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Current Affairs for UPSC Civil Services Exam – May 18, 2024

{GS1 – AH – Periods} Stone Age

  • Context (IE): New research indicates that the Stone Age — a long prehistoric period characterised by the use of stone tools by humans— might as accurately be described as the ‘Wood Age’.
  • A recently published study of around 300,000-400,000-year-old wooden artefacts excavated from a coal mine in Schöningen, Germany, indicated that these were not simply “sharpened sticks” but “technologically advanced tools.

Tools of Stone Age - PMF IAS

Credit: IE

  • The discovered spears strongly suggest that systematic hunting, involving foresight, planning and the use of appropriate technology, was part of the behavioural repertoire of pre-modern hominids.
  • In the 19th century, Danish archaeologists devised the first scientifically rigorous periodisation of human prehistory into the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and finally, the Iron Age.

Stone Age

  • The Stone Age is a period in prehistory that lasted from around 3.4 million to 12,000 years ago.

timeline human prehistory - PMF IAS

Credit: Art History

  • In technical terms, human ‘history’ began with the advent of writing.
  • Everything before that is ‘prehistory’, studied primarily using archaeological evidence, although ethnographic research (study of human cultures and communities) can also provide important insights.
  • It is called the Stone Age because it is characterised by when early humans started using stones, such as flint, for tools and weapons. They also used stones to light fires.

Tools of Stone Age - PMF IAS

Credit: Walkagainsttraffick

  • Stone Age sites across the world also show evidence of a number of other materials being used, from bones and antlers, to clay, and some (very limited) metalworking.
  • It marks the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to the beginnings of agriculture, animal domestication and the use of tools.

Three Stages of the Stone Age

  • The Stone Age, which lasted until about 6,000-4,000 BP (Before the Present), comprises 99% of human history.
  • It is further divided into three periods: Palaeolithic (‘Old Stone Age’), Mesolithic (‘Middle Stone Age’), and Neolithic (‘New Stone Age’).

The Palaeolithic Period

  • It lasted from the first use of stone until the end of the last Ice Age. This stage was roughly between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago.
  • Palaeolithic humans were hunters and gatherers and had a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to another.
  • People lived in small groups and used caves or forests for shelter.
  • They created simple tools out of stone and made cave paintings.

The Mesolithic Period

  • The ‘Middle Stone Age’ lasted from the end of the last Ice Age until the beginning of farming.
  • During the Mesolithic period, the climate started to warm up, early farming developed and people started to raise animals as livestock.
  • Stone tools became more sophisticated. An important milestone was the invention of the prepared-core technique, which allowed early humans to create lots of similarly-shaped tools from the same stone.

The Neolithic Period

  • The ‘New Stone Age’ lasted from the start of farming until the first use of metal (which was the beginning of the Bronze Age).
  • It is marked by the domestication of animals, the advent of agriculture and people creating pottery/textiles.
  • Humans shifted from a nomadic lifestyle to a sedentary lifestyle (staying in one place and creating a village or town).

{GS2 – IR – China-Russia} Vladimir Putin meets Xi Jinping

  • Context (IE): Putin is on his 19th visit to China & first overseas visit after assuming his sixth term.
  • Putin called Xi his “dear friend” and said their relationship is “not opportunistic” and “not directed against anyone.Both leaders celebrated 75 years of diplomatic ties.

China, Russia, and the Ukraine War

  • Both signed a “no-limits” strategic partnership a few days before Russia’s Ukraine invasion.
  • The US alleges that China is the “top supplier” of dual-use items to Russia for civilian & military use.
  • Russian imports of machine tools, chips, and other dual-use items from China have increased significantly.
  • Earlier, Xi pledged that China would not sell arms to Russia and would control the flow of dual-use goods to its military.
  • China, while signing a strategic agreement with Russia, said that both sides agreed that a political settlement to the Ukraine crisis was the “right direction”.

Sino-Russian relationship

  • Cold start: When visiting Moscow after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong was made to wait for weeks for a meeting with Joseph Stalin.
  • Cold War era: China and the USSR were rivals, competing for control of the global communist movement with a brief border war in 1969.
  • Death of Mao: The relationship began to improve after Mao died in 1976 but remained frosty until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
  • Post-Cold War: China became Russia’s biggest trading partner and the largest Asian investor. China views Russia as a powerhouse of raw materials and a valuable market for its consumer goods.
  • West’s hostile approach: The West’s hostile approach towards Russia after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 brought Moscow closer to Beijing.

Critical Concerns for India

  • Defence supplies: About 60-70% of Indian defence supplies come from Russia, and New Delhi needs regular and reliable supplies, especially during Sino-Indian border skirmishes.
  • Russia becoming “Junior partner”: Many Western analysts have cautioned India about a scenario in which Russia becomes a “junior partner” of China.
  • Uncertain support: Though Russia extended its support during the 1971 war, it did not very much support during the 1962 war. And now Russia itelf is not the old Soviet Union.

