place among nations with differing interests and legal systems, including major players such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and China.
- It highlights the importance of involving civil society in addressing AI safety concerns, even though some civil society groups had voiced concerns about being excluded from the summit.
- The declaration also places a significant responsibility on companies developing cutting-edge AI systems to prioritize safety through thorough testing, evaluation, and the implementation of appropriate safety measures.
Why is this declaration significant:
- Twenty-nine countries such as the US, the UK, China, Australia, Brazil and India, along with the European Union have agreed to work together to prevent “catastrophic harm, either deliberate or unintentional” which may arise from artificially intelligent computer models and engines.
- The member countries include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Saudi, Arabia, Netherlands, Nigeria, The Philippines, the Republic of Korea, Rwanda, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, and the European Union
What was India stance:
- During the opening plenary session at Bletchley Park, Union Minister of State for IT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, emphasized the need to address the weaponization of social media.
- He also stressed the importance of ensuring the safety and trustworthiness of artificial intelligence (AI).
- The Minister’s statement at the summit signifies the highest-level endorsement of India’s shift from its previous stance of not contemplating legal interventions to regulate AI in the country.
- In April 2023, the Ministry of Electronics and IT had stated that it had no plans for enacting laws to oversee the AI sector.
Section: Places in news
More about the news:
- The Border Roads Organisation last month achieved a breakthrough in a vital tunnel along the 250-km long and strategically important National Highway 144A in Jammu and Kashmir.
- The tunnel forms part of the Rs 5,100-crore NH upgradation project under the Rs 80,068-crore Prime Minister’s Development Package announced in November 2015 as Reconstruction Plan for Jammu and Kashmir
What is NH 144A and when did it come into existence:
- It is a double-lane road which starts from Jammu and goes up to Rajouri and Poonch districts.
- It provides road connectivity to Akhnoor sub division and part of Reasi district.
- The double-lane road was given the status of national highway and named NH 144A by the central government in 2015
What is the significance of its upgradation:
- The National Highway 144A is undergoing an upgrade from two lanes to four lanes, with the aim of providing improved, rapid, and all-weather road connectivity to residents in the border districts of Rajouri, Poonch, and parts of Jammu and Reasi districts.
- This project is expected to boost socio-economic development in these areas and reduce travel time between Poonch-Rajouri and Jammu from 6-7 hours to 4.5 hours.
- Additionally, this strategically vital highway will facilitate the swift movement of defense vehicles along the Line of Control, enhancing connectivity during both peace and wartime.
- The need for this upgrade stemmed from the increased traffic and frequent accidents, as well as the long-standing demand from the local population for road widening.
Who is executing this project
- The four-laning project of the highway from Jammu to Akhnoor is managed by the National Highway and Infrastructure Development Corporation Limited (NHIDCL), while the section from Akhnoor to Poonch is under the responsibility of the Border Roads Organisation as part of Project Sampark.
- The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has set a target of March 2025 for completing the four-laning of the highway between Jammu and Akhnoor, including the construction of a 4.6-kilometer flyover from Jammu city’s Canal Head to Muthi.
- Despite this timeline, most of the work on this stretch has already been finished, and the flyover is open for vehicular traffic.
What about the Akhnoor to Poonch stretch:
- The road-widening project from Akhnoor to Poonch is managed by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) under Project Sampark. The challenging terrain of the Pir Panjal mountainous region will include four tunnels to reduce the road length by 32 kilometers and travel time to 4.5 hours.
- The project is divided into eight packages:
- Package 1: Stretch from Akhnoor to Chowki Choura, including the 260-meter Kandi tunnel.
- Package 2: From Chowki Choura to Bhamla with a 2.78 km tunnel through Sungal village, expected to be completed by August 2024.
- Package 3: Stretch from Bhamla to Bakhar with a 4-kilometer bypass.
- Package 4: From Bakhar to Nowshera, passing through Thandapani, Siot, and Lamberi.
- Package 5: From Nowshera to Kallar, including the construction of a new bridge and a 0.700 km tunnel bypassing the existing Tain bridge.
- Package 6: From Kallar to Dhari Dhara near Manjakote, including a 2.7 km bypass.
- Package 7: From Dhari Dhara to Bhatadhurian, with a 15-kilometer new road and a 1.1-kilometer tunnel at Bhatadhurian.
- Package 8: Stretch from Bhatadurian to Poonch Police Lines via various locations.
