ias-toppers-European-XFEL
Current Affairs Analysis

7th & 8th May 2017 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

European XFEL; World Water Council; Chabahar port; Indian Institute of Astrophysics; Using water to convert methane into methanol; Methane; etc.
By IT's Current Affairs Analysis Team
May 08, 2017

Contents

Issues related to Health & Education

  • ‘Quality of water has improved’

Economy

  • Driving towards safer roads

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Japan pitches for Chabahar port

Science & Technology

  • A century of looking at our closest star, the sun
  • European XFEL generates its first laser beam
  • A way to use water to convert methane into methanol

For IASToppers’ Current Affairs Analysis Archive, Click Here

Issues related to Health & Education

‘Quality of water has improved’

The World Water Council recently carried out a major survey on water awareness in major parts of the world, including India.

ias-toppers--Water

  • The survey was done ahead of the 8th World Water Forum that is scheduled to take place in the Brazilian capital Brasilia in March 2018.
  • Based on its observations, the council has observed that the standard of drinking water in India has improved in the last five years but a lot of work still remains to be done.

Highlights of the survey:

As per the survey report,

  • More than one-third of Indians think that not enough is being done to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals to make water and sanitation for all a reality by 2030.
  • 31% of Indians said they had been in a situation where it was unsafe to drink water but they had no other choice and suffered from diseases like diarrhoea and gastroenteritis.
  • A majority (71%) of Indians said that safe drinking water had improved over the last five years.
  • 62% of the Indians said they believed that the government was doing enough to support access to safe drinking water.
  • Referring to the ‘Swachh Bharat Campaign’, the World Water Council praised Indian government’s efforts towards clean drinking water and sanitation.

About World Water Council:

ias-toppers-World-Water-Council

  • It is an international multi-stakeholder platform to facilitate the efficient conservation, protection, development, planning, management and use of water in all its dimensions.
  • It was established in 1996 and its headquarters is in Marseille, France.
  • It has 341 members which include organizations from the UN and intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, governments and ministries, academic institutions, international organizations, local governments, and civil society groups.
  • Every third year the World Water Council organizes the World Water Forum in close collaboration with the authorities of the hosting country.
  • The Forum is the largest international event in the field of water.
  • The World Water Council is financed primarily through membership fees, and additional support is provided by the host City of Marseille.
  • Specific projects and programs are financed through donations and grants from governments, international organizations, and NGO’s.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Economy

Driving towards safer roads

In the WHO South East Asia Region, it is estimated that approximately 3,16,000 people die every year on roads, which is around 865 fatalities each day.

ias-toppers-road-safety

  • Twenty to 50 times that number are injured or disabled and require long-term care.
  • Road fatalities are the leading cause of death among young persons, while road safety incidents cost upwards of 3% of GDP. That’s before accounting for medical expenses.

Factors responsible:

  • Though the behaviour of road users matters, poor public policy is at the root of the problem.
  • The vast majority of ‘accidents’ could have been avoided by better use of road safety technology such as barriers, rumble strips or signage. Their impact could also have been lessened by safer vehicles.
  • Good policy can also bring about immediate change.

What needs to be done?

Action in four key areas can diminish injury and death on roads across the South East Asia Region, and help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of halving the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents by 2020. These include:

First,

  • Road safety authorities must have the data needed to act efficiently.
  • Good data allow authorities to analyse and understand the factors causing road crashes, as well as to devise and implement cost-effective solutions.
  • This could be as minor as installing a guardrail on a switchback, or as substantial as demolishing a high-risk road and building it anew.
  • Clear lines of responsibility and partnership among government agencies and stakeholders can help this process, especially given the problem’s multi-sectoral nature.

Second,

  • Infrastructure must be tailored to the needs of vulnerable road users.
  • On average 50% of road deaths occur among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
  • In some countries, this figure rises to more than 80%. Bicycle lanes, pedestrian crossings and enforcement of helmet laws among other interventions can dramatically reduce these numbers.
  • They can do so in a way that makes our cities less car dependent.

