1. Call for action to protect Odisha tribes
Activists urge govt. to help the Dongria and Bonda communities fight COVID-19
Activists and writers have urged the Odisha government to take immediate steps to the prevent loss of lives among Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTG) like the Dongria Kondh and Bonda due to COVID-19.
In a petition addressed to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, over 70 intellectuals expressed their concerns over rising COVID-19 positive cases among PVTGs.
They said home quarantine as a measure to contain the spread of COVID-19, as suggested by the State government, would not work as privacy and isolation hardly exist within communities in tribal culture.
Requesting the government to protect the lives of PVTGs, they proposed the government set up quarantine centres exclusively for tribals within 2 km of their settlements.
“Door to door surveys must be done by a team of trained local volunteers from villages for regular monitoring of symptoms, and reporting to quarantine centres for any suspected cases,” said Prafulla Samantara, recipient of Goldman Environmental Prize, who is known for his work with Dongria Kondhs.
“All the Dongria and Bonda families must be provided with a special livelihood relief package as compensation for their agriculture and minor forest produce (MFP), which they cannot sell in the local markets that are non-functional due to the prolonged shutdown or lockdown,” said Lingaraj Azad, convenor of Niyamgiri Surakhya Samiti.
Activists demanded the distribution of health kits comprising of three layered masks, necessary medicines and vitamins.
They laid emphasis on upgradation of all primary health centres located in tribal areas on a war footing, and provisioning of manpower, medical equipment, medicines and other infrastructure.
More than 100 tribals among 10 out of 13 PVTGs have been affected by COVID-19.
Legislators of the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, too, appealed to the Odisha CM to take steps to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in tribal pockets and villages.
Meanwhile, the State Schedule Tribe and Scheduled Caste Development Department directed its field level functionaries that, in the absence of proper quarantine facilities at home for PVTGs, affected persons should be facilitated to stay in suitable institutional quarantine for a period as prescribed by local authorities.
Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)
PVTGs are more vulnerable among the tribal groups.
- They have declining or stagnant population, low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and are economically backward.
- They generally inhabit remote localities having poor infrastructure and administrative support.
In 1973, the Dhebar Commission created Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs) as a separate category, who are less developed among the tribal groups.
- In 1975, the Government of India initiated to identify the most vulnerable tribal groups as a separate category called PVTGs and declared 52 such groups, while in 1993 an additional 23 groups were added to the category, making it a total of 75 PVTGs, spread over 18 states and one Union Territory (A&N Islands) in the country (2011 census).
- Among the 75 listed PVTG’s the highest number are found in Odisha (13), followed by Andhra Pradesh (12).
In 2006, the Government of India renamed the PTGs as PVTGs.
Scheme for development of PVTGs:
The Ministry of Tribal Affairs implements the Scheme of “Development of Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs)” exclusively for them.
- Under the scheme, Conservation-cum-Development (CCD)/Annual Plans are to be prepared by each State/UT for their PVTGs based on their need assessment, which are then appraised and approved by the Project Appraisal Committee of the Ministry.
- Priority is also assigned to PVTGs under the schemes of Special Central Assistance (SCA) to Tribal Sub-Scheme (TSS), Grants under Article 275(1) of the Constitution, Grants-in-aid to Voluntary Organisations working for the welfare of Schedule Tribes and Strengthening of Education among ST Girls in Low Literacy Districts.
The criteria followed for determination of PVTGs are as under:
- A pre-agriculture level of technology.
- A stagnant or declining population.
- Extremely low literacy.
- A subsistence level of economy.
2. ULFA-I releases abducted ONGC employee in Nagaland
The outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom-Independent (ULFA-I) on May 22 released an employee of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation abducted from an oil rig in Assam a month ago.
An Army spokesperson said ONGC junior technician Ritul Saikia was released at Lungwa village in Nagaland’s Mon district on the India-Myanmar border. A joint team of army and State police escorted him to district headquarters Mon.
Five gunmen had abducted Mr. Saikia and two other ONGC employees from the oil rig in Charaideo district on April 21. Junior technician Mohini Mohan Gogoi and junior engineering assistant Alakesh Saikia – were rescued after an encounter near the Myanmar border on April 24.
