* Front Page & Nation

Number of infections in Italy rises by 40% to 1,576 in 24 hours

Safety measures: A Chinese boy undergoing screening at an ITBP quarantine facility in New Delhi on Sunday.PTI

The number of countries hit by the COVID-19 outbreak climbed past 60 on Sunday, as infections and deaths continued to mount around the globe, emptying streets of tourists and workers, shaking economies and rewriting the realities of daily life.

Australia and Thailand reported their first deaths on Sunday, while the Dominican Republic and the Czech Republic recorded their first cases.

Italian authorities announced that the number of people infected in the country had surged 40% to 1,576 in 24 hours, and five more people had died, bringing the death toll there to 34.

Iran, Iraq, Italy and South Korea, among other places, saw the number of infections rise.

More than 87,000 people worldwide have been infected, and nearly 3,000 have died.

Cases in the U.S. climbed to at least 72, with the first death inside the country reported on Saturday — a man in his 50s in Washington who had underlying health problems but hadn’t travelled to any affected areas.

“Additional cases in the United States are likely, but healthy individuals should be able to fully recover,” President Donald Trump said at a Saturday briefing.

Uptick in China

China, where the outbreak began two months ago, on Sunday reported a slight uptick in new cases over the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that the number exceeded 500. They remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.

South Korea reported 210 additional cases and two more deaths from the virus, raising its total to 3,736 cases and 20 fatalities. South Korea has the second-largest number of infections outside mainland China, with most of the cases in Daegu and nearby areas.

Iran’s death toll from COVID-19 climbed to 54, as the number of confirmed cases jumped overnight by more than half, to 978 people. The new figures represent 11 more deaths than reported on Saturday and 385 new cases.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry said it was closing its Chaman border with Afghanistan for a week amid the virus outbreak. Pakistan has confirmed four cases, while Afghanistan has confirmed one case.

British health authorities said the number of people confirmed as infected rose by 12, bringing the country’s tally to 35, with one death. Most of the new cases involved people who had been in Italy or Iran.

Researchers also find fishing cat, another otter species

Eurasian otterde02otter

Researchers conducting a study in Odisha’s Chilika Lake have found the presence of a viable, breeding population of a fishing cat in the brackish water lagoon. It is a globally endangered species that is elusive and found in very few places in south and south-east Asia.

Extant species

Wild cat species usually hunt on ground. But the fishing cat hunts in water. It has specialised features like partially webbed feet and water-resistant fur that helps it to thrive in wetlands. The flat-headed cat of south-east Asia is the only other feline that shares similar features. This makes them unique among all 39 extant cat species.

Another globally endangered species, smooth-coated otter, has also been recorded from the study’s data.

Both the species are supposed to enjoy conservation measures of the highest accord in India according to the country’s laws, much like the tiger and elephant.

The study has also recorded presence of Eurasian otter in Chilika. “This is significant. Despite being a widely-spread and common species globally, very little is known of the species distribution and abundance in India and especially along the eastern coast,” said Nisarg Prakash of IUCN Otter Specialist Group.

“We undertook the survey in the fringe villages of Chilika covering an area of 1,070 sq km. Here we conducted more than 1,000 interviews and placed camera traps for more than 300 nights,” said Tiasa Adhya, co-founder of The Fishing Cat Project.

The project was a collaborative effort between The Fishing Cat Project, Chilika Development Authority, Wild Orissa, Mahavir Pakshi Suraksha Samity and Chilika Wildlife Division, Forest Department of Odisha.

CDA will further step up science and conservation efforts by initiating a census on fishing cats this year in collaboration with TFCP, said Susanta Nanda, Chief Executive of Chilika Development Authority.

While birds make up the bulk of such species, there are 24 species of migratory fish in India, according to scientists

With new additions to the wildlife list put out by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), scientists say that the total number of migratory fauna from India comes to 457 species. Birds comprise 83% (380 species) of this figure.