 

{GS2 – IR – Middle East} UAE launches 10-year Blue Visa

  • Context (IE): The UAE Cabinet has approved a 10-year Blue Residence visa for individuals contributing significantly to environmental protection.
  • Eligible individuals include members of international organisations, international companies, associations, non-governmental organisations, global award winners, distinguished environmental activists and researchers.
  • Areas include marine life, land-based ecosystems, air quality, sustainability technologies, the circular economy, etc.
  • Eligible persons can apply through the Federal Authority for Identity, Citizenship, Customs, and Port Security (ICP). Relevant authorities can also nominate eligible individuals.

Other Residency Options

  • The UAE typically issues residency visas with a two-year validity.
  • In 2019, the UAE introduced 10-year Golden Visas. Golden Visas are for investors, entrepreneurs, scientists, outstanding students, graduates, and humanitarian pioneers.
  • In 2022, the UAE launched five-year Green Visas. Green Visas are for skilled professionals, freelancers, investors, and entrepreneurs.
  • UAE is the top destination for Indian migrants, according to a report by a United Nations agency.
  • There were 3.47 million Indians in the UAE in 2020, according to the World Migration Report 2024.

{GS2 – IR – Russia} Russia’s Economic Resilience

  • Context (DTE): Russia faces more individual sanctions than Iran, Cuba, and North Korea combined. Despite sanctions, the Russian economy remains strong.

Factors Behind Russia’s Economic Resilience

Weak Sanctions on the Energy Sector

  • Sanctions on the Russian energy sector are not as tight as on Iran or Venezuela. Since higher oil prices would harm Western economies, so sanctions and price caps are loosely enforced.
  • While exports to Western Europe have fallen, overall volumes remain steady. Oil previously sent to Europe is now absorbed by China and India.
  • While global oil prices remain high, the discount on Russian oil persists. As a result, oil export revenues for Russia continue to stay high.

Recovery of Corporate Investment

  • Corporate investment in Russia has recovered since 2022.
  • Investment is getting stronger due to increased resource flow to defence and manufacturing sectors.
  • Sanctions imposed after the Ukraine invasion have necessitated an overhaul of the economy, which has led to increased investment activities in various sectors.
  • The IMF, for instance, has highlighted that some imports are being substituted by domestic goods, resulting in investments in new production facilities.

Strong Private Consumption

  • Private consumption is driven by:
    • Buoyant credit and a strong labour market.
    • Record-low unemployment at 3% and rising wages.
    • Voluntary military recruitment with monetary incentives.

Government Spending

  • Despite the large increase in military spending, overall government spending has increased, but not as much in real terms (Defence spending is estimated at 7% of GDP.)

Experience of Financial Sanctions

  • Financial sanctions were first imposed in 2014 after the Crimea invasion. Russia has learned to manoeuvre around these punitive measures over time.

Central Bank Role

  • The Governor of Bank of Russia is credited for blunting the West’s sanctions with hawkish monetary policies.

Hawkish & Dovish Monetary Policies

  • Central bankers are described as “hawkish” when they are in support of the raising of interest rates to fight inflation, even to the detriment of economic growth and employment.
  • On the other hand, central bankers are described as “dovish” when they favour economic growth and employment over-tightening interest rates.

Hawkish vs Dovish Monetary Policies - PMF IAS

Credit: babypips

{GS3 – Agri – Food Security} Haryana and Punjab’s role in National Food Security

  • Context (IE): El Niño has underscored the importance of Punjab and Haryana to India’s food security.

Share of Punjab & Haryana in Centre’s Pool

Share of Punjab & Haryana in Centre’s Pool - PMF IAS

Credit: IE

Wheat situation

  • Till the mid-2000s, Punjab and Haryana contributed 90% or more of the wheat for feeding the public distribution system (PDS) and other government programmes.
  • With the Green Revolution spreading to other states, and their governments also establishing infrastructure for buying grain at minimum support prices, the ratio dipped to roughly 65% by the early 2010s.
  • In 2019-20 and 2020-21, the share of Punjab and Haryana fell to just over 50%, and Madhya Pradesh emerged as the country’s No. 1 wheat procurer in 2019-20, overtaking Punjab.

Rice situation

  • In rice, government procurement was traditionally concentrated in Punjab and Haryana, plus the Godavari-Krishna and Kaveri delta regions of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • Like wheat, there has been a diversification here as well, with new states — especially Telangana, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and even UPbecoming major contributors to the Central pool.
  • The combined share of Punjab and Haryana in total rice procurement has fallen from 43-44% in the early 2000s to an average of 28.8% in the four years ended 2022-23.