Following the encounter, the ULFA-I had said the Indian armed forces had in “all probability” killed the junior technician. However, it transpired later that the outfit was keeping him hostage. Mr. Saikia was released two days after Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma appealed to ULFA-I “commander-in-chief” Paresh Baruah to release him.
North East Insurgency
- North East India is the region situated in the eastern-most part of India comprising of the eight states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.
- It is linked with Indian heartland through the 21 km. wide Siliguri Corridor, which is commonly known as the chicken neck, created by the Radcliffe line. The corridor is flanked by Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
- The Northeast borders on four countries, namely, China and Bhutan on its North; Myanmar on its East; and Bangladesh on its South and West. It has an area of 2.6 lakh sq. km. (7.6% of India’s land area) while its population is 39 million plus (3.6% of India’s population). It has 475 ethnic groups and 400 languages/ dialects are spoken here.
History of conflicts in NE
- According to the Report of the 2nd Administrative Reforms Commission the Northeast represents a state of stable anarchy where the rule of law and other institutions of governance are subverted directly or through collusive arrangements to serve personal or partisan ends of the militants.
- Regional issues: The inter-tribal conflicts, the youth unemployment and the inability to compete with non-tribal businesses, illegal migration from neighbouring States and countries leading to the competition of resources and land have led to various conflicts and demands of secession/ autonomy.
- Gaps at national level: The broad racial differences between India and its Northeast and the tenuous geographical link (the chicken neck Siliguri Corridor) contributed to a sense of alienation, a feeling of ‘otherness’ that subsequently gave rise to a political culture of violent separatism.
- Ethnic tensions: Northeast India is home to more than 50 ethnic rebel groups – a few demanding complete secession from India, others fighting for ethnic identities and homelands and some running the insurgency as an industry to spin easy money without any political ideology.
- Militants in their formative years voiced genuine grievances of the people such as poor governance, alienation, lack of development and an apathetic attitude from the central government in New Delhi. However, with time and opportunist motives, these have taken forms of insurgencies across the region.
The factors that led to the emergence of the different insurgent groups in the region.
- Being a part of the larger state of Assam, it was the first to experience militancy in pursuit of a grant of autonomy. Under the leadership of the Naga National Council (N.N.C.), headed by A.Z. Phizo, Nagas declared independence around 1951.
- The N.N.C. split to form National Socialist Council of Nagaland (N.S.C.N.). The N.S.C.N. further broke into two factions: Isak-Muivah faction (N.S.C.N.-I.M.) and the Khaplang faction (N.S.C.N.-K.).
- It was a part of the state of Assam before it was granted statehood in 1987, experienced militancy after the Union government failed to respond positively to its demand for assistance during the massive “Mautam famine”.
- The Mizo National Front (M.N.F.), led by the legendary leader Laldenga, demanded independence for Mizoram in 1966.
- Migration of Hindus from the British-ruled East Bengal is believed to have been responsible for reducing the indigenous tribal people in the state to minority status; this development sparked a violent backlash among the indigenous people.
- Militant groups sprang up in the state demanding the restoration of the tribal rights from the Bengali population.
- A movement that started demanding the deportation of the illegal migrants also witnessed the birth of the militant outfit the United Liberation Front of Assam (U.L.F.A.) in 1979.
- The other groups that formed are Bodo Liberation Tigers, National Democratic Front of Bodoland (N.D.F.B.), the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (U.P.D.S.).
- Militancy originated in protest against the forcible merger of the former Manipur Kingdom with India.
- United National Liberation Front formed in 1964, with an objective of ending the discrimination against Manipur, which was accorded statehood only in 1972 nearly 23 years after its merger.
- The Meghalaya state was carved out of the Assam state, with an aim to address the unique needs of the major tribes in the region: the Garos, the Jaintias and the Khasis.
- The rise of aspirations of tribal autonomy led to the emergence of several insurgent groups in the state, like Garo National Liberation Army (GNLA) and Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council (HNLC).
- The state remains under peace more or less in history but the proximity of state with Myanmar and Nagaland border is gradually being afflicting insurgency in recent time.
