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Daily Current Affairs 09.07.2020 (United Nations, Facebook, Stars, WHO)

Daily Current Affairs 09.07.2020 (United Nations, Facebook, Stars, WHO)

1. Trump starts withdrawal of U.S. from WHO

Washington

  • President Donald Trump on Tuesday formally started the withdrawal of the U.S. from the World Health Organization (WHO), making good on threats to deprive the UN body of its top funding source over its response to the coronavirus.
  • Public health advocates and Mr. Trump’s political opponents voiced outrage at the exit from the Geneva-based body, which leads the global fight on maladies from polio to COVID-19. After threatening to suspend the $400 million in annual U.S. contributions and then announcing a withdrawal, the Trump administration formally sent a notice to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, a State Department spokesperson said. The withdrawal is effective in one year — July 6, 2021.
  • Joe Biden, Mr. Trump’s presumptive Democratic opponent in the November elections, vowed he would end the pullout if he won.
  • WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus responded to the news with a one-word tweet — “Together!” — as he linked to a discussion by U.S. health experts on how the move could impede efforts to prevent future pandemics.
World Health Organization (WHO) The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is a member of the United Nations Development Group. Its predecessor, the Health Organization, was an agency of the League of Nations. UN Economic and Social Council organised an international conference to counter formation of a single health institution which finally adopted the Constitution of WHO on 22 July, 1946. The WHO came into existence on 7th April, 1948. Functions of World Health Organisation (WHO) • The objective is the attainment of the highest possible level of health for all the people. • It establishes and maintains collaboration with the UN specialised agencies, governmental health administration, professional and other groups related with the health. • Assist governments to strengthen their public health services. • To stimulate and advance work to eradicate diseases. • To promote maternal and child health. • To ensure mental health, medical research and prevention of accidents. • To improve standards of training and teaching for study in the member health professions. • To improve nutrition, sanitation, working conditions and other aspects of environmental health. • Empowered to propose conventions, agreements and regulations and make  recommendations about international health matters. • Empowered to revise the international nomenclature of diseases, cause of death and public health services. • WHO can also develop, establish and promote inter- national standards relating food, biological, pharmaceutical and similar substances.

2. Chinese troops move out of PP15 area in eastern Ladakh

Consul General acknowledges casualties on their side

NEW DELHI

  • Chinese troops have fully moved out of the Patrolling Point (PP) 15 of the Hot Springs area in eastern Ladakh as part of the disengagement underway to reduce tensions on the border, a defence source said on Wednesday.
  • Separately, on Tuesday, Chinese Consul General in Mumbai Tang Guocai acknowledged Chinese casualties, without revealing any numbers, during the Galwan clash on June 15, which resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers.
  • “At PP15, they have fully gone back. The disengagement is complete there. At PP17, the pullback is underway. It is expected to be over by Thursday or Friday,” the defence source stated.
  • At the Finger 4 area of Pangong Tso, some more people and vehicles have gone back but there is no pull back as yet, the source stated. A complete disengagement at Pangong Tso is expected to take time.

Buffer zone

  • On the buffer zone that is being created, the source stated that it was not a buffer zone as being described, but it was decided only to prevent Galwan-like clashes during the disengagement process in future. “Given the incident last time during disengagement, it was decided during the Corps Commanders talks that in the intervening period [of disengagement], there should be no one in between [at the stand-off sites],” the source said, adding that it is purely temporary.
Description: Chinese troops disengage from LAC | LAC standoff: Chinese ...

3. The social contract needs to be rewritten

The pandemic crisis can be overcome only when a state is sensitive, has decentralised steps and ensures empowerment

  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of many and its catastrophic impact goes far beyond the disease itself. Governments across the world have dealt with the problem in different ways. We do not intend to criticise the lockdown or any governmental actions or inactions in this piece. Posterity will judge how good or how bad any government performed in 2020 on this count.