Factors responsible for declining share

  • El Niño leading to monsoon failures in India.
  • Low procurement due to poor harvest.

{GS3 – Agri – Horticulture} Apple cultivation is now viable in Spiti Valley *

  • Context (DTE): The recent warming of temperatures has made apple cultivation viable in lower regions of Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh up to 3,400 meters above sea level.
  • Farmers are transitioning from traditional crops like barley and potatoes to growing apples due to their economic significance. In the 2023-24 season, Spiti Valley Produced apples valued at Rs 34 crore approx.

About Apple

Apple - PMF IAS

Credit: Amazon

  • It is a temperate fruit.
  • China is the largest apple-producing country in the world.
  • Apples originated in the Middle East more than 4000 years ago.
  • In India, it is mostly grown in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland.

Agro-climatic requirements

  • Dry temperate areas are suitable for apple cultivation. The fruits produced in these areas are of high quality, with high sugar content and longer shelf life.
  • Apple can be grown at altitudes 1,500-2,700 m.
  • The temperature during the growing season is around 21-24 degrees Celsius.
  • Apple trees need 100-125 cm. of annual rainfall, evenly distributed, for optimum growth and fruiting. Excessive rains and fog near the fruit maturity period result in poor fruit quality.
  • Areas exposed to high-velocity winds are not desirable for apple cultivation.
  • Loamy soils, rich in organic matter, with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and proper drainage and aeration, are suitable.

{GS3 – Envi – Conservation} Seagrasses

  • Context (DTE): Seagrass meadows are rapidly expanding near inhabited islands in the Maldives.
  • Seagrasses are marine flowering plants. They are not true grasses and are more closely related to terrestrial lilies and gingers than grasses.

Seagrass - PMF IAS

Credit: Hudson Alpha

  • They often grow in large groups giving the appearance of terrestrial grassland – an underwater meadow.
  • They have roots, stems and leaves and produce flowers and fruits. They are the only flowering plants that can live underwater.
  • They are found in salty and brackish waters from the tropics to the Arctic Circle.

Distribution of Sea Grasses - PMF IAS

Credit: TechOceanScience

  • They thrive in shallow coastal waters where there is shelter from drying winds, wave action, and strong currents.
  • The depth of seagrass is usually controlled by the availability of light for photosynthesis.
  • Seagrasses reproduce through both sexual and asexual methods.
  • Important seagrasses: Sea Cow Grass, Thready Seagrass, Needle Seagrass, Flat-tipped Seagrass, etc.
  • In India, Seagrasses occur all along the coastal areas of India and are abundant in the Palk Strait and Gulf of Mannar in Tamil Nadu.

Significance

  • Globally, seagrass captures carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests, accounting for 10-18% of total ocean carbon storage despite covering less than 0.1% of the seafloor.
  • They reinforce coastal protection by protecting the coast from damaging storms and erosion by dampening the force of waves.
  • They are called ‘the lungs of the sea’ as they release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.
  • They help maintain water quality. They trap fine sediments and suspended particles in the water column and increase water clarity.
  • Seagrass habitats protect juvenile and small adult fish from large predators.
  • Seagrass leaves support seaweeds by providing anchoring facilities. Seahorses and lizardfish are found living in seagrass meadows almost throughout the year.

{GS3 – Envi – Degradation} Loss of large trees in India’s farmland

  • Context (TH): A recent study published in Nature Sustainability reveals that India may have lost nearly 5.8 million full-grown trees in agricultural lands from 2019 to 2022.
  • Need for the study:
    • India’s farmland occupies approximately 56% of the nation’s land area. Despite their crucial significance, alterations in tree cover within these regions have received minimal attention.
    • The study aims to address this gap by examining changes in tree cover on Indian farmland.
  • The researchers used satellite imagery from RapidEye and PlanetScope repositories.

Key Findings

  • 11% of trees detected during 2010-2011 were no longer visible between 2018 & 2022.
  • Significant loss of large trees in central India, particularly in Telangana and Maharashtra, with some areas losing up to 50% of their large farmland trees.
  • Factors that led to the loss of large trees: Conversion of farmland to paddy fields and the expansion of water supplies, leading to the removal of mature trees.
  • However, this decline doesn’t necessarily indicate an overall decrease in India’s tree cover, as the study focused specifically on large trees above a certain size.
  • RapidEye, formerly operated by Planet Labs, is a retired constellation of five satellites that operated from 2009 to 2020.
  • PlanetScope, operated by Planet Labs, is a constellation of approximately 130 satellites, able to image the entire land surface of the Earth every day.