- The only case of indigenous insurgency movement in Arunachal Pradesh was the rise of the Arunachal Dragon Force (ADF), which was rechristened as East India Liberation Front (EALF) in 2001.
Military operations and AFSPA
- Special powers under AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) were bestowed on armed forces to deal with emergency conditions. It is there in the whole of Assam, Nagaland, most of Manipur, and some areas of Arunachal Pradesh.
- Military operations in Mizoram, where the army reportedly launched air strikes to neutralize the M.N.F. cadres, resulted in several fatalities and displacement among the civilian population.
- In Assam, at the beginning of the 1990s, two military operations, Operation Rhino and Bajrang, were launched against U.L.F.A. militants.
- Assam rifle has been given the task to deal with insurgents in Assam.
- The security scenario in the North East is constantly improving. While there is almost no insurgency left in Tripura and Mizoram, there has been a marked improvement in the security situation in other States of the region.
- The lifting of the AFSPA from all areas of Meghalaya on 31st March 2018 is an illustration of the vast improving security scenario in the NER. In Arunachal Pradesh also, areas under AFSPA have been reduced from 16 PS/Outposts areas bordering Assam to 8 Police Stations, besides Tirap, Changlang and Longding districts.
- Dialogue with the M.N.F. remains the only example of the culmination of a successful peace process that ended militancy in Mizoram in 1986.
- Other peace deals such as the Shillong Accord in 1975 with the N.N.C. in Nagaland, the 1988 agreement with the Tripura National Volunteers in Tripura and The Bodoland Autonomous Council agreement of 1993 with the Bodo militants in Assam are also in effect, but with limited success.
- Union government has ongoing ceasefire agreements with six militant groups with different actors like NSCN (IM), UPDS, Achik National Volunteer Council.
Role of the Neighbours
- Neighbouring countries like China and Myanmar are accused of promoting insurgency in the region.
- Pakistan, through its intelligence agency the I.S.I., is believed to have assisted the militant groups in terms of training and finance.
- China has provided some assistance to groups such as the N.S.C.N. in the 1980s.
- Militant camps in Nagaland, as well as Manipur, exist in the bordering areas of Myanmar. Outfits like U.L.F.A. and the N.D.F.B. have reportedly used the facilities.
- Bhutan remains the only country that successfully dislodged several militant camps of the northeastern groups through a military operation launched in December 2003.
Consequences of Violence
- According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, severe fatalities have been reported from northeast including both civilians and security forces.
- In the oil-rich Assam, militants have periodically targeted oil and gas pipelines for sabotage, alleging that India is exploiting the natural resources of the state.
- National projects such as the extension of the rail lines have either been stalled or have moved with a tardy pace after militants attacked the construction sites and abducted workers.
- Militancy has also stalled the prospect of linking the economy of the northeast with the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries.
- Tourism, which could have flourished in the scenic northeast, has suffered a lot due to instability in the region.
- The education sector too has been affected by militancy. A number of schools in states like Tripura’s interior areas have been shut as teachers avoid the areas due to fear of militant strikes.
- Extortion by the militant groups on the national highways that connect the different states with mainland India has shot up the prices of essential commodities.
- Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region (DoNER)
- It is responsible for the matters relating to the planning, execution and monitoring of development schemes and projects in the North Eastern Region, to accelerate the pace of socio-economic development of the region.
- Inner Line Permit (ILP)
- Restrictions are imposed on the entry of outsiders to maintain the original identity of indigenous people of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh entry of outsiders are not allowed without ILP.
- Constitutional provision
- Article 244 (1) provides that – Provisions of the 5th schedule shall apply to the admin. or control of scheduled areas and scheduled tribes.
- Article 244 (2) provides that – Provisions of the 6th schedule shall apply to the admin. or control of schedule areas, in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram to create Autonomous Districts Councils in these states.
- In pursuance of these provisions, the various autonomous district has been created to contain the demands of various ethnic groups like Karbi Anglong, Khasi hill district, Chakma district etc.
- Under Article 371 (A) Nagaland has been accorded special status.
- The state response has effectively curbed violence in North-east.
- The political nexus have helped them carry out their illicit works. In return, run extortion rackets and all types of other illegal trades and get right to operate within limits with impunity.
