1) Uranium contamination:
Why in news?
✦ Scientists have found widespread uranium contamination in groundwater from aquifers across 16 states in India, much above the WHO provisional standard for the country.
✦ The main source of uranium contamination was “natural,” but human factors such as groundwater table decline and nitrate pollution could be worsening the problem.
WHO prescribed limit:
✦ The WHO has set a provisional safe drinking water standard of 30 micrograms of uranium per litre, a level that is consistent with the U.S. EPA standards.
✦ However, uranium is not yet included in the list of contaminants monitored under the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specifications.
Main factors responsible for uranium contamination:
✦ When over-pumping of aquifers’ groundwater occurs and their water levels decline, it induces oxidation conditions that, in turn, enhance uranium enrichment in the shallow groundwater that remains.
✦ While the primary source of uranium is geogenic (naturally occurring), anthropogenic (human caused) factors such as groundwater table decline and nitrate pollution may further enhance uranium mobilisation.
✦ Other factors include the amount of uranium contained in an aquifer’s rocks; water-rock interactions that cause the uranium to be extracted from those rocks; oxidation conditions that enhance the extracted uranium’s solubility in water; and the interaction of the extracted uranium with other chemicals in the groundwater, such as bicarbonate, which can further enhance its solubility.
What needs to be done?
✦ There is a need for revision of the current water quality monitoring program in India, evaluation of human health risks in areas of high uranium prevalence, development of adequate remediation technologies, and, above all, implementation of preventive management practices to address this problem.
✦ Including a uranium standard in the Bureau of Indian Standards’ Drinking Water Specification based on uranium’s kidney-harming effects, establishing monitoring systems to identify at-risk areas, and exploring new ways to prevent or treat uranium contamination will help ensure access to safe drinking water for tens of millions in India.
Source: The Hindu
2) Dam Rehabilitation & Improvement Project (DRIP)
Why in news?
The Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) has approved revised cost estimate of Dam Rehabilitation & Improvement Project (DRIP) for Rs. 3466 crore and has extended time period for conclusion till June, 2020.
The Ministry of Water Resources (MoWR), Government of India, with assistance from the World Bank, is implementing the DAM REHABILITATION AND IMPROVEMENT PROJECT (DRIP), which would be a six-year project. The Central Dam Safety Organisation of Central Water Commission, assisted by a Consulting firm, is coordinating and supervising the Project implementation.
The project originally envisaged the rehabilitation and improvement of about 223 dams within four states namely, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Tamil Nadu and later Karnataka, Uttarakhand (UNVNL) and Jharkhand (DVC) joined DRIP and total number of dams covered under DRIP increased to 250. The project will also promote new technologies and improve Institutional capacities for dam safety evaluation and implementation at the Central and State levels and in some identified premier academic and research institutes of the country.
The project development objectives of DRIP are: (i) to improve the safety and performance of selected existing dams and associated appurtenances in a sustainable manner, and (ii) to strengthen the dam safety institutional setup in participating states as well as at central level.
Central Water Commission is a premier Technical Organization of India in the field of Water Resources and is presently functioning as an attached office of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Government of India.
The Commission is entrusted with the general responsibilities of initiating, coordinating and furthering in consultation of the State Governments concerned, schemes for control, conservation and utilization of water resources throughout the country, for purpose of Flood Control, Irrigation, Navigation, Drinking Water Supply and Water Power Development. It also undertakes the investigations, construction and execution of any such schemes as required.
It is a software programme – Dam Health and Rehabilitation Monitoring Application (DHARMA). DHARMA is a web tool to digitize all dam related data effectively. It will help to document authentic asset and health information pertaining to the large dams in the country, enabling appropriate actions to ensure need based rehabilitation. It is a new stride in asset management aspect by India.
