Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 23 February 2023

Russia suspends New START

GS Paper - 2 (International Relations)

The first anniversary of the beginning of the war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin announced in an address to his nation that Russia is suspending its participation in the New START, the last remaining major military agreement with the United States.

What is the New START?

  1. The name START comes from the original “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty”, known as START-I, which was signed between the US and the erstwhile USSR in 1991, and came into force in 1994.
  2. START-I, which capped the numbers of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that each side could deploy at 6,000 and 1,600 respectively, lapsed in 2009, and was replaced first by the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, also known as the Treaty of Moscow), and then by the New START treaty.
  3. The New START, officially, the “Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms”, entered into force on 5 February 2011, and placed new verifiable limits on intercontinental-range nuclear weapons.
  4. The two countries had to meet the treaty’s central limits on strategic offensive arms by 5 February 2018, and to then stay within those limits for the period the treaty remained in force.
  5. The US and Russia Federation subsequently agreed to extend the treaty through 4 February 2026.


  1. Russia said earlier this month that it wanted to preserve the treaty, despite what it called a destructive U.S. approach to arms control.
  2. Together, Russia and the United States account for about 90% of the world's nuclear warheads and both sides have stressed that war between nuclear powers must be avoided at all costs.
  3. However, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has pushed the two countries closer to direct confrontation than at any time in the past 60 years.
  4. The United States has accused Russia of violating the treaty by not allowing inspections on its territory, while Moscow has warned that the West's determination to "defeat" Russia could stop the treaty from being renewed when it expires in 2026.


  1. Russia said last year that the danger of a nuclear conflict was real and should not be underestimated, but that it should be avoided at all costs.
  2. Both the U.S. and Russia have checks to ensure that their nuclear missiles cannot be used accidentally, after years of tension during the Cold War led to some near misses.
  3. However, fears of a nuclear confrontation have increased since the Ukraine invasion. Putin has reminded the world of the size and power of Moscow's arsenal and said he is ready to use all means necessary to defend Russia's "territorial integrity".


Risk of flooding from glacial lakes

GS Paper - 1 (Geography)

Around 15 million people across the world face the risk of sudden and deadly flooding from glacial lakes, which are expanding and rising in numbers due to global warming, according to a new study. More than half of those who could be impacted live in four countries: IndiaPakistanPeru and China. Published in the journal Nature, the study, ‘Glacial lake outburst floods threaten millions globally’.

What are glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFs?

  1. Glacial lakes are large bodies of water that sit in front of, on top of, or beneath a melting glacier.
  2. Glacial lakes result from a shrinking glacier. Once the water is released from them, it could cause flooding in the downstream areas.
  3. As they grow larger in size, they become more dangerous because glacial lakes are mostly dammed by unstable ice or sediment composed of loose rock and debris.
  4. In case the boundary around them breaks, huge amounts of water rush down the side of the mountains, which could cause flooding in the downstream areas.
  5. This is called glacial lake outburst floods or GLOFGLOF can be triggered by several reasons, including earthquakes and ice avalanches.
  6. In 2013, one such event took place in Uttarakhand’s Kedarnath when the region witnessed flash floods along with a GLOF caused by the Chorabari Tal glacial lake, killing thousands of people.

What are the findings of the new study?

  1. In order to identify the areas and communities that are most in danger from GLOFs, the researchers used existing satellite-derived data on different locations and sizes of glacial lakes with a global population model and a series of population metrics.
  2. A conservative estimate that anyone living within 50 km of a glacial lake and one km of a river that originates from a glacial lake could be impacted, either directly or indirectly, if one or more of the lakes upstream failed.
  3. Moreover, the researchers also looked at levels of human development and corruption in these zones to determine how vulnerable local communities may be when floods occur.
  4. As mentioned before, the paper estimates that 15 million people live within the 50 km danger zone of glacial lakes.
  5. It adds that populations in High Mountains Asia (HMA) — a region stretching from the Hindu Kush all the way to the eastern Himalayas — are the most exposed and on average live closest to glacial lakes with around one million people living within 10 km of a glacial lake.
  6. India and Pakistan make up one-third of the total number of people globally exposed to GLOFs — around three million people in India and around two million people in Pakistan.


Whale stranding in Sri Lanka

GS Paper - 3 (Environment)

Pilot whales were stranded near the shore of Kalpitiya, a town located on Sri Lanka’s west coast.  With the help of a navy team and local fishermen, 11 of them were rescued but three died. Whale strandings aren’t uncommon in Sri Lanka. In 2020, the country witnessed one of the biggest whale strandings in recent history when more than 100 pilot whales beached on the western coast of Panadura.

What is whale stranding and why does it happen?

  1. Whale stranding is a phenomenon in which whales are stuck on land, usually on a beach.
  2. Other aquatic animals like dolphins and porpoises are also known to beach. Most of the stranding events involve single animals but sometimes, mass strandings, consisting of hundreds of marine animals at a time, can happen.
  3. Although mass strandings have been occurring since the times of Aristotle — back then, they were considered a gift from the gods as the stranded whales and dolphins were a rich source of food and oil — experts don’t know exactly why they take place.
  4. Vanessa Pirotta, a wildlife scientist specialising in marine mammals at Macquarie University (Australia), said, “Whale strandings are a mystery. We don’t know why they happen.”
  5. The reasons for mass strandings are several, including the topography of the region, illness, human activities and increasing noise pollution in the oceans.

How might human activities be causing whale strandings?

  1. Experts believe that mass strandings could be becoming more common as the health of oceans continues to deteriorate due to human interference.
  2. One of the prime reasons for such incidents could be an increase in noise pollution in the oceans.
  3. According to a report published by Mongabay, the latest whale beaching event in Sri Lanka might have been caused due to the “recent seismic activity in the Indian Ocean”.
  4. Several studies have shown that noise from large commercial shipsmilitary sonars or offshore drilling severely impacts whales’ and other marine animals’ ability to use sound to navigate, find food and protect themselves. This can drive them ashore by deafening, disorienting, or frightening them.
  5. Another factor could be the rising temperatures of the oceans that cause changes in prey and predator distribution, resulting in whales coming closer to shore.
  6. Whales and dolphins often travel where there is food. Changes in prey movements due to environmental changes like sea temperature and currents may play a role in where whale and dolphin food is located.

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