- This results in dismal law and order situation in these areas. It is this absence of rule of law that these groups are still operating. Chances of a political settlement are bleak because of the kind of diversity it holds.
- While the government’s military options have achieved only minimal results, lack of development continues to alienate the people of the region further from the mainstream.
- The region has also received little attention from either the national or the international media. Achievements by a separate ministry created by the Indian government for the development of the region remain minimal.
3. China’s ‘father of hybrid rice’ is dead
Yuan Longping’s works revolutionised agriculture and ensured food security
Yuan Longping, a Chinese agricultural scientist whose breakthroughs in hybrid rice brought food security to China and transformed agriculture worldwide, died on Saturday aged 91.
Mr. Yuan, who is celebrated in China as the “father of hybrid rice” for his contributions to agriculture and beloved for his simple demeanour that endured despite the many honours that came his way, was still conducting research at the Sanya Hybrid Rice Research Base until he suffered a fall in March this year.
In 2004, he was honoured with the World Food Prize “for his breakthrough achievement in developing the genetic materials and technologies essential for breeding high-yielding hybrid rice varieties”.
His “new hybrid rice technology not only benefited China, but was also enthusiastically adopted in other countries,” read the citation from the World Food Prize Foundation, noting that “he and his research associates traveled to India, Vietnam, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the United States to provide advice and consultation to rice research personnel” and trained over 3,000 scientists from more than 50 countries.
“Farmers around the world have benefitted from his techniques as hybrid rice spread throughout Asia, Africa and the Americas,” the foundation said, adding that “the impact of Yuan’s ingenuity has been felt beyond China’s rice industry” as producers of other crops “successfully used the two-line breeding system for rice to explore similar systems for hybrid sorghum and rapeseed with increased yields.”
His desire to experiment with rice was borne out of hardship. In 1960, when he was 30 years old, China was in the midst of a famine unleashed by Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” policy in 1958 that devastated the agriculture sector and led to mass starvation and the deaths of millions.
Stirred into action
“On a day in 1960, Yuan went outside of the school and came across two scrawny corpses lying on the side of the street,” he once told State broadcaster CCTV. “The frames were so thin that they looked like skin being wrapped on skeletons. The scene deeply stirred Yuan, who felt that he must do something.” Mr. Yuan told the channel, “Something as small as a grain can save a country, while it can also make a country fall.”
His experiments with rice went against conventional wisdom, as the World Food Prize Foundation noted, at a time when “classical genetics concluded that heterosis — a phenomenon in which the progeny of two distinctly different parents grow faster, yield more, and resist stress better than either parent — was not possible in self-pollinated crops such as rice.” He believed it was possible with rice, and published his first findings in 1964. Nine years later, he developed “the first hybrid rice combination called Nan-you No. 2 which, due to heterosis, boasted yields 20 percent higher than previous varieties,” the foundation said.
China’s rice production “rose by 47.5% by the 1990s, even as some five million hectares of erstwhile paddy land was shifted to cash crops such as vegetables, fruits, cotton, and rapeseed,” said the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, which honoured him with a prize in 2001, adding that “as much as half of China’s rice land is planted to Yuan’s hybrids.”
4. BRICS Astronomy Working Group moots networking of existing telescopes
The working group indicated future directions of research in astronomy
The BRICS Astronomy Working Group has recommended networking of telescopes in member countries and creating a regional data network.
Under the science, technology and innovation track of the BRICS 2021 calendar, India hosted the seventh meeting of BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) on online mode from May 19 and 20. Also present were astronomers from these countries. In the BAWG meeting, the delegates agreed to develop a flagship project in this area. It witnessed participation from all five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – with more than 50 participants, including researchers, academicians and government officials.
The members of the working group also indicated future directions of research in this area such as building a network of intelligent telescopes and data, study of transient astronomical phenomena in the universe, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning applications to process the voluminous data generated by the enhanced multi-wavelength telescope observatory.
The delegates deliberated on strategic and operational matters and recommended the networking of existing telescopes in BRICS countries and creating regional data network. They agreed to develop a flagship project in this area, according to a statement by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India. From the Indian side, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, and the DST coordinated the meeting.