Source: The Hindu
3) About a small Mauritian island:
In 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Mauritian counterpart Anerood Jugnauth signed an agreement that allows India to “develop infrastructure” on the Mauritian islands. The phrase is a euphemism for the building of military bases, which India is doing not only on Agaléga but also on Assumption Island (Seychelles).
Recently, a group of Mauritians, Rodriguans and Agalégans met to form the Koalision Zilwa Pou Lape (Islanders Coalition for Peace). They have called for the Indian Ocean to be declared as a “zone of peace”.
Mauritian archipelago of Agaléga:
✦ Mauritius is the largest source of FDI into India, since multinational corporations have been able to take advantage of the India-Mauritius Double Taxation Avoidance Treaty and the lax tax regime to avoid paying taxes. After having given over Agaléga, Mauritius signed an amended treaty on taxes and by 2019 will effectively lose its status as the main funnel for FDI into India. Agaléga, which was the price for the extension of the treaty, will now be surrendered without benefit.
✦ Three hundred people live on the small Mauritian archipelago of Agaléga. They watch as their home is turned slowly into an Indian naval base. There is little that they can do. The government of Mauritius knows that there is far more to be gained from India than from the people of Agaléga.
✦ Mauritius is one of the main routes for foreign direct investment (FDI) into India. It earns Mauritius a considerable fortune in fees as money that is enough for Mauritius to renege on its pledge to its own citizens.
India and Mauritius:
✦ The agreement covers within its purview our shared efforts in anti-piracy operations, and enhanced EEZ surveillance to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders including those indulging in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking.
✦ In a recent FTA, two trading partners cut or eliminate duties on majority of goods besides liberalising norms to promote services trade and boost investments.
✦ According to experts, India may not get huge benefit in goods sector as Mauritius is a small market, but services sectors such as IT and tourism hold huge potential to enhance economic ties.
✦ Island nation Mauritius is the top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into India. In 2016-17, India received USD 15.72 billion.
Indian Ocean as a Zone of peace:
✦ The idea of the Indian Ocean as a demilitarised area is not anachronistic. In 2014, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval evoked the idea of the zone of peace in his speech at the Galle Dialogue in Sri Lanka. What did he have in mind is: A Chinese submarine had docked in Colombo, which raised the hackles of India.
✦ Solidarity with the people of Agaléga, as well as those in Chagos (Diego Garcia) and Assumption (Seychelles), animates Islanders Coalition for Peace group. They have called for the Indian Ocean to be declared as a “zone of peace”.
✦ The “zone of peace” idea takes us back to the 1970 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit in Lusaka, Zambia. Various NAM members called upon all states “to respect the Indian Ocean as a zone of peace from which Great Power rivalries and competition, as well as bases” be excluded.
✦ For the U.S., the “zone of peace” was a “very dangerous idea”. France, still a colonial power, did everything to stop this idea; La Réunion, south-west of Mauritius, became the centre of French naval military operations in the Indian Ocean after Djibouti won its independence from France in 1977. Nonetheless, the UN General Assembly voted a resolution in 1971 on the Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace.
✦ Zone of peace promotes the economy of this Indian Ocean countries as these are heavily dependent on tourism. The country receives about 3-4 lakh tourists a year a year, roughly three times of its population. The direct share of tourism in the economy 27 per cent, which goes up to 62 per cent if the indirect contribution is factored in.
Keeping pace with China:
✦ In its “string of pearls” policy, China has built significant relations across the Indian Ocean, from Gwadar (Pakistan) to Hambantota (Sri Lanka) to Kyaukpyu (Myanmar). A rattled India wants to exert itself in the same region and has developed reciprocal agreements with Australia, France and the U.S. to take advantage of bases as far flung as Cocos Islands (Australia) and La Réunion (France).
✦ Nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines from India (Arihant) and from China (Song, Shang and Jin) will soon ply these waters. They will join the Ohio class (U.S.) and the Rubis class submarines (France) that already operate here.