- While most of the road stretch from Akhnoor to Rajouri has been completed, the road-widening work in Poonch district has not yet commenced
Some facts about the Border Roads Organisation (BRO)
- It was formed in 1960 by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for coordinating the speedy development of an adequate road communication network of roads in the North and the North-Eastern border regions of the country.
- It works under the administrative control of the Ministry of Defence.
- The Motto of BRO is “Shramena Sarvam Sadhyam” (everything is achievable through hard work).
- It is staffed by officers and troops drawn from the Indian Army’s Corps of Engineers, Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Army Service Corps, Military Police and army personnel on extra regimental employment.
- Engineering Service and personnel from the General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) form the parent cadre of the Border Roads Organisation.
- The BRO also undertakes projects in India and friendly countries.
- In order to ensure coordination and expeditious execution of projects, the Government of India set up the Border Roads Development Board (BRDB) with the Prime Minister as Chairman of the Board and Defence Minister as Deputy Chairman.
Subject: Science and Tech
Context: India has kickstarted the process of bringing in a National Security Strategy.
More about the news:
- India has initiated the development of a National Security Strategy, marking a significant step in the country’s military and strategic planning.
- The National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) is currently gathering inputs from various central ministries and departments to compile the initial draft of the strategy.
- The timeline for the completion of the strategy remains uncertain, although numerous ministries have already submitted their inputs to the NSCS on various aspects of the comprehensive document.
- This marks the first instance of India formulating a National Security Strategy, reflecting the nation’s evolving approach to security and defense planning.
What is a National Security Strategy:
- A National Security Strategy document delineates a nation’s security goals and the strategies necessary to accomplish them.
- It delineates both conventional and non-traditional threats and opportunities while instilling accountability within the agencies responsible for implementing these actions.
- In essence, a national security strategy serves as a guiding framework for the military and vital defense and security reforms, offering a comprehensive perspective on national security, the challenges it faces, and the strategies to tackle them.
Which countries have a National Security Strategy:
- Many developed countries maintain a National Security Strategy, periodically updated to outline security objectives and strategies. Notable examples include the US, UK, Russia, China (Comprehensive National Security), and Pakistan (National Security Policy 2022-2026), each emphasizing their national security priorities and objectives.
What is India’s need for a National Security Strategy:
- The complexity of modern security threats and geopolitical uncertainties have prompted the need for this strategy.
- Prominent figures, including former Army Chief General NC Vij, have emphasized the necessity of revising existing military directives and initiating major military reforms through the framework of a national security strategy.
- It has been proposed that a white paper on defense should be produced to elucidate India’s stance on significant defense matters while the national security strategy is being developed.
- This strategy is considered crucial for guiding military reforms in a coherent manner.
Why did India never have a national security strategy:
- Three previous efforts to formulate a national security strategy in India were thwarted, and political hesitancy appeared to be the main impediment.
- Security experts suggest that the government may have been apprehensive about the increased accountability it would impose on defense management.
- Various reasons have been proposed by strategic experts for India’s failure to develop a national security strategy in the past, including a lack of coordinated, whole-of-government collaboration, and potential reluctance on the government’s part to disclose its national security goals to the public.
What is the National Security Council (NSC):
- The National Security Council (NSC) of India, established in 1998, plays a crucial role by offering guidance to the Prime Minister’s Office regarding national security and strategic concerns.
- India’s national security management system operates within a three-tiered structure, with the NSC at its apex.
- This three-tiered system encompasses the Strategic Policy Group, the National Security Advisory Board, and a secretariat supplied by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC).
- At the helm of the NSC is the National Security Advisor (NSA), who not only presides over the council but also serves as the principal advisor to the Prime Minister.
- The NSA’s dual role involves providing essential advice to the Prime Minister on a wide range of national security issues.
What is the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS)
- NSCS is the apex agency looking into the political, economic, energy and strategic security concerns of India.
- The NSCS has four verticals:
- Strategic Planning;
- Internal Affairs;
- Intelligence and Technology;
- National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) works under NSCS and coordinates with different agencies at the national level for cyber security matters.
Subject : History
Section: Art and Culture
Context; Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena unveiled six renovations nestled inside the park, one among which was the tomb of Balban.
More about the news:
- The Tomb of Balban, situated inside Mehrauli’s Archaeological Park, dates back to the 13th century and has undergone various transformations.
- Ghiyas-ud-din Balban, a Sultan of the Mamluk dynasty, ruled Delhi from 1266 to 1287. He was initially sold as a slave to Sultan Iltumish in 1232 and later released.