Finding cause

  • The world does not seem to have answers to many of the problems thrown up by the epidemic, especially those faced by the poorest of the poor. No doubt, some small countries have claimed victory in containing the impact of the disease, but their claim appears to be hollow and even myopic; the fact is that these countries are affluent, and have sealed their boundaries.
  • So, is the pandemic’s impact the result of the failure of individual governments? Or is it due to the failure of the bipolar ruler-and-ruled dynamic of governance structures across the world?
  • There is a view that mankind’s ancestors, in the course of evolution, formed the concept of social groups and resultant rules they would abide by. This is the most rudimentary form of what is known as the ‘social contract theory’. When monarchies and empires prevailed, it was easy to understand a social contract — to obey an identifiable sovereign, who in turn was deemed to be god’s representative on earth.
  • But democratically elected governments have found it more difficult to derive the same legitimacy. With the growth of fundamental freedoms, such as those of speech and expression, unquestioning obedience to governmental authority began to fade. Unquestioned obedience is the holy grail of every autocrat. Some governments yearn for it. Modern society and modern governments also use the social contract theory to claim legitimacy for their actions, but rely more on the theory as expounded by Hobbes and Rousseau. While Hobbes believed that man, in Nature, was “solitary, nasty and brutish”, for Rousseau, man, in Nature was “born free”.
  • However, both agreed that the social contract comprises two distinct agreements; first, people agreed to establish society by collectively and reciprocally renouncing the rights they had against one another in unbridled nature and second, they agreed to confer upon one (or more) among them, the authority and power to enforce the initial contract. Thus, the social contract comprises people agreeing to live as one under common laws and in enforcing those common laws justly. Modern day governments take this further. Their fundamental credo is that society is best-served if a government or other type of institution takes on executive or sovereign power, with the consent of the people.

Consolidating power

  • We have seen governments go still further and use the power democratically invested in them to decide what is in the best interest of the people. Thus, there is a bending of individual free will towards the collective will. Ironically most such leaders constantly invoke “the will of the people” when consolidating executive power. So, the social contract is being used by modern governments to justify greater aggrandisement of power in the hands of the sovereign, under the garb of “public good”. In fact, if the world events that occurred in 2018-19 were to be examined later by future historians, they would be excused for having an image that people across the world had voluntarily surrendered their individual rights to their governments, who exercised these powers with discipline and benevolence.

The case of two Indias

  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the falsity of this image. For example, access to information about this pandemic has not been equal. The access to resources to avoid the disease has not been equal. And, of course, access to treatment has not been equal.
  • There are two Indias. The first is an India that observes social distancing, buys its groceries and provisions by observing all precautions and largely obeys governmental directives about COVID-19 prevention. The second is an India that crowds railway terminals to travel long distances, sometimes for days, to get back to native towns, and when that fails, decides to resort to the drastic step of even walking those hundreds of kilometres, defying all governmental directives. It is for the second India that the impact of COVID-19 has hit hardest and the impact has nearly nothing to do with the disease.
  • “Social distancing” was a stirring phrase and call that those of us who are privileged responded to with gusto. We wore our face masks and went about our actions, taking the changed world in our stride.
  • But there were the others: lakhs of Indians less privileged and living cheek by jowl in hovels and slums, for whom the mandated distance of separation of “6 feet” was and still is an impossibility; an abstract concept.
  • It is often said that “we are all in this together”. But hardly so. We are not sharing the brunt of the pandemic with the poorest of India, the voiceless millions. Professor H.L.A. Hart once said, “freedom (the absence of coercion) can be valueless to those victims of unrestricted competition too poor to make use of it; so it will be pedantic to point out to them that though starving they are free”.
  • The pandemic-caused crisis has shone a light on how governmental methods to deal with a crisis largely come to the aid of only those with a voice. All societies have some measure of inequality. However, in deeply unequal societies (where the Gini Coefficient exceeds 0.4, for instance) different strata of society will have very different needs to deal with a crisis of this nature. We have seen societies with lower Gini Coefficients deal with the crisis far better, because a uniform approach works perfectly when society is perfectly equal.