Third,

  • Motor vehicles must be manufactured to higher safety standards.
  • Just two of the region’s countries currently apply any of the seven priority international vehicle safety standards, such as seat belts and electronic stability control.
  • These are India which implements two of the seven priorities, and Thailand which implements one of the seven. Not a single country applies all.

Fourth,

  • The response to post-crash emergencies must be increased.
  • When every second counts, a nationwide emergency phone service is critical. So too are efficient pre-hospital response and hospital trauma care systems.
  • In addition, steps should be taken to enhance early rehabilitation and support for road crash victims. This will help avoid long-term complications and enhance quality of life. It will also reduce health-care usage over the life-course.

Expectations from citizens:

  • Each one of us can limit the prospect of an incident and protect ourselves and our loved ones by slowing down, by desisting from drink-driving, by using seat belts and child restraints, and, when riding a motorcycle, by wearing a helmet.
  • These actions will reinforce government-led initiatives, and will also promote society-wide change.

 [Ref: The Hindu]

 

Bilateral & International Relations

Japan pitches for Chabahar port

Japan has shown interest in collaborating with India on projects in Asia and Africa as a counter to China’s Belt and Road initiative (B&RI).

  • Categorically, it has shown interest in Chabahar port development.

Where is Chabahar port located?

The port of Chabahar is located on the Makran coast of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, next to the Gulf of Oman and at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz.

iastoppers-chabahar-port-vs-gwadar-port

  • It is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • Being close to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan etc., it has been termed the “Golden Gate” to these land-locked countries.
  • The Chabahar port was partially developed by India in the 1990s.

How important the port is for India?

  • India believes the Chabahar port is critical to its interests and wants to develop it as a counter to Pakistan’s Gwadar port which was built with Chinese assistance.
  • The port will allow India to bypass Pakistan to transport goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia using a sea-land route.
  • Chabahar Port lies outside the Persian Gulf in Iran and will help India in expanding its maritime commerce in the region.
  • It also provides opportunities to Indian companies to penetrate and enhance their footprint in the region.
  • At present, majority of Iran’s seaborne trade is handled by the Bandar Abbas port. Chahbahar has much higher trading and shipping capacity than Bandar Abbas. The decision of the Indian government to invest in the Chahbahar port marks high trade prospects for both the countries.
  • Since the partition of the country in 1947, India’s trade access to Afghanistan has been thwarted by Pakistan. While no Indian goods can move to Afghanistan through Pakistan, only a trickle of goods from Afghanistan can reach India. Trade interests in Afghanistan and in Central Asia, made it imperative for India to look for an alternative route, which was provided by Chabahar.
  • Strategic importance of Chabahar Port is its location. Chabahar Port is roughly 70 kilometres west of Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
  • The Chabahar Port provides a connectivity by road from Iranian port city of Chabahar to a point at Iran’s Northern border with Afghanistan, from where Delaram–Zaranj Highway starts.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

Science & Technology

A century of looking at our closest star, the sun

Data captured over a hundred years and more by the Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in Tamil Nadu has now been digitised by astrophysicists from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru, and opened up to the public.

Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in Tamil Nadu
Kodaikanal Solar Observatory in Tamil Nadu

Significance of this data:

  • Apart from use in academic studies of long-term behaviour of the sun, the data can be used to better understand sunspot activity which impacts climate and affects telecommunication systems.
  • It also throws light on major events that had an impact on the earth’s magnetic field.

How this data is unique?

  • The 100-year data is unique also for its three sets of images, taken using different filters – White light, H-alpha and Calcium-K.
  • It is known that the sun has a layered structure, and each of the data sets exposes a different layer.

White light

  • Under white light filtering, the sun’s photosphere and the sunspots are visible

Calcium-K

  • The Calcium-K light can show layers some 2,000 km above this, in the chromosphere.
  • Features called “filaments” which are related to large expulsions of material from the sun’s surface can be viewed in the Calcium-K sets.

H-alpha

  • The H-alpha images show up layers a little above the Calcium-K images.

Background:

  • While ‘spectroheliograms’ were taken at the Kodai observatory since 1902, it was in 1909 that the data was used to discover the Evershed effect – that gases in sunspots flowed radially outwards.
  • The discovery by John Evershed put the KSO at par with the best observatories in the world. But its importance eventually declined as it was not upgraded or maintained.

About Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA):

ias-toppers-Indian-Institute-of-Astrophysics

  • IIA is a premier institute devoted to research in astronomy, astrophysics and related physics.
  • Funded by the Department of Science and Technology, the Institute ranks as a premier institution devoted to research and education of astronomy and physics in the country.
  • It traces its origins back to an observatory set up in 1786 at Madras which from the year 1792 began to formally function at its Nungambakkam premises as the Madras Observatory.
  • In 1899, the observatory moved to Kodaikanal.
  • In the year 1971, the Kodaikanal Observatory became an autonomous society, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

European XFEL generates its first laser beam

The biggest X-ray laser in the world, the European XFEL, has generated its first X-ray laser light and is now considered ready for its official opening in September.

ias-toppers-European-XFEL

About European XFEL:

  • The European x-ray free electron laser (European XFEL) is an X-ray research laser facility.
  • It is housed in underground tunnels inside a 3.4km-long facility at the DESY accelerator centre in Germany.
  • Eleven countries are involved in the European XFEL.
  • It produces X-rays through the acceleration of electrons, the so-called synchrotron radiation.
  • There are currently only five X-ray lasers in the world. The European XFEL is the largest and most powerful of the group.
  • The machine works by creating synchrotron radiation in X-ray range, emitting electrons that are accelerated to close to the speed of light. Then, a powerful linear accelerator helps create the laser light, which is a billion times brighter than conventional synchrotron light sources.

Significance:

  • According to researchers, XFEL will create the fastest and most powerful laser pulses on the planet. This will help many biological, chemical, and physical experiments. For example, it could aid the study of biomolecules, leading to better, more effective disease treatments.
  • It also could create more research into chemical processes and their catalysts, shedding light on new ways to help protect the environment.
  • The X-rays can be used to make pictures and films of the nanocosmos at atomic resolution – such as of biomolecules, from which better understandings of the basis of illnesses or the development of new therapies could be developed.
  • It will also provide us with the most detailed images of the molecular structure of new materials and drugs and novel live recordings of biochemical reactions.
  • The facility will enable research into chemical processes and catalytic techniques, with the goal of improving their efficiency or making them more environmentally friendly; materials research; or the investigation of conditions similar to the interior of planets.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

A way to use water to convert methane into methanol

A team of researchers from Switzerland, has developed a one-step process that uses water to convert methane to methanol.

About the process of conversion:

ias-toppers-convert-methane-into-methanol

  • Water is used to oxidize methane over a bed of copper containing zeolite—the unique structure of the mineral lets the water behave as an oxidant.
  • The team claims the process is 97 percent efficient, emitting only methanol and hydrogen.
  • The method is simple and easy enough that it could be used at drilling sites and the resulting methanol could be used as a liquid fuel or as an ingredient in making resins or plastics.
  • The hydrogen could be used in any number of ways, including in fuel cells.

Significance of the research:

  • A new way to turn methane into methanol using only water could help to significantly cut carbon emissions by ending gas flaring at oil fields and create a useful chemical feedstock at the same time.
  • The direct oxidation of methane to methanol would therefore be a highly attractive industrial process as Methanol is a valuable source of industrial chemicals and over 30 million tonnes are consumed every year.

Present practice of conversion:

  • Currently, commercial methanol production requires the endothermic conversion of methane to synthesis gas – a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen – which is then converted to methanol. This is only feasible in huge facilities, so remote oil-extraction facilities often simply burn any methane produced.

About Methane:

ias toppers Methane

  • Methane has been identified as a greenhouse gas.
  • It is perhaps more of a problem even than carbon dioxide because it traps more heat (some studies have suggested 25 times as much)—fortunately, not nearly as much of it is emitted by humans into the atmosphere.
  • It makes its way into the atmosphere due to animal flatulence and some industrial processes.
  • It is also a byproduct at gas wells, where it is generally burned.
  • Methanol, on the other hand, has been considered a good alternative to gasoline for use in automobile engines. It is currently made using a variety of techniques and basic materials including coal, natural gas and even municipal waste.
[Ref: The Hindu]

 

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