- The tomb is architecturally significant for being one of the first structures to feature true arch construction in India, with evenly distributed weight through the placement of the keystone in the center.
- It is referred to as Dar-ul-Amaan (Haven of Safety), and the building houses the tomb of Ghiyas-ud-din Balban.
- The structure once served as a sanctuary for debtors, fugitives, and even murderers, offering refuge from debt collectors and pursuers. The Sultan would compensate the victims’ families in murder cases.
- While the tomb has been historically significant, it is currently locked and not accessible to the public.
Some facts about Balban:
- Balban was the ninth Sultan of Delhi from the Slave Dynasty. He ruled from 1266 to 1287 AD.
- His original name was Baha Ud Din
- He was known for his policy of “blood and iron”
- He was the first Sultan of Delhi to introduce the Persian festival of Navroz in India.
Subject : Schemes
Section : Housing
The Andhra Pradesh government’s decision to add the ruling YSR Congress Party’s imprint to the Union government’s flagship rural housing scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana Gramin (PMAYG) and rebrand it to Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana YSR are proving costly for the State.
About the PMAY-G:
- Although Indira Awas Yojana (started in 1996) addressed the housing needs in the rural areas, certain gaps were identified (lack of transparency in selection of beneficiaries, low quality houses, weak monitoring, etc) by CAG in 2014.
- To address these gaps in the rural housing program and in view of the Government’s commitment to providing “Housing for All’’ by 2022, the IAY has been restructured into PMAY-G w.e.f. 1st April 2016.
- PMAY-G aims at providing a pucca house, with basic amenities, to all houseless householders and those households living in kutcha and dilapidated houses, by 2022.
- The immediate objective is to cover 1.00 crore households living in kutcha houses/ dilapidated houses in three years from 2016-17 to 2018- 19.
- According to data available, of the Centre’s allocation of 2.93 crore houses till July 17 2023, 2.90 crore have been sanctioned, of which 2.31 crore have been completed.
Salient Features of the PMAY-G:
- The minimum size of the house has been increased to 25 sq.mt (from 20 sq.mt) with a hygienic cooking space.
- The unit assistance has been increased from Rs 70,000 to Rs 1.20 lakh in plain (to be shared in the ratio 60:40 between Central and State Government) and from Rs 75,000 to Rs 1.30 lakh for North Eastern and the Himalayan States (90:10).
- The assistance for construction of toilets shall be leveraged through convergence with SBM-G, MGNREGS or any other dedicated source of funding.
- For convergence for piped drinking water, electricity connection, LPG gas connection, etc., different government programmes are also to be attempted.
What makes PMAY-G unique?
- PMAY-G instead of selecting the beneficiary from among the BPL households, selects them using housing deprivation parameters in the SECC 2011 which is to be verified by the Gram Sabhas.
- Towards better quality of construction, setting up of a Nation Technical Support Agency (NTSA) at the national level is envisaged.
- Also, a pan-India training and certification programme of Masons has been launched in the States/UTs.
- In PMAY-G, programme implementation and monitoring are to be carried out through an end-to-end e-Governance model – using AwaasSoft and Awaas App.
- Also, the programme implementation is to be monitored through community participation (Social Audit), Member of Parliament (DISHA Committee), etc.
Government schemes classification:
- Central Sector Schemes and Centrally Sponsored Scheme
- Central sector schemes are 100% funded by the Union government and implemented by the Central Government machinery.
- Central sector schemes are mainly formulated on subjects from the Union List. They account for 11% of the Central Government’s expenditure.
- In Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) a certain percentage of the funding is borne by the States and the implementation is by the State Governments.
- Centrally Sponsored Schemes are formulated in subjects from the State List to encourage States to prioritize in areas that require more attention. They account for 10% of Central governments expenditure.
- Usually Centrally Sponsored Schemes are revisited at the end of each five year plan period.
- However, after the discontinuation of Five Year Plan, it has been decided that sunset date will be coterminous with Finance Commission Cycles.
Subject : Geography
Section : Economic geography
Farmers in Afghanistan have lost an income of more than $1 billion from the sale of opium after the Taliban banned poppy cultivation, a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Sunday (Nov 5).
More about the News:
- As per the report, opium cultivation fell throughout Afghanistan to just 10,800 hectares this year from 233,000 hectares in 2022, slashing supply by 95% to 333 tons.
- The UNODC said that this sharp decline was putting pressure on farmers, and it could have major consequences for the economy in a country where around two-thirds of the population is already in need of humanitarian aid.
