Even as the number of laboratory confirmed cases in Wuhanand other parts of mainland China has come down in the last few days (78,497 cases and 2,744 deaths as on February 27), thespread of the novelcoronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19diseaseremains unchecked in a few countries.
The number of countries/regions that have so far reported at least one confirmed case has also gone up in the past week — 3,346cases from 49countries as on February 27.
This does not include the 705confirmedcases on a cruise ship in Japanese waters.
Till some time back, the cases on board the vessel were the highest outside China.
But that changed on February24 when the total number of cases reported from South Korea stood at 763, overshooting the number of cases on the ship
With 1,766cases and 13 deaths, South Korea has the most number of infections outside China as on February 27.
Beyond the high number of cases reported from South Korea, what is indeed alarming is the rate of viralspread.
What has made it arduous for South Korea in containing the spread is the difficulty in tracing the contacts of cult members as they prefer not to disclose their affiliation to the church.
The spread has been equally alarming in Iran though the numbers are far fewer compared with SouthKorea.
From just two cases on February 20, the numbers in Iran increased to 245 on February 27; there have been 26 deaths too, the highest outside China.
It becomes apparent that mass gatherings in enclosed spaces are an idealground for the virus to spread.
A browning east
Western Ghats are the crown jewels of India’s natural heritage.
Eastern Ghats spread across some 75,000 sq. km. from Odisha to southern Tamil Nadu, play an important dual role: fostering biodiversity and storing energy in trees.
In these mountains exist a reservoir of about 3,000floweringplant species, nearly 100 of them endemic, occurring in the dry deciduous, moist deciduous and semi-evergreenlandscapes.
Many animals, including tigers and elephants, and some 400bird species are found in these discontinuous forests that receive an annual average rainfall of 1,200 mm to 1,500 mm.
Crucially, many parts, primarily in Odisha, AndhraPradesh and TamilNadu, provide forest produce andecosystemservices to millions.
New research findings: Ghats face a serious threat from climate change, and temperature variations are a cause for worry.
It is noteworthy that a disruption of the annualaverage temperature and diminished rainfall would rob the productivity of these forests, in terms of their ability to store carbon, and provide subsistence material.
Existing data point to the impoverishment of areas experiencing rainfall reduction in the driest quarter of the year and a rise in seasonal temperature, through reduced plant species diversity and a dominant role for herbs over trees.
Protecting the EasternGhats, which are separated by powerful rivers — the Godavari and Krishna, to name just two — is an ecological imperative.
India is committed, under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes through enhanced forest and tree cover.
Yet, forest protection policies have often failed dismally.
By some estimates, the Ghats have shrunk by 16% over the past century, and just one region, Papikonda National Park, lost about 650 sq. km. in two decades from 1991.
Relieving the pressure on forests can be done through policies that reduce extraction of scarce resources and incentivise settled agriculture.
Schemes for restoration of forest peripheries through indigenous plant and tree species, matching national commitments, could qualify for international climate finance, and must be pursued.
Improving tree cover nationally is certain to confer multiple benefits, including modulation of the monsoon, improved air quality and wider spaces for biodiversity to persist.
Aadhaar, no standout performer in welfare delivery
“Aadhaar has curtailed leakages of government subsidies... Through Aadhaar, savings worth ₹90,000 crore have accrued to the government,” said Ajay Bhushan Pandey, then CEO of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) and current Revenue Secretary, in their 2017-18 annual report.
National Bureau of Economic Research: Professors Karthik Muralidharan, Paul Niehaus and Sandip Sukthankar
Extensive empirical study of the impact of Aadhaar in reducing leakages and accruing fiscal savings.
When Aadhaar was conceived a decade ago..... India spends nearly three trillion rupees a year across several core welfare programmes........roughly 30-40% is lost in leakages
Professor Muralidharan and the rest of the team tell us that Aadhaar by itself has no impact in reducing leakages significantly.
They conducted a scientifically designed study of the PDS system in Jharkhand covering 15 million beneficiaries using the technique of randomised control trials (RCT).
The study was set up in a manner where one set of beneficiaries went through the Aadhaar-basedbiometric authentication while the other group used the old system of procuring their ration.
The results were then compared to see if Aadhaar-based biometric authentication had any impact in reducing leakages.
Aadhaar-based biometric authentication increasedtransaction costs for beneficiaries.
whopping 17% extra cost burden
Type I error of exclusion: In simple terms, Aadhaar authentication falsely rejected genuine PDS beneficiaries who were then denied their ration supplies.
In an engineer’s world, if say, nine people are denied welfare due to a system error while nine million are benefited through greater efficiency, then it is considered a net benefit for society and the policy is given a thumbs up.
But in a sociologist’s world and in a liberal society, a policy that could run the risk of denying welfare to just a few people, putting their lives at risk, is not worth implementing regardless of how many millions it benefits.
What should India’s joint command structure look like?
After the Kargil War, a decision was taken to overhaul the higher defence organisation as several weaknesses were detected, especially in the conduct of joint operations by the three services.
We were very conscious that military and civilian organisations have a strong sense of history and a deep cultural ethos.
We were of the view that we should keep the strategic assets separate from the conventional assets.
I do not think anybody knows why they created the CDS now. It’s all conjecture that the Doklam crisis with China and the Balakot air strikes in Pakistan were the trigger points. Or perhaps it was a call by the Prime Minister — that these issues were festering for too long and something decisive had to be done.
The Navy had a wishlist of 200 ships, the Air Force targeted 45 squadrons. It made some people sit up and consider that with the change in the nature of warfare and limited resources, we needed to look afresh, pool and share costly assets, bring down the costs, but also sharpen the combat edge through streamlined tri-service operations.
While the CDS heads the DMA, is the Principal Adviserto the Defence Minister and the Military Adviser to the strategic nuclear forces, he is not — at least not yet — an operational head of the tri-service theatre commands unlike, say, the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee in the United States. Do you think this can cause problems in command and control?
That’s a moot point, that is about the apex body... should we follow the U.S. style of Joint Chiefs of Staff model, or what other countries such as Germany follow.
It is very important that within the next six to eight months the CDS should come up with a vision document explaining his plan.
We need to have a greater discussion among civilian policymakers, academics, militaryofficers to think about what sort of education we are going to give to officers to equip them to perform complex inter-agency roles as demanded by institutions such as the DMA.
A step forward in South Sudan
The inauguration of a national unity government in South Sudan last week is a milestone following the country’s independence from Sudan in 2011.
But the durability of the peace in the world’s youngest nation depends on reconciliation between the majority ethnic Nuer and Dinkacommunities under the terms of the 2018 peace deal.
The first peace deal, attempted in 2015, two years after Juba was plunged into a civil war in 2013 that cost an estimated 3,80,000lives, collapsed.
The implementation of the 2018 deal has been slow.
The new formula reflects a compromise between the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the opposition SPLM-IO (in Opposition).
Under the new arrangement, the exiled rebel leader RiekMachar is the first vice president (among five), a position he had held until his removal in 2013 on suspicion that he was plotting a coup.
A UN report exposed the recruitment of thousands of children into military units, highlighting how regional vested interests were violating the 2018 UN and U.S. embargo on arms sales to South Sudan.
Established in 2016, the body has said in its third report that while over a million people have been internally displaced, the deliberate obstruction of aid supplies has caused extreme hunger among more than half the population.
In particular, the Commission draws attention to continued fighting between government and rebel forces in the Equatoria region, resulting in mass migration to areas bordering DR Congo.
Institutionalising a legitimate succession mechanism is an important element in that process, given that Mr. Kiir has remained President since independence.