{GS3 – S&T – Tech} China’s High Energy Photon Source (HEPS)

  • Context (TOI): China is poised to unveil its cutting-edge High Energy Photon Source (HEPS) by year end.
  • It will be the first fourth-generation synchrotron light source in Asia.
  • HEPS is part of an elite group of fourth-generation synchrotrons, including Sweden’s MAX IV Laboratory, Sirius in Brazil, the Extremely Brilliant Source in France, and the Advanced Photon Source in Illinois, USA.
  • The HEPS, after completion, will stand as one of the brightest synchrotron radiation (SR) sources in the world and the first high-energy synchrotron radiation facility in China.
  • The HEPS is designed with the capacity to emit X-rays beams that are a trillion times brighter than those of the Sun.
  • HEPS will accelerate electrons up to energies of 6 gigaelectron volts.
  • HEPS will revolutionise scientific research with its production of high-energy X-rays, facilitating the precise probing of samples at the nanoscale level.
  • Compared to third-generation synchrotrons, it will offer a time resolution that is 10,000 times superior.

Synchrotron Light Source

  • Synchrotron light is an electromagnetic wave similar to sunlight. However, it is the electromagnetic wave radiated from a charged particle such as electrons moving at velocities near the speed of light.
  • Synchrotron light is unique in its intensity and brilliance, and it can be generated across the range of the electromagnetic spectrum: from infrared to visible light to x-rays.

How is synchrotron light created?

  • Synchrotrons use electricity to produce intense beams of light more than a million times brighter than the sun.
  • The light is produced when high-energy electrons are forced to travel in a circular orbit inside the synchrotron tunnels by the ‘synchronised’ application of strong magnetic fields.

Uses

  • Fundamental science: In discovering atomic and molecular properties, study of property changes of materials under high pressure and temperature, study of arrangement of atoms on the surface, etc.
  • Research in medical science: Study of bio-molecular matters with small and complex structures commonly found in living beings such as proteins, nucleic acid, etc.
  • Industrial research: Developing new products or improving existing products requires in-depth studies by applying new knowledge to add industrial value.

Synchrotron Facility in India

  • India has two synchrotron radiation sources, INDUS-1 and INDUS-2, located at the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT) in Indore.
    1. INDUS-1: India’s first synchrotron generator, with a 450 MeV storage ring
    2. INDUS-2: A 2.5 GeV synchrotron radiation source, with a critical wavelength of about 1.98 angstroms.

{Prelims – Envi – Species} Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis)

  • Context (DTE): The leopard cat was recently spotted in Maharashtra’s Pench Tiger Reserve.

Leopard Cat - PMF IAS

Credit: Animalia

  • The leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is a small wild cat native to continental South, Southeast, and East Asia.
  • The name is derived from the leopard-like spots prevalent in all subspecies, but its relation to the leopard is distant.
  • Males of this species are called “toms”, females are referred to as “queens”, whereas offspring are known as “kittens“.
  • A leopard cat is about the size of a domestic cat, but more slender, with longer legs and well-defined webs between its toes. They are excellent swimmers.
  • Distribution (in India): It is restricted to Northeast India, northern Himalayan states, West Bengal, Odisha and pockets of Western Ghats and is absent in central India.

Distribution of Leopard Cat - PMF IAS

Credit: Animalia

  • Habitat: Shrubland, grassland, coniferous forest as well as tropical and temperate forest.
  • Diet: It is a carnivore, feeding upon small terrestrial vertebrates including insects, insectivores, birds, snakes, eels, fish, crabs, hares, mustelids, pigs, etc.
  • Conservation Status: IUCN: Least Concern

{Prelims – In News} Africa’s initiative to control the infectious diseases

  • Context (DTE): Recently, African health ministers met in Kenya to launch two key initiatives.
  • The meeting was hosted by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).
  • The health ministers were concerned over the growing burden of infectious diseases, especially cholera.
  • According to the WHO Regional Office for Africa, since the beginning of 2024, there were 62,175 cholera cases and 1,232 deaths till March 31.

Key initiatives launched

  1. Eastern Africa Regional Integrated Surveillance and Laboratory Network (RISLNET)
    • It will use existing regional public health assets & coordinate public health laboratory, surveillance, and emergency response assets.
    • It will create an integrated electronic network of regional surveillance platforms by integrating with Africa CDC Regional Collaborating Centres.
  2. Eastern Africa Regional Cholera Taskforce
    • It aims to streamline regional strategies for cholera management and prevention.

{Prelims – In News} Trilateral Maritime Security Workshop

  • Context (PIB): The 2nd India-Australia-Indonesia Trilateral Maritime Security Workshop (TMSW) was held recently. It took place at INS Dronacharya (gunnery school of the Indian Navy), Kochi, India.
  • The theme was Indian Ocean Region: Collaborative Efforts to Enhance Regional Maritime Security.
  • It was organised by Headquarters Southern Naval Command.
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