The BAWG, which provides a platform for BRICS member countries to collaborate in the field of astronomy, recommended that each country should present the scientific results of the work being carried out in their country. This will help seek funding support to realise the flagship project whenever funding opportunities were announced by BRICS funding agencies. The BAWG noted the importance of enhancing collaboration among astronomers from the BRICS countries.
S K Varshney, head of international cooperation division of the DST, presented India’s perspectives, and lead scientific researchers from each BRICS country presented their country report which highlighted the research activities and infrastructure they have created.
India assumed the BRICS Presidency from January 2021. About 100 events, including ministerial level meetings, senior official meetings, and sectorial meetings or conferences, stand to be organised in 2021.
- BRICS is an acronym for the grouping of the world’s leading emerging economies, namely Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
- The BRICS Leaders’ Summit is convened annually.
- BRICS does not exist in form of organization, but it is an annual summit between the supreme leaders of five nations.
- The Chairmanship of the forum is rotated annually among the members, in accordance with the acronym B-R-I-C-S.
- BRICS cooperation in the past decade has expanded to include an annual programme of over 100 sectoral meetings.
- Together, BRICS accounts for about 40% of the world’s population and about 30% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), making it a critical economic engine.
- It’s an emerging investment market and global power bloc.
- The acronym “BRICS” was initially formulated in 2001 by economist Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs, in a report on growth prospects for the economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China – which together represented a significant share of the world’s production and population.
- In 2006, the four countries initiated a regular informal diplomatic coordination, with annual meetings of Foreign Ministers at the margins of the General Debate of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
- This successful interaction led to the decision that the dialogue was to be carried out at the level of Heads of State and Government in annual Summits.
- The first BRIC Summit took place in 2009 in the Russian Federation and focused on issues such as reform of the global financial architecture.
- South Africa was invited to join BRIC in December 2010, after which the group adopted the acronym BRICS. South Africa subsequently attended the Third BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, in March 2011.
- The BRICS seeks to deepen, broaden and intensify cooperation within the grouping and among the individual countries for more sustainable, equitable and mutually beneficial development.
- BRICS takes into consideration each member’s growth, development and poverty objectives to ensure relations are built on the respective country’s economic strengths and to avoid competition where possible.
- BRICS is emerging as a new and promising political-diplomatic entity with diverse objectives, far beyond the original objective of reforming global financial institutions.
Areas of Cooperation
1. Economic Cooperation
- There are rapidly growing trade and investment flows between BRICS countries as well as economic cooperation activities across a range of sectors.
- Agreements have been concluded in the areas of Economic and Trade Cooperation; Innovation Cooperation, Customs Cooperation; strategic cooperation between the BRICS Business Council , Contingent Reserve Agreement and the New Development Bank.
- These agreements contribute to realisation of the shared objectives of deepening economic cooperation and fostering integrated trade and investment markets.
2. People-to-People exchange
- BRICS members have recognised the need for strengthening People-to-People exchanges and to foster closer cooperation in the areas of culture, sport, education, film and youth.
- People-to-People exchanges seek to forge new friendships; deepen relations and mutual understanding between BRICS peoples in the spirit of openness, inclusiveness, diversity and mutual learning.
- Such People to people exchanges include the Young Diplomats Forum, Parliamentarian Forum, Trade Union Forum, Civil BRICS as well as the Media Forum.
3. Political and Security Cooperation
- BRICS member political and security cooperation is aimed at achieving peace, security, development and cooperation for a more equitable and fair world.
- BRICS provides opportunities for sharing policy advice and exchanges of best practices in terms of domestic and regional challenges as well as advancing the restructuring of the global political architecture so that it is more balanced, resting on the pillar of multilateralism.
- BRICS is utilised as a driver for South Africa’s foreign policy priorities including the pursuit of the African Agenda and South-South Cooperation.
4. Cooperation Mechanism
Cooperation among members is achieved through:
- Track I: Formal diplomatic engagement between the national governments.
- Track II: Engagement through government-affiliated institutions, e.g. state-owned enterprises and business councils.
- Track III: Civil society and People-to-People engagement.
Impacts of BRICS on global institutional reforms
- The main reason for co-operation to start among the BRICs nation was the financial crises of 2008. The crises raised doubts over sustainability of the dollar-dominated monetary system.
