U.N. envoy hails 19th amendment

The 19th Constitutional Amendment, envisaging the dilution of powers of the Executive Presidency and other constitutional reforms in Sri Lanka, has come in for appreciation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. He appreciated the amendment during his opening statement to the 29th session of the Human Rights Council, which was held in Geneva recently.

The Sri Lankan Parliament had recently adopted the 19th Constitutional Amendment Bill with an overwhelming majority.

What is it about?

The legislation envisages the dilution of many powers of Executive Presidency, which had been in force since 1978.

Important features of the Bill:

  • The reduction in the terms of President and Parliament from six years to five years.
  • Re-introduction of a two-term limit that a person can have as President.
  • The power of President to dissolve Parliament only after four and a half years [unlike one year, as prevalent now].
  • The revival of Constitutional Council and the establishment of independent commissions.
  • The President remains the head of Cabinet and he can appoint Ministers on the advice of Prime Minister.

Sources: The Hindu.

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Rs. 1,500-cr. nuclear insurance pool set up

The Union government has launched an insurance pool of Rs. 1,500 crore, mandatory under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act to offset the financial burden on foreign nuclear suppliers in case of an accident.

  • With this, several projects such as the long-pending Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojna held up in the absence of the pool are now expected to move forward.

About the Indian Nuclear Insurance Pool (INIP):

The pool has been set up by General Insurance Corporation of India and 11 other non-life insurers, including New India, Oriental Insurance, National Insurance and United India Insurance, from the public sector, apart from private insurance companies.

  • Under the pool, nuclear operators’ liability and suppliers’ special contingency insurance policies will be offered.
  • With this launch, India has joined an exclusive list of countries having nuclear pools and the INIP will be 27th nuclear insurance pool in the world managing nuclear liabilities.
  • The pool will address third party liability insurance under Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act (CLNDA) 2010 to begin with and later expand into property and other hot zone risk for which it will work in close co-ordination with nuclear power industry.
  • This pool will provide the risk transfer mechanism to the operators and suppliers to meet their obligations under the CLND Act. At a later stage, this pool also looks to provide reinsurance support to other such international pools.

Background:

The idea of forming a pool was mooted in early 2013 and got stuck due to differences among stakeholders on certain clauses. In 2010, Parliament passed the Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage (CLND) Act, which creates a liability cap for nuclear plant operators for economic damage in the event of an accident.

  • The CLND Act provides for Rs 1,500 crore as maximum liability for nuclear damage.
  • Clauses in the Act, which give the operator the right to legal recourse and allow it to sue the suppliers in case of any accident, were seen as being a major hindrance to the growth of the nuclear industry. These concerns led to the formation of the Indian nuclear insurance pool.
  • The CLND Act also provides for state-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India, which operates all atomic power plants in India, to seek compensation from suppliers in an accident due to faulty equipment.

Sources: The Hindu, PIB, BS, TOI.

Cultivation of paddy, sugarcane threat to Hampi monuments

UNESCO, in its “State of Conservation” report on the World Heritage Site, has said that cultivation of paddy and sugarcane pose a threat to the conservation of the historical Hampi group of monuments.

  • UNESCO has flagged irrigation for water-intensive agriculture, traffic close to the site and seasonal flooding of the Tungabhadra as challenges.

How cultivation of these crops affect the site?

The threat of agriculture is water-logging that weakens the foundation of minor monuments situated on farm land. There have been incidents of monuments sinking or damage caused due to dampness and wetness.

Hampi:

  • Hampi is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India located near Hospet town in the Karnataka state.
  • It is located within the ruins of the city of Vijayanagara, the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.
  • The emperor Ashoka’s minor rock edicts in Nittur & Udegolan (both in Bellary district, Karnataka) lead one to believe that this region was within the Ashokan kingdom during the 3rd century BCE.
  • A Brahmi inscription & a terracotta seal dating to the 2nd century CE were also discovered from the excavation site.
  • The first historical settlements in Hampi date back to 1 CE.
  • It is situated on the banks of the Tungabhadra River.
  • Hampi has various notable Hindu temples with some vedanta mythology inside the temples, some of which are still active places of worship.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki.

India tops world hunger list with 194 million people

According to United Nations annual hunger report, India is home to the highest number of hungry people in the world, at 194 million, surpassing China. The Report is titled ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.’

The Report says:

  • At the global level, the corresponding figure dropped to 795 million in 2014-15, from 1 billion in 1990-92, with East Asia led by China accounting for most of the reductions.
  • India too saw a reduction between 1990 and 2015. In 1990-92, those who were starved of food in India numbered 210.1 million, which came down to 194.6 million in 2014-15.
  • India has made great strides in reducing the proportion of food insecure persons in the overall population, but according to FAO, it still has over 194 million hungry persons. India’s numerous social programmes are expected to continue to fight hunger and poverty.
  • However, China stood out as the reduction in the number of hungry people was much higher than in India, which came down to 133.8 million in 2014-15 from 289 million in 1990-92.
  • A majority — 72 out of 129 — of the countries monitored by FAO have achieved the Millennium Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015, with developing regions as a whole missing the target by a small margin.