✦ China and India are bit players in the Indian Ocean. The main naval facilities here are held by the U.S.; their own string of pearls runs from Bahrain to Singapore. In the middle of this arc is Diego Garcia, from where Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed.
✦ Focus on the rivalry between China and India misses the long-standing problem concerning the U.S., which was the focus of the Lusaka resolution. In Lusaka, the NAM resolution said this base constituted “a direct threat to the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and peaceful development of States of the region”. It remains a threat in exactly this way.
✦ The Islanders Coalition for Peace statement evokes the full measure of the NAM statement but also goes beyond that. It speaks of the need to recognise the people of the Indian Ocean as one people with a “common past and a common destiny”; where the waters are treated as common property rather than as corporate and military property.
✦ Many small islands in Indian ocean have been historically exploited as Naval bases and there have been genuine apprehensions about India also building a Naval Base there.
✦ Therefore, India should help Indian Ocean littorals as part of capacity and capability enhancement in strengthening their maritime domain awareness capabilities.
✦ These stations will be eventually integrated with India’s coastal monitoring network to give wide coverage of the Indian Ocean region. India will not only have to more creatively reimagine its strategic geography but also evolve new terms of engagement with its neighbours in the Indian ocean terms which reflect the reality of our times in which both India and its neighbours can have a stake in each other’s success.
✦ Indian ocean region is the primary area of concern for India. Securing its position here is vital before venturing elsewhere. For India, geographically the area of concern, and so the area of focus, should remain the IOR, stretching from the Gulf of Aden to the Strait of Malacca.
✦ While reiterating its commitment to upholding the established laws of the global commons, New Delhi should not go adrift in the larger Indo-Pacific. As more powers make inroads into this strategically crucial space, India must consolidate its position and not expect others to do its job, for it would only mean ceding space in the long run.
✦ India, with its strong intelligence network, will also be helpful in maritime law enforcement by Mauritius and Seychelles.
✦ While declaring support for India’s maritime security plans, there is need to pointed out that small nations are equally important in the contemporary world order and need to be taken seriously for the sake of preserving the security and order.
Source: The Hindu
4) Achieving universal health coverage in India:
Why in news?
The World Health Organization (WHO) Health Assembly set the target of “Health for All” in May 1977. These were to be achieved by the end of 2000. Subsequently, in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals were formulated by the UN with the target for achievement set for 2015. This was followed by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), set by the UN in 2016, to be achieved by 2030 by all member countries.
Why in news?
In fact, Recently happened 71st World Health Assembly in Geneva deliberated on the importance of environmental, climate and other determinants of health. Known avoidable environmental risk factors cause at least 13 million deaths every year and about one quarter of the global burden of disease.
What are the major problems of Health sector in India?
✦ After the independence the focus has been increased significantly on Health status of people. As a result, there has been a significant increase in life expectancy of people from 35 years to 65 years.
✦ However, it is unevenly distributed in different parts of the country. The health problems in India are still a cause of concern.
✦ As the income levels of the people have increased there is spurt in non-communicable or life style diseases which accounted for nearly half of the deaths.
✦ The existing healthcare infrastructure is just not enough to meet the needs of the population. The central and state governments do offer universal healthcare services and free treatment and essential drugs at government hospitals.
✦ However, the hospitals are understaffed and under-financed. People living below poverty line continue to rely on insufficient health care facilities in rural areas.
✦ India has one of the lowest per capita healthcare expenditures in the world. The high out-of-pocket expenses in India stem from the fact that majority of Indians do not have health insurance.
✦ Moreover, majority of the skilled health care professionals happen to be concentrated in urban areas. This is the main reason for rural- urban disparity in terms of healthcare.
Healthcare challenges in India:
✦ The country’s diversity in terms of geography, culture, and demography
✦ Political system
✦ Unsafe boundaries
✦ Huge population burden
✦ Poor investment in health
✦ Changing the behaviour pattern of the Indian masses, including the patient population, is something which has been focused upon much yet.