For those in governance

  • In moments of crisis, people look to the state for guidance and taking them to safety. This has led to some sections of society seeking a strong response from a strong leader. Unfortunately, when the source of power in an unequal society is centralised, the response to the crisis will result in unequal relief to different strata of society. The more unequal the society, the more decentralised the response should be.
  • The social contract which imbues a centralised sovereign with overreaching powers has clearly failed on this occasion, and will continue to fail every time a similar challenge is posed. The centralised sovereign will work well against a mighty external aggressor, but not against a microscopic pathogen.
  • What is required is not just a decentralised approach but also a state which is sensitive and responds not only to the needs of those who cry out for help but also meets the requirements of those who are voiceless. Thomas Hobbes described the mighty state as a “Leviathan” which would rule by the will of the majority. He argued that once a ruler is chosen, citizens lose all rights except those the ruler may find it expedient to grant. While no elected government would publicly espouse such a position, it is the unwritten premise underlying every rule and diktat which is issued.
  • As seen above, a Leviathan has its uses, as for example, in times of war or in a fight against terrorism. The novel coronavirus cannot be defeated by a Leviathan. COVID-19 can only be defeated by an empowered populace. The social contract requires to be rewritten. It does not require anything drastic such as a revolution or anarchy. Rather, it only needs fundamental introspection and rethinking by the governing classes including bureaucrats.
  • Srinath Sridevan and Aadil Currimbhoy are advocates practising at the Madras High Court, and work with HSB Partners
Description: How an old crisis is haunting India again amid the COVID-19 ...

4. UN makes public third communication on J&K

Raises human rights violations, minority issues

Srinagar

  • United Nations Special Rapporteurs have made public their third communication forwarded to India since the August 5, 2019, decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, expressing “grave concern over alleged excessive use of force, ill-treatment during arrests and detentions”.
  • Four rapporteurs had forwarded a joint communication to India on May 4, 2020 — on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions; on minority issues; and on freedom of religion or belief — and made it public recently, after 60 days of response time.
  • “We would like to bring to the attention of Your Excellency’s Government information we have received concerning the continued deterioration of human rights conditions in J&K following severe restrictions imposed after August 5, 2019, in particular, citing arbitrary detentions, violations to the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and rights of persons belonging to minorities,” it reads. The first communication was forwarded on August 16, 2019, on “restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly”. The second was communicated on February 27, 2020, on alleged “mass crackdown targeting those expressing dissent against the decision taken”.
  • “We regret that no response has been received to either communication, in particular, the former.,” it added.
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UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) It was established in January 1949.After the first war in Kashmir (1947-1948), India approached the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to bring the conflict in Kashmir to the notice of Security Council members.In January 1948, the UNSC adopted Resolution 39, establishing the three-member United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to investigate and mediate the dispute.In April 1948, by its Resolution 47, the UNCIP was reconstituted as UNMOGIP.   United Nations Security Council Resolution 47 It is concerned with the resolution of the Kashmir conflict.According to it, Pakistan was to withdraw its nationals who had entered the State for the purpose of fighting and to prevent future intrusions.The five member UNMOGIP reconstituted through this resolution urged India and Pakistan to hold a plebiscite after the restoration of law and order.UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was meant to supervise the Cease Fire Line (CFL) established in Jammu and Kashmir in July 1949 under the Karachi Agreement.UNMOGIP is funded through the UN’s regular budget.   Karachi Agreement After the 1st Indo-Pak armed conflict in 1948,under the supervision of the UNCIP, military representatives of both Pakistan and India met in Karachi and signed the Karachi Agreement on 27 July 1949.It established a cease-fire line (CFL) in Kashmir.   India’s stand on Resolution 47 India rejected the UNSC Resolution 47 and maintained that the resolution ignored the military invasion by Pakistan and placed both nations on an equal diplomatic ground was a dismissal of Pakistan’s aggression.The Instrument of Accession (IoA) signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir was ignored in the resolution.   Pakistan’s stand on Resolution 47 It objected to even the minimum presence of Indian forces in Kashmir, as mandated by the resolution.It wanted equal representation in the state government for the dominant party in Pakistani-held Kashmir i.e the Muslim Conference.   Disagreement Over Role of UNMOGIP India’s stand on UNMOGIP: The mandate of UNMOGIP had lapsed since it related specifically to the ceasefire line under the Karachi Agreement. India has maintained that UNMOGIP has outlived its utility and is irrelevant after the Simla Agreement and the consequent establishment of the Line of Control (LoC). Pakistan’s stand: Pakistan did not accept India’s position. UN’s Stand: Given the disagreement between the two parties over UNMOGIP’s mandate and functions, the UNMOGIP could be terminated only by a decision of the Security Council. Despite their differences with the provisions of Resolution 47, both India and Pakistan welcomed the UNMOGIP and agreed to work with it.