- The BRICs called for the “the reform of multilateral institutions in order that they reflect the structural changes in the world economy and the increasingly central role that emerging markets now play”.
- BRICs managed to push for institutional reform which led to International Monetary Fund (IMF) quota reform in 2010. Thus the financial crises had momentarily reduced western legitimacy and briefly let the BRICs countries become “agenda setters” in multilateral institutions.
New Development Bank
- NDB is headquartered in Shanghai.
- At the Fourth BRICS Summit in New Delhi (2012) the possibility of setting up a new Development Bank was considered to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies, as well as in developing countries.
- During the Sixth BRICS Summit in Fortaleza (2014) the leaders signed the Agreement establishing the New Development Bank (NDB).
- Fortaleza Declaration stressed that the NDB will strengthen cooperation among BRICS and will supplement the efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global development thus contributing to sustainable and balanced growth.
- NDB’s key areas of operation are clean energy, transport infrastructure, irrigation, sustainable urban development and economic cooperation among the member countries.
- The NDB functions on a consultative mechanism among the BRICS members with all the member countries possessing equal rights.
Contingent Reserve Arrangement
- Considering the increasing instances of global financial crisis, BRICS nations signed BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) in 2014 as part of Fortaleza Declaration at Sixth BRICS summit.
- The BRICS CRA aims to provide short-term liquidity support to the members through currency swaps to help mitigating BOP crisis situation and further strengthen financial stability.
- The initial total committed resources of the CRA shall be one hundred billion dollars of the United States of America (USD 100 billion).
- It would also contribute to strengthening the global financial safety net and complement existing international arrangements (IMF).
- The marked dominance of big three Russia-China-India is challenge for the BRICS as it moves ahead. To become a true representative of large emerging markets across the world, BRICS must become pan-continental. Its membership must include more countries from other regions and continents.
- The BRICS will need to expand its agenda for increasing its relevance in the global order. As of now, climate change and development finance, aimed at building infrastructure dominate agenda.
- As BRICS moves forward foundational principles of BRICS i.e. respect for sovereign equality and pluralism in global governance are liable to be tested as the five member countries pursue their own national agendas.
- The military standoff between India and China on the Doklam plateau, which has effectively brought to an end the naive notion that a comfortable political relationship is always possible amongst the BRICS members.
- China’s efforts to co-opt nation states, which are integral to its Belt and Road Initiative, into a broader political arrangement has potential to cause conflict among BRICS members especially China and India.
Importance for India
- India can benefit from collective strength of BRICS by way of consultation and cooperation on economic issues of mutual interests, as well as topical global issues, such as, international terrorism, climate change, food and energy security, reforms of global governance institutions, etc.
- India remains engaged with the other BRICS countries on its NSG membership.
- The NDB will help India to raise and avail resources for their infrastructure and sustainable development projects. The NDB has approved its first set of loans, which included a loan of US$ 250 million in respect of India for Multitranche Financing Facility for Renewable Energy Financing Scheme’.
5. COVID-19 could become like common cold in future, study suggests
Over a decade, severity may decrease as populations collectively get immunity
The novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 could cause no more than common cold-like coughs and sniffles within the next decade, according to a study. The research, published in the journal Viruses, makes this likely prediction based on mathematical models that incorporate lessons learned from the current pandemic on how our body’s immunity changes over time. “This shows a possible future that has not yet been fully addressed,” said Fred Adler, a professor of mathematics and biological sciences at the University of Utah in the US. “Over the next decade, the severity of COVID-19 may decrease as populations collectively develop immunity,” Adler said.
The study suggests that changes in the disease could be driven by adaptations of our immune response rather than by changes in the virus itself. Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the best-known member of the family, other seasonal coronaviruses circulate in the human population, and they are less dangerous.
The ‘Russian flu’
The researchers noted that some evidence indicates that one of these cold-causing relatives might have once been severe, giving rise to the “Russian flu” pandemic in the late nineteenth century. The parallels led the scientists to wonder whether the severity of SARS-CoV-2 could similarly lessen over time.