✦ Access to readily reachable, trustworthy and affordable health care is a major challenge before poorly served rural areas and overcrowded urban areas.
✦ Also, the inadequacy of organised primary health services here is compounded by a weakness at the intermediate level of care in many district hospitals and nursing homes.
✦ While corporate hospitals boast of high quality advanced care and compete with each other for a significant share of medical tourism, they are mostly inaccessible to the rural population and the urban poor. Government institutions of advanced care suffer from low budgets and a lack of managerial talent.
Importance of Universal Health Coverage in India:
The health goal under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is, arguably, the most important target on the agenda of India and other member countries because of its inextricable connection with other indicators of socio-economic development like poverty, zero hunger (nutrition), quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation. The essence of this goal is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all in all ages”, which implies universal health coverage.
Definition of Health and well-being:
✦ A determinant-based definition of health and well-being will not only help in better perception of disease, but also provide a better tool in deciding the right priority for public health interventions.
✦ Diseases of public health importance, such as kala azar, lymphatic filariasis, leprosy, etc., can manifest in an apparently healthy population in tropical and sub-tropical climatic regions and can re-emerge if not eliminated.
✦ While there has been tremendous progress in addressing neglected tropical diseases in many countries, including India, due to concerted efforts of the government, elimination efforts are still to be universalized across many districts.
✦ These diseases shouldn’t be neglected any more, even though the magnitude of reported cases has reduced over the years. The countries affected by neglected tropical diseases must intensify efforts to achieve elimination that is validated and universal care for disabled persons.
Need to redefine the definition of Health:
✦ Viewed through this holistic lens, the revised definition of health should include all such determinants and be redefined as “a state of complete physical, mental, social and environmental well-being, including absence of determinants of disease in the body or in its proximity that can cause harm by use or by contact with the body”.
✦ Making private practitioners an important part of the public healthcare:
✦ It is counterproductive to insist that private practitioners should not be an integral part of the overall government effort to provide good healthcare to people.
✦ Such an insistence makes the notion of maintaining disease-specific countrywide registers in which individual doctors and hospitals participate almost impossible.
✦ A truly universal healthcare system is driven by protocols that care for the patient and integrate all practitioners. Once such a system is put in place along with regular reporting, the distinction between private and public becomes meaningless.
✦ To successfully put care and quality back into healthcare, it is important to set up this kind of system to track the health status of patients. This will help remove smoothen the public-private healthcare debate.
✦ It is high time for UN bodies/World Health Assembly to acknowledge the need for redefining health in light of the SDGs.
✦ Universal health coverage should be designed based on the revised definition of health. That will lead to a better understanding, and attainment, of holistic health and well-being. This will help in directing focused priority and mobilization of resources in the right direction.
✦ In addition, a National framework for universal health coverage needs to be developed by the member countries. This would involve inter-sectoral collaborations at the community level with local health teams, the private sector, non-government organizations and community-based organizations to strengthen primary health and support secondary and tertiary infrastructure.
✦ This would not only ensure proper and complete treatment but also empower people to protect themselves from illness and encourage treatment-seeking behaviour for which people’s awareness needs to be built up through simple community-level ideas for health promotion, prevention and self-protection as essential part of primary healthcare.
✦ Joint participation with health teams by trained volunteers in uniform, including those from National Cadet Corps (NCC), National Scout Services (NSS), nursing schools, etc., can provide a thrust for addressing social, and environmental determinants and can bring about positive change in personal hygiene, healthy behaviour and cleanliness. Approaching healthcare policies from the behavioural angle can ensure better systemic efficiency and large-scale transformation.
✦ History is full of examples of governments empowering their people to propagate a holistic approach to what we now term universal health coverage. In the third century BC, emperor Ashoka is believed to have said, “I am going to propagate medicinal herbs throughout my kingdom to ensure complete accessibility to all my subjects as it is my ethical responsibility to provide good health to all people.”
Source: The Hindu