5. ‘Policymakers must realise that pandemic is still in early stage in India’

Masks, testing and getting rid of large gatherings for a year will keep the virus from getting into exponential growth, says global health expert

  • While nations across the world struggle to contain the fallout of the human toll and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health experts such as Dr. Ashish Jha, K.T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, have been at the forefront of research and public policy guidance to public and private institutions dealing with the crisis. He shared insights into the epidemiological basis of the pandemic and what policy solutions hold out hope for the future in India.
  • You have argued that to measure the true impact of the coronavirus in India, we need to look beyond the official fatalities record of the government. Why do you believe this?
  • First of all, the key metrics that we want to sort relate to how many people have been infected and how many people have died. Both of those are driven a lot by how carefully you look. If you have a lot of mild infections happening, and you are not testing extensively, you are going to miss those. Therefore, you might find that you have a very high case fatality rate because you are only testing the sick patients and finding very sick people.
  • Alternatively, if you do not have a very good surveillance system for deaths, if every death is not thoroughly investigated, you might find that a lot of people die. You do not know why they are dying. You may think that your case fatality rate is really low, because you are missing a lot of deaths due to COVID-19. Understanding both how many people have been infected with and have died of this virus in India is a tricky business. You cannot just look at the official statistics.
  • Is there any chance in India that the accuracy of recording deaths and causes of deaths is reasonably high and the estimated fatality rate is in the correct ballpark?
  • The global fatality rate is about 1%, maybe a little less. When all is said and done, that will be the fatality rate in India. I actually expect that in India it will be lower than 1%, because India has a relatively younger population. But I am not particularly interested in fatality rate — I am interested in fatalities.
  • Right now, the statistics suggest that around 20,000 people have died of this virus in India. That, to me, is very low. It is possible that we are doing a good job in India of ascertaining all the deaths, but I would not be surprised if we are missing a lot. The reason is that when I look at the U.S., U.K. and Western Europe, all of those countries have a lot more deaths than they have officially recorded. If high-income countries with very good surveillance systems are missing anywhere from 30%-70% of deaths from the coronavirus, why would I not expect that India would also be missing a similar proportion of deaths? I also think that the current estimate of 7,00,000 people having been infected is almost surely a very substantial underestimate.
  • Is the government justified in conserving test kits and surveillance system resources over time, hence limiting testing to the numbers that we see?
  • There is no limit to how much testing a country can do if it makes investments in reagents and other supplies. It can do very large numbers of tests. India has done about ten million tests so far. The U.S. has done about 40 million, Russia has done about 20 million. Why is India’s capacity less than Russia’s in terms of the ability to do testing? I just think it is a priority issue. If India decided tomorrow that it was going to invest substantial financial and intellectual resources into ramping up testing, I know nothing about India that makes me think it cannot do it, that it does not have the capacity.
  • Is the theory of herd immunity our only hope until a vaccine arrives? Could either or both of these halt the pandemic in its tracks? Please explain how they work.
  • The purpose of herd immunity is that once you have 60%-70% of the population immune to the disease, then the virus cannot spread anymore, it slows down, and it does not completely extinguish but it becomes a much smaller problem. How do you get to 60%-70% immunity? The best way to do it is through a vaccine. If you do not have a vaccine — and this is what people usually refer to as herd immunity — what if you just let the infection run? 60%-70% of India’s population will have to get infected — the idea of nearly a billion people getting infected. If you take a 1% fatality rate, that is 10 million people dying, and tens of millions of people getting very sick, hospitals completely overwhelmed over the next year. That is a disaster. So, herd immunity is the policy of complete and utter failure. With millions of people dying and hundreds of people getting very sick, the economy will be completely destroyed.
  • India has had among the most stringent lockdowns across the world. Would you argue that that has had a substantial impact?
  • Remember, the entire strategy here is to protect people until a vaccine becomes available. I believe a vaccine will be available for India sometime in 2021 and my hope is that it will be in the first half of 2021. But there is a lot of uncertainty. Let us assume that it is in July 2021. We have about a year to go until that vaccine becomes available. But lockdowns only buy you time. You cannot be locked down for a year, it is just not possible economically and socially. The key is to use that lockdown to substantially ramp up testing, communicate to the people of India what will happen when the lockdown ends, how our behaviour must change, put in those policies, and ramp up hospital capacity. Then, when you unlock, you will be better able to handle what will surely be a surge of cases, as we are seeing in India right now.
  • When do you see the viral spread peaking in India and then coming down, and, accordingly, what advice would you give to the Indian government?
  • What policymakers in India must understand is that the pandemic is still quite early in India. What will cause the peak and the decreasing of cases? Right now, less than 1% of the Indian population has been infected. What we have seen in other places is that left unchecked, that number will grow exponentially until we hit 60%-70% infection, which is a billion people.
  • Of course, it is not going to be left unchecked, and I do not expect that that is going to happen. There are things that India can do to really reduce the spread of this virus and slow down that growth. Increasingly, we have good evidence around mask-wearing. People should be wearing masks outside, and indoors in any public space. Second, we have got to go after hotspots. Every time you detect an outbreak, you need to follow the testing, tracing, isolation strategy. That has worked in lots of places in India — in Kerala, and in Dharavi in Mumbai. There is no reason for me to think that that cannot be a really critical public health strategy. Third, for the next year ahead, no large gatherings.
  • If India does all of that — the masks, the testing, getting rid of large gatherings — then I think India has a pretty good shot at keeping the virus from getting into exponential growth.