They built mathematical models incorporating evidence on the body’s immune response to SARS-CoV-2. Analysing several scenarios and their versions set up a situation where an increasing proportion of the population will become predisposed to mild disease over the long term.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, no one had seen the virus before. Our immune system was not prepared,” Adler explained.
The models show that as more adults become partially immune, whether through prior infection or vaccination, severe infections all but disappear over the next decade, the researchers said. Eventually, the only people who will be exposed to the virus for the first time will be children who are naturally less prone to severe disease, they said.
“The novel approach here is to recognise the competition taking place between mild and severe COVID-19 infections and ask which type will get to persist in the long run,” said Alexander Beams, study first author and graduate student at University of Utah. “We have shown that mild infections will win, as long as they train our immune systems to fight against severe infections,” Beams said.
However, the researchers noted that the models do not account for every potential influence on disease trajectory. For instance, if new virus variants overcome partial immunity, COVID-19 could take a turn for the worse, they said.
The team also noted that these predictions will hold up only if the key assumptions of the models hold up. “Our next step is comparing our model predictions with the most current disease data to assess which way the pandemic is going as it is happening,” Adler added.
6. How whiteflies came, saw and conquered India’s crops
The first reported invasive spiralling whitefly is now distributed throughout India except Jammu & Kashmir
It was early summer in 2016 when Selvaraj Krishnan and his team from ICAR- National Bureau of Agricultural Insect Resources set out to investigate a coconut field in Tamil Nadu. They were surveying the area for the whitefly, which was reducing the yield and wreaking havoc: the whitefly. The first invasive whitefly reported from Kerala in 1995 has now spread across the country, and a study has now detailed the damage caused by the pest.
Patterns of occurrence
Extensive studies were carried out from 2015 to 2020 across the country to understand the patterns of occurrence, the intensity of the infestation and their natural enemies. The team visited at least 5 to 10 locations in each district and 5 to 12 districts in each state including the islands of Lakshadweep. They extracted genomic DNA from individual adult whiteflies and explained in detail about eight invasive species found in India.
“Most of these species are native to the Caribbean islands or Central America [or both]. It is difficult to pinpoint how they entered our country. Most probably a nymph or baby insect may have come along with imported plants. Also nowadays with globalisation, it is also possible that tourists may have brought the insect along with plants. Out of curiosity, people randomly pluck and bring tiny plants which lead to the accidental introduction of invasive species. We need to create awareness among the travellers,” explains R. Sundararaj from the Forest Protection Division at ICFRE-Institute of Wood Science and Technology. He is the first author of the paper published in Phytoparasitica.
The team note that the first reported invasive spiralling whitefly Aleurodicus dispersus is now distributed throughout India except Jammu & Kashmir.
Similarly, the rugose spiralling whitefly which was reported in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu in 2016 has now spread throughout the country including the islands of Andaman Nicobar and Lakshadweep. Recent reports have indicated that approximately 1.35 lakh hectares of coconut and oil palm in India are affected by the rugose spiralling whitefly.
The team found that the host range of all of the invasive whiteflies was increasing due to their polyphagous nature (ability to feed on various kinds of food) and prolific breeding.
Aleurodicus dispersus and Aleurodicus rugioperculatus have been reported on over 320 and 40 plant species, respectively.
Other invasive whiteflies were also found to expand their host range on valuable plants species, especially coconut, banana, mango, sapota, guava, cashew, oil palm, and ornamental plants such as bottle palm, false bird of paradise, butterfly palm and important medicinal plants.
The team also carried out explorative surveys to find novel biological control of these invasive pests. “The whiteflies are difficult to control by using synthetic insecticides, and hence currently naturally occurring insect predators, parasitoids and entomopathogenic fungi (fungi that can kill insets) are being used. They are not just environmentally friendly but also economically feasible,” explains Selvaraj Krishnan, corresponding author of the paper.
“Entomopathogenic fungi specific to whiteflies are isolated, purified, grown in the lab or mass-produced and applied into the whitefly infested field in combination with the release of lab-reared potential predators and parasitoids,” he says.
He adds that continuous monitoring of the occurrence of invasive species, their host plants and geographical expansion is needed, and if required, import of potential natural enemies for bio-control programmes can also be carried out.