Talking of noticeable progress, the report made a specific mention of Latin America and the Caribbean, southeast and central Asia as well as some parts of Africa. The overall analysis suggested that inclusive economic growth, agricultural investments and social protection, along with political stability, can eradicate hunger.

Sources: The Hindu.

68th World Health Assembly opens in Geneva

68th PRESIDENCY TO INDIA of WHA : After 19 years

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After a gap of 19 years, India has assumed presidency of the 68th Session of the World Health Assembly (WHA), the top decision-making body of the World Health Organisation. Union Health Minister J P Nadda presided over the WHA session.

  • India would contribute $2.1 million to the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a reflection of its commitment to the global health body and its mandate.
  • The presidency of World Health Assembly, the top decision-making body of the WHO, is based on a regional rotation practice and saw India assuming the presidency after 18 years.

World Health Assembly (WHA):

The World Health Assembly (WHA) is the forum through which the World Health Organization (WHO) is governed by its 194 member states.

It is the world’s highest health policy setting body and is composed of health ministers from member states.

  • The members of the World Health Assembly generally meet every year in May in Geneva, the location of WHO Headquarters.

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  • The main functions of the World Health Assembly are to
    1. Determine the policies of the Organization,
    2. Appoint the Director-General,
    3. Supervise financial policies, and
    4. Review and Approve the proposed programme budget.

Sources: The Hindu, WHO, Wiki.

IS seizes Ramadi, closes in on Palmyra

Extremists from the Islamic State group have closed in on Syria’s ancient metropolis of Palmyra.

  • Jihadist fighters have advanced to within one km of Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring Roman colonnades and an impressive necropolis.

UNESCO world heritage site:

A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.

  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
  • Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
  • The List of recorded sites on the World Heritage now stands at 981 which include both cultural and natural wonders.
  • Italy is home to the greatest number of World Heritage Sites with 50 sites.

Selection criteria:

Until the end of 2004, there were six criteria for cultural heritage and four criteria for natural heritage. In 2005, this was modified so that there is only one set of ten criteria. Nominated sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten criteria.

Cultural criteria:

  • represents a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance.
  • exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning, or landscape design.
  • to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
  • is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates a significant stage in human history.
  • is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
  • is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.

Natural criteria:

  • contains superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
  • is an outstanding example representing major stages of Earth’s history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
  • is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
  • contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

There are 32 World Heritage Properties in India out of which 25 are Cultural Properties and 7 are Natural Properties.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, UNESCO.

India way behind on WHO health targets

The WHO’s annual World Health Statistics for 2015, which was released recently in Geneva, says that India has met only four targets under the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), and has made next to no progress on another four.

Important observations made by the Report:

  • Globally, life expectancy at birth has increased by six years for both men and women since 1990.
  • By the end of this year if current trends continue, the world will have met global targets for turning around the epidemics of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis and increasing access to safe drinking water. It will also have made substantial progress in reducing child undernutrition, maternal and child deaths, and increasing access to basic sanitation.
  • Progress in child survival worldwide is one of the greatest success stories of international development and pre-term birth complications have replaced neo-natal complications and disease as the biggest source of mortality for children under the age of five.
  • Since 1990, child deaths have almost halved — falling from an estimated 90 deaths per 1000 live births to 46 deaths per 1000 live births in 2013. Yet the world will not achieve the MDG target of reducing the death rate by two-thirds. Less than one-third of all countries have achieved or are on track to meet this target by the end of this year. The top killers of children aged less than 5 years are now: pre-term birth complications, pneumonia, birth asphyxia and diarrhoea.
  • In India, life expectancy grew by eight years between 1990 and 2013. While India has sharply reduced its infant mortality between 2000 and 2013, it still contributes for the most infant deaths globally. Non-communicable diseases are the top killers, followed by communicable diseases and injuries.

In September, countries will decide on new goals for 2030. In addition to finishing the MDG agenda, the post-2015 agenda needs to tackle emerging challenges, including the growing impact of non-communicable diseases, like diabetes and heart disease, and the changing social and environmental determinants that affect health.

MDGs: What are they?

These are eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000, following the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Declaration. They were set to be achieved by 2015.

  • These are time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability.
  • They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.
  • Since the adoption, there has been significant progress in many of the goals. But the progress has not been uniform. The progress differs from country to country and even within the country.

millenium development goals chart

The eight millennium development goals are:

  1. Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  2. Achieve Universal Primary Education
  3. Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  4. Reduce Child Mortality
  5. Improve Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
  7. Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  8. Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Each goal has specific targets, and dates for achieving those targets.

India and MDGs:

In India, considerable progress has been made in the field of basic universal education, gender equality in education, and global economic growth. However there is slow progress in the improvement of health indicators related to mortality, morbidity, and various environmental factors contributing to poor health conditions. Even though the government has implemented a wide array of programs, policies, and various schemes to combat these health challenges, further intensification of efforts and redesigning of outreach strategies is needed to give momentum to the progress toward achievement of the MDGs.

  • India is unlikely to achieve all the set targets by September 2015.

Sources: The Hindu, Wiki, MDG Fund, UNDP.