6. Facebook is failing to protect civil rights: report

It was weaponised to suppress voting’

  • Facebook Inc’s decisions to allow controversial posts by President Donald Trump established a ”terrible precedent” that could allow the platform to be “weaponized to suppress voting,” an external civil rights audit found on Wednesday.
  • The report, which Facebook commissioned two years ago, said the social network has not done enough to protect users from discrimination, falsehoods and incitement to violence, adding to pressure on the company in the midst of an advertiser boycott.
  • The findings come at a time when more than 900 advertisers, including major brands such as Coca-Cola and Unilever, have joined a boycott started by major U.S. civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, to pressure Facebook to take concrete steps to block hate speech.
  • “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression,” the auditors wrote.
Description: Millions of Facebook records were exposed on public Amazon server ...

7. A forty-year-old puzzle about production of lithium in stars is solved

Study led by Indian astrophysicists challenges present understanding of nucleosynthesis in stars

CHENNAI

  • A forty-year-old puzzle regarding the production of lithium in stars has been solved by Indian researchers.
  • Stars, as per known mechanisms of evolution, actually destroy lithium as they evolve into red giants. Planets were known to have more lithium than their stars — as is the case with the Earth-Sun pair. However, leading to a contradiction, some stars were found that were lithium-rich.
  • The new work by Bharat Kumar, currently a post-doctoral fellow at the National Astronomical Observatories of China, Beijing, and an international team of co-workers shows that, in fact, when stars grow beyond their Red Giant stage into what is known as the Red Clump stage, they produce lithium in what is known as a helium flash and this is what enriches them with lithium.
  • The study was published in the Nature Astronomy on July 7.
  • The Sun, for instance, has about a factor of 100 lower amount of lithium than the Earth. About 40 years ago, a few large stars were spotted that were lithium-rich. This was followed by further discoveries of lithium-rich stars, and that posed a puzzle — if stars do not produce lithium, how do some stars develop to become lithium-rich?
  • “The planet engulfment theory was quite popular. For example, Earth-like planets may increase the star’s lithium content when they plunge into [their] star’s atmosphere when the latter become Red Giants. I was not comfortable with this idea,” said Professor Eswar Reddy, Director of India Thirty Meter Telescope Centre, Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, who led the study.
  • Prof. Reddy has been working on this puzzle for nearly 20 years now, and had, along with his students, devised a method of measuring lithium content using low-resolution spectra in a large number of stars, with facilities provided at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
  • For the present study, the group studied over 200,000 stars using the Galactic Archaeology survey of the Anglo-Australian Telescope.
  • This is the first study to demonstrate that lithium abundance enhancement among low mass giant stars is common. Until now, it was believed that only about 1% of giants are lithium rich. Secondly, the team has shown that as the star evolves beyond the Red Giant stage, and before it reaches the Red Clump stage, a helium flash produces an abundance of lithium. Lastly, they set a lower limit for helium abundance which will classify the star as “lithium-rich”. This value is about 250 times lower than the previous limit.
  • The study challenges the present understanding of nucleosynthesis in stars.
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