Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 19 March 2023

SCO tourism ministers’ conference

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

India mooted an action plan to mark 2023 as the year of tourism development in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) region at the tourism ministers’ conference in Varanasi. “India has assumed the SCO chairship for 2023.

What was the conference in Varanasi about?

  1. The recent conference was aimed at improving tourism. At the end of the meeting, a joint action plan for implementing the agreement between the Member States on cooperation in the tourism sector was finalised and approved.
  2. It comprises promotion of the SCO tourism brandpromotion of the cultural heritage of member states; sharing of information and digital technologies in tourism; and promotion of mutual cooperation in medical and health tourism.
  3. The member countries will also undertake various activities jointly, such as SCO tourism exhibitionSCO Food Festivalwebinars and seminars on tourism, conference and expert sessions on promotion of tourism in the region.
  4. The meeting also adopted the Action Plan for ‘Year of Tourism Development in the SCO Space in 2023’. The document identifies a list of activities and events to promote and showcase tourism products of SCO member states.
  5. Notably, Varanasi has been declared as the first tourism and cultural capital of SCO.

What is SCO?

  1. The SCO is an intergovernmental organisation founded on 15 June 2001 in Shanghai, China.
  2. It was established as a multilateral association to ensure security and maintain stability across the vast Eurasian region, join forces to counteract emerging challenges and threats, and enhance trade, as well as cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
  3. The SCO currently comprises eight “Member States” (China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) with four “Observer States” (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran, and Mongolia) interested in full membership.
  4. Both India and Pakistan became full members of the SCO in 2017. The process of granting Iran “Member State” status was started in 2021 and is likely to be completed this year.
  5. Apart from these states, SCO also has many “Dialogue Partners” including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.

What does the SCO do?

  1. The SCO was founded with the primary aim to address security-related concerns, with addressing regional terrorismethnic separatism and religious extremism top in its list of priorities.
  2. In 2004, at the SCO Summit held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure (RATS) was established.
  3. Through RATS, SCO members share crucial intelligence, know-how, legal expertise as well as allow for extradition of terrorists.
  4. According to The Diplomat, as of 2017600 would-be terror attacks had been nullified and more than 500 terrorists extradited using RATS.
  5. It has been an observer in the United Nations General Assembly since 2005 and in 2010, the UN and SCO Secretariats signed a Joint Declaration on Cooperation.
  6. Over the years, the SCO has worked with various UN organisations to address various pressing global issues.


Economic stability threatened by vanishing rainfall

GS Paper - 1 (Geography)

Human activities – from destroying forests to burning gas, oil and coal for energy – are disrupting the rainfall the world depends on, fuelling huge economic, health and social stability threats, scientists and economists warned from Global Commission on the Economics of Water.

More about the study

  1. New tools allow scientists to track and quantify flows of water vapour rising from rainforests like the Amazon and falling in distant places such as Argentina’s soybean and wheat fields, which are experiencing worsening drought as the Amazon shrinks.
  2. Vapour originating from the vast plains of Kazakhstan and other parts of Central Asia also provides about half of China’s water, Rockström noted.
  3. But as losses of forests and other nature disrupt those flows — and climate change brings more extreme and unpredictable rainfall on a hotter planet — water security is weakening in much of the world, experts say.
  4. That eroding water security poses a risk to everything from food supplies to hydropower production, a key source of low-carbon energy, the Global Commission on the Economics of Water warned in a report released on 17 March 2023.
  5. Severe water scarcity – as seen today in the Horn of Africa after five failed rainy seasons – also has the potential to trigger political instability, conflict, displacement and migration, security analysts warn.
  6. The Global Commission report comes ahead of a key U.N. water conference next week – the first in five decades – aimed at charting a path to shore up declining global water security.
  7. Today about 2.3 billion people — almost one in three — live in water-stressed countries, a third of those facing critical pressures, according to 2021 data from UN-Water.
  8. Even more – 3.2 billion – live in agricultural areas facing high to very high water scarcity or shortages, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said in a 2020 report.
  9. The World Economic Forum has said it hopes the U.N. summit can be a “Paris moment” for water, referring to the pioneering 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

‘Just’ water partnerships?

  1. In many developing countries such reforms will require money debt-strapped nations don’t have – though some cash could be raised by phasing out nearly $700 billion a year in farming and water subsidies that encourage water waste, analysts said.
  2. Just Water Partnerships, modelled on existing multi-billion-dollar Just Energy Transition Partnerships designed to speed a global transition to clean energy, should also be considered, the commission report said.


NASA unveils a new spacesuit for Artemis

GS Paper - 3 (Space Technology)

For the upcoming Artemis missionsNASA’s first attempt at landing astronauts on the moon since 1972, the spacesuit used will see a significant upgrade. In a demonstration at the Houston Space Centerthe suit comes from Axiom Space, a private company based out of Houston, Texas, though it incorporates design elements used in previous suits by NASAIt will be worn during the Artemis III mission, the program’s first moon landing, which is scheduled for 2025. It is called the AxEMU (Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit).

What does a spacesuit do?

  1. Without a spacesuit, humans will not survive for long in the harsh conditions of outer space or the lunar surface.
  2. First, spacesuits protect the human body from the extreme temperature fluctuations of space. In absence of an atmosphere, areas which receive direct sunlight become extremely hot whereas areas in the dark are frigid. The first job of a space suit is to insulate the astronaut inside from the extreme temperatures.
  3. Second, spacesuits also provide astronauts with a constant supply of air and optimum air pressure around their body. They are pressurised to this effect, making them more like human shaped space vehicles than a piece of clothing.
  4. Third, spacesuits protect astronauts from space radiation which can be extremely harmful, as well as micrometeorites and other particles moving across space, often at incredible speeds.
  5. On the lunar surface, suits also protect astronauts from lunar dust, considered by NASA experts as the “number one environmental problem on the moon”. Much more abrasive than dust on earth, it tends to corrode everything it comes into contact with and can potentially cause lung diseases.
  6. By helping astronauts survive even in the harshest conditions of space, spacesuits allow them to perform tasks in space, carry out experiments and fulfill the objectives of their mission.

What are some issues with older space suits?

  1. The Apollo missions (1961-72) were a landmark achievement in space exploration. The spacesuits worn in the mission were also revolutionary for the time.
  2. Unlike rudimentary spacesuits used for previous space missions, the Apollo suits had their own life support systems and did not balloon when exposed to the vacuum of space. They also incorporated boots ideal for walking on the lunar surface.
  3. Technological tweaks aside, little has changed in the fundamentals of suits for spacewalking that are used in the International Space Station.
  4. However, these suits are rigid and uncomfortable to be in. While rubberised bellows at the shoulders, elbows, hips and knees allowed a degree of flexibility, astronauts struggle against the stiffness. This is why Armstrong and Aldrin soon discovered that “skipping” was easier than “walking” on the lunar surface, as it did not require bending knees.
  5. Long handles were used in various tools as bending the waist was nearly impossible, though even holding things is difficult due to the gloves worn.

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