- Before the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in 2021, the country had been the biggest opium producer globally and a major source of heroin in Europe and Asia. Taliban imposed a ban on opium poppy cultivation in April last year, dealing a heavy blow to hundreds of thousands of farmers and day laborers who relied on proceeds from the crop to survive.
- In its report, the UNODC also said that a huge contraction in the supply of opium from Afghanistan could eventually lead to a drop in its use internationally, but it also risked escalating the global use of alternatives such as fentanyl or synthetic opioids.
- Another report from the UN drugs agency in September said that Afghanistan was the world’s fastest-growing maker of methamphetamine, with seizures of the synthetic drug increasing as poppy cultivation shrank.
About United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):
- UNODC is a global leader in the fight against illicit drugs and international crime, in addition to being responsible for implementing the United Nations lead programme on terrorism.
- It was established in 1997 through a merger between the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the Centre for International Crime Prevention.
Headquarters: Vienna, Austria
- UNODC works to educate people throughout the world about the dangers of drug abuse.
- Strengthen international action against illicit drug production and trafficking and drug-related crime.
- It also works to improve crime prevention and assist with criminal justice reform in order to strengthen the rule of law, promote stable and viable criminal justice systems and combat the growing threats of transnational organized crime and corruption.
- In 2002, the UN General Assembly approved an expanded programme of activities for the Terrorism Prevention Branch of UNODC. The activities focus on providing assistance to States, on request, in ratifying and implementing the eighteen universal legal instruments against terrorism.
- UNODC has 20 field offices covering over 150 countries.
- By working directly with Governments and non-governmental organizations, UNODC field staff develop and implement drug control and crime prevention programmes tailored to countries’ particular needs.
Funding: UNODC relies on voluntary contributions, mainly from governments, to carry out the majority of our work.
Subject : Science and Tech
- The dengue virus and its equally infamous cousin, the Zika virus, together infect up to around 400 million people every year. The Zika virus and genomic studies of it have opened fascinating windows into our knowledge of the infectious disease and its relevance in the context of emerging outbreaks.
The Zika virus
- The Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus.
- Most infections in humans are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, including fever, rash, and joint pain.
- The outbreak was characterized by an alarming increase in the number of microcephaly cases in newborns, prompting the World Health Organisation to declare it a public health emergency of international concern in early 2016.
- From Africa, the Zika virus has spread to Asia, Pacific islands, to the Americas, and beyond. The disease has of late been in the headlines with multiple outbreaks in the last few years in multiple Indian states, including, more recently, Kerala and Karnataka.
- A significant number of insights have come from the Zika virus’s genome.
- Researchers sequenced the complete genome first in 2007. It has more than 10,000 bases of single-stranded RNA.
- The genome is also peculiar: it encodes for a large polyprotein, which is further cleaved into capsid, membrane precursor (prM), envelope, and seven non-structural proteins.
- The diagnosis of a Zika virus infection is mostly through genetic testing.
- An antibody-based test would be complicated because antibodies produced by the infection can cross-react with those of the dengue (DENV), yellow fever, and West Nile viruses.
Epidemiology and surveillance
- The Zika virus has an RNA genome, and thus a very high potential to accumulate mutations. The tools, techniques, and modalities we’ve developed to track the evolution, genetic epidemiology, and molecular underpinnings of transmission and pathogenesis could be extended to Zika virus outbreaks as well.
- Genomic studies have suggested that the Zika virus has two lineages: African and Asian.
Zika and microcephaly
- The small heads of children born to infected mothers has been one of the more alarming complications of a Zika virus infection.
- Earlier, based on studies with mice, researchers had suggested that a mutation in one of the precursor membrane proteins, called prM, of the Zika virus was associated with microcephaly.
- However, while the large outbreak in South America was caused by lineages of the virus with the specific mutation, only a subset of the relevant pregnancies resulted in microcephaly.
- The Zika-microcephaly hypothesis also suffered when researchers recorded microcephaly in Thailand following infections of the Asian lineage of the Zika virus that lacked the mutation.
- Foetal Zika virus infections were associated with heavy viral loads during pregnancy, and the viral load strongly influenced foetal growth.
- Taken together, the findings underscore the importance of the viral load and DENV infections for the occurrence of microcephaly.
Making it attractive
- In a recent study in Cell that infections of two viruses in primates encourage specific microbes to grow on the skin by suppressing an antimicrobial peptide, RELM, on the skin.
