Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 12 August 2023

‘Sponge cities’ not stopped the floods

GS Paper - 1 (Geography)

China has been hit by devastating floodsinundating cities and causing deaths and infrastructural damage, as well as raising questions about the effectiveness of its 2015 “sponge city” initiative aimed at reducing urban flood risks. The initiative was launched to boost flood resilience in major cities and make better use of rainwater through architecturalengineering and infrastructural tweaks.

Why was the initiative launched?

  • China has long sought to improve the way it handles extreme weather, and make highly populated cities less vulnerable to flooding and drought.
  • The “sponge city” initiative was designed to make greater use of lower-impact “nature-based solutions” to better distribute water and improve drainage and storage.
  • Those solutions included the use of permeable asphalt, the construction of new canals and ponds and also the restoration of wetlands, which would not only ease waterlogging, but also improve the urban environment.
  • Breakneck urbanisation has encased vast stretches of land in impermeable concrete, often along banks of major rivers that traditionally served as flood plains. With wetlands paved over and nowhere for surplus water to settle, waterlogging and flooding was commonplace.

What has been done so far?

  • Studies show that many of the local pilot initiatives launched so far have had a positive effect, with low-impact projects like green roofs and rain gardens reducing run-offs.
  • But implementation has so far been patchy. A total of 30 pilot sponge cities were selected in 2015 and 2016.
  • By last year, only 64 of China’s 654 cities had produced legislation to implement sponge city guidelines, researchers said in January.
  • The researchers said the government had so far paid “minimum attention” to sponge city construction, and called for national legislation to be drawn up as soon as possible.

What are the limitations of sponge cities?

  • Even if sponge city measures had been implemented in full, they would have been unable to prevent this year’s disasters.
  • Zhengzhou in Henan province was one of the most enthusiastic pioneers of sponge city construction, allocating nearly 60 billion yuan to the programme from 2016 to 2021. But it was unable to deal with its heaviest rainfall in history in 2021.
  • Experts believe sponge city infrastructure can only handle no more than 200 millimetres (7.9 inches) of rain per day.
  • At the height of the rainstorms that lashed Beijing at the end of July, rainfall at one station reached 745 millimetres over three and a half days. In July 2021, Zhengzhou saw rainfall in excess of 200 mm in just one hour.
  • Authorities are also playing catch-up to climate change. This year’s heavy rain hit cities in the normally arid north, where sponge city development is less advanced.


Russia’s Luna-25 mission

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

As the Chandrayaan-3 mission tightens its orbit around the MoonRussia was launched its first moon-landing spacecraft in 47 years on 11 August 2023. The Luna-25 mission is scheduled to land on the Moon on 23 August 2023, the same day as Chandrayaan-3’s planned landing.

More about Luna-25

  • Luna-25 was launched from the Vosthochny cosmodrome in the Russian Far East less than a month after Chandrayaan-3 launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota.
  • The Russian mission will try to land on the lunar South Pole just like the Indian mission, aiming for a prized destination that may hold significant quantities of ice that could be used to extract oxygen and fuel in the future.
  • If either of the missions succeeds before the other, it will be the first one to land on the lunar South Pole in human history.
  • Roscosmos, Russia’s ISRO counterparts said that Luna-25 will practice soft-landinganalyse soil samples and conduct long-term scientific research on the Moon’s surface.
  • The Chandrayaan-3 mission is carrying an orbitera lander and a rover. The lander and rover are carrying many scientific payloads.
  • This is Russia’s first lunar mission since 1976 when the country was part of the Soviet Union and it will be completed without equipment from the European Space Agency (ESA). ESA ended its cooperation with Roscosmos after Russia invaded Ukraine.
  • Luna-25 has a mass of 1.8 tons and carries 31 kilograms of scientific equipment, including some that it will use to take rock samples from up to a depth of 15 centimetres to test for the presence of water that could be used to support future crewed missions to the Moon.
  • The mission was originally scheduled to launch in October 2021 but was marred by many delays.
  • The Russian mission will take a lot less time to reach the Moon than Chandrayaan-3 because the latter is taking a longer route that takes advantage of the gravities of the Earth and the Moon to use a lot less fuel.
  • Russia willevacuate villagers from a village near the launch site due to a “one in a million chance” that one of the rocket stages that launches could fall to the Earth there.

Malabar naval exercise held

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

IndiaJapanthe United States and Australia hold the Malabar navy exercise off the coast of Sydney on 11 August 2023, the first time the war games previously held in the Indian Ocean have taken place in Australia. Japanese and Indian navy vessels stopped in Pacific Island countries Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea on the way to Sydney, highlighting the strategic importance of the region at a time of friction between China and the United States.

More about the Exercise

  • The U.S. Navy's Seventh Fleet said in Sydney the exercise was "not pointed toward any one country" and would improve the ability of the four forces to work with each other.
  • The deterrence that our four nations provide as we operate together as a Quad is a foundation for all the other nations operating in this region.
  • Oceania, the island nations that are just northeast of Australia...all of our nations now are focusing on those countries.
  • Indian Navy Vice Admiral Dinesh Tripathi said there had been large changes in the world since the United States and India held the first Malabar Exercise in 1992 at the end of the Cold War. When Australia participated for the first time in 2007, it "sent some signals around the world".
  • Australia dropped out of the so-called Quad in 2008 after protests from China over its participation in Malabar.
  • The Quad was revived and Australia rejoined Malabar in 2020, although China continues to criticise the grouping as an attempt to contain it.
  • Ships from the four nations were joined by Australian F-35 fighter jets, as well as P-8 surveillance aircraft and submarines.
  • The underwater battlespace is seen to be the front line in terms of competition and potential future conflicts.
  • Malabar is being held off the east coast of Australia, instead of the west coast which faces the Indian Ocean, because ships were nearby after the larger Talisman Sabre exercise involving 13 nations which closed recently.

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