- These microbes produce acetophenones, which are volatile molecules that could provide a chemical cue to mosquitoes, attracting them towards the individual and supporting forward transmission of the viruses.
- The researchers also reported that administering isotretinoin could upregulate RELM and reverse this phenomenon.
- Zika virus and DENV interactions have also been an interesting area of research.
- A significant body of evidence suggests that a Zika virus infection can significantly increase the risk for severe dengue.
- As climate change helps drive the spread of vector borne diseases, and global warming brings environmental conditions that favour them to new places, our genomic technologies and such deep insights into the molecular pathogenesis of these viruses will be an important guiding light.
Subject : Science and Tech
- Wolbachia is a genus of bacteria that has evolved complex relationships with the many insects that can host it.
- It is named for the American pathologist Simeon Burt Wolbach, who identified it along with Marshall Hertig in 1924.
- In 1971, researchers discovered that when male Culex mosquitoes infected by Wolbachia bacteria fertilised healthy eggs from a female, the eggs died.
- The bacteria modified the male’s sperm cells in a way that only the bacteria could reverse. So, if the female mosquito was uninfected, her egg cells would be damaged.
- But if the female was infected by Wolbachia, the eggs would be viable if the male was uninfected or infected by the same strain of Wolbachia.
- This means infected female mosquitoes gain a reproductive advantage over time as the amount of Wolbachia in the population increases.
- Wolbachia can also reduce the rate at which chikungunya and yellow fever viruses multiply in infected mosquitoes.
- Scientists have also found that some Wolbachia species can strongly protect some mosquito species against the malaria parasite. So, they are currently studying a way to have the right strain of Wolbachia rapidly spread in a particular mosquito population, in the right environmental conditions, such that the bacteria can suppress malaria transmission.
- If this is achieved, it will be a significant weapon in our millennia long fight against mosquito borne diseases.
How mosquitoes spread disease?
- Mosquitoes pick up viruses by biting infected people. When they bite again, they can transmit the virus to the next person. This is how mosquito-borne diseases spread.
- Mosquitoes do not naturally carry viruses – they can only get them from infected people.
- Since only female mosquitoes bite humans, only female mosquitoes can transmit viruses.
- The Aedes aegypti mosquito is the main transmitter of dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever viruses.
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes originated in Africa, but they have spread through tropical and subtropical regions around the world.
- Aedes aegypti mosquitoes first spread outside Africa during the slave trade between the 15th and 19th centuries. They also spread through trade with Asia during the 18th and 19th centuries, and then again following troop movements in World War II.
What is Wolbachia?
- Wolbachia are extremely common bacteria that occur naturally in 50 per cent of insect species, including some mosquitoes, fruit flies, moths, dragonflies and butterflies.
- Wolbachia is safe for humans and the environment. Independent risk analyses indicate that the release of Wolbachia mosquitoes poses negligible risk to humans and the environment.
- Wolbachia lives inside insect cells and is passed from one generation to the next through an insect’s eggs. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes don’t normally carry Wolbachia, however many other mosquitoes do.
How our Wolbachia method works
It was discovered that when Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry Wolbachia, the bacteria compete with viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever.
This makes it harder for viruses to reproduce inside the mosquitoes. And the mosquitoes are much less likely to spread viruses from person to person.
This means that when Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry natural Wolbachia bacteria, the transmission of viruses like dengue, Zika, chikungunya and yellow fever is reduced.
So, at the World Mosquito Program, we breed Wolbachia mosquitoes. Then, in partnership with local communities, we release them into areas affected by mosquito-borne diseases.
Which means less risk of disease in communities where Wolbachia is established in the local mosquito population.
Why this method is unique and effective?
- Unlike most other techniques that aim to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, our Wolbachia method is natural and self-sustaining.
- This method does not suppress mosquito populations or involve genetic modification (GM), as the genetic material of the mosquito is not altered.
World Mosquito Program (WMP)
It is a not-for-profit group of companies owned by Monash University that works to protect the global community from mosquito-borne diseases such as dengue, Zika, yellow fever and chikungunya.
Since releasing the first Wolbachia mosquitoes in 2011, evidence from international pilot studies shows that we can use Wolbachia more broadly to decrease the risk of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes transmitting viruses. Multiple trials in various locations demonstrate that our method is a safe and effective way to help prevent the spread of diseases across entire cities and regions.
We continue to rapidly expand our operations by building partnerships with local governments and communities around the world who are embracing our Wolbachia method.