The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) had for the first time compiled the list of migratory species of India under the CMS before the Conference of Parties (COP 13) held in Gujarat recently. It had put the number at 451. Six species were added later. They are the Asian elephant, great Indian bustard, Bengal florican, oceanic white-tip shark, urial and smooth hammerhead shark.

India’s role

“We had compiled a list of the 451 species of migratory animals found in India. With the addition of new species to the CMS Appendices, the number is now 457,” said Kailash Chandra, ZSI director.

Globally, more than 650 species are listed under the CMS appendices and India, with over 450 species, plays a very important role in their conservation, Mr. Chandra said.

Gopinathan Maheshwaran, who heads the avian section of the ZSI, said that birds make up the bulk of migratory species. Before COP 13, the number of migratory bird species stood at 378 and now it has reached 380.

According to Mr. Maheshwaran, the bird family Muscicapidae has the highest number of migratory species. “The next highest group of migratory birds is raptors or birds of prey, such as eagles, owls, vultures and kites which are from the family Accipitridae,” he added.

Mr. Maheshwaran said that the country has three flyways (flight paths used by birds): the Central Asian flyway, East Asian flyway and East Asian–Australasian flyway. Another group of birds that migrate in large numbers are waders or shore birds. In India, their migratory species number 41, followed by ducks (38) belonging to the family Anatidae.

The estimate of 44 migratory mammal species in India has risen to 46 after COP 13, said Lalit Sharma, who heads the wildlife section of the ZSI. The Asian elephant was added to Appendix I and the urial to Appendix II.

“The largest group of mammals is definitely bats belonging to the family Vespertilionidae. Dolphins are the second highest group of mammals with nine migratory species of dolphins listed,” he added.

Mr. Sharma pointed out that COP 13 has focussed on transboundary species and corridor conservation.

Fish make up another important group of migratory species. Before COP 13, the ZSI had compiled 22 species, including 12 sharks and 10 ray fish. The oceanic white-tip shark and smooth hammerhead shark were then added, said K.K. Bineesh, a ZSI scientist. The total number of migratory fish species from India under CMS now stands at 24.

Seven reptiles, which include five species of turtles and the Indian gharial and salt water crocodile, are among the CMS species found in India. There was no addition to the reptiles list.

Report flags rising dependence on springs

Disappearing fast: Degradation of natural waterbodies is evident across the region, the report states. FIle photo

Eight towns in the Himalayan region of Bangladesh, Nepal, India and Pakistan were nearly 20%-70% deficient in their water supply, says a survey that appears in the latest edition of the journal Water Policy.

The researchers surveyed 13 towns across these countries to understand the challenges of the urban denizens of these regions. Unplanned urbanisation and climate change are the key factors responsible for the state of affairs, the study underlines.

Short-term strategies

The places surveyed are extremely dependent on springs (ranging between 50% and 100%) for their water, and three-fourths were in urban areas. Under current trends, the demand-supply gap may double by 2050, the researchers warn.

“Communities were coping through short-term strategies such as groundwater extraction, which is proving to be unsustainable. A holistic water management approach that includes springshed management and planned adaptation is therefore paramount,” Dr. Anjal Prakash of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, India, said in a statement.

“Across the region, the encroachment and degradation of natural waterbodies (springs, ponds, lakes, canals, and rivers) and the growing disappearance of traditional water systems (stone spouts, wells, and local water tanks) are evident,” an accompanying press note underlines.

Although only 3% of the total Hindu Kush Himalayan population lives in larger cities and 8% in smaller towns, projections show that over 50% of the population will be living in cities by 2050, placing “tremendous stress” on water availability.

Rural areas have typically garnered much of the attention in terms of development and issues surrounding urban environments have been “sidelined”, the authors note.

They say the proposed Afghanistan-Pakistan dialogue, facilitated by Washington, must not cut India out of the region’s security architecture

New Delhi has signalled its acceptance of the U.S.-Taliban and U.S.-Afghanistan peace agreements in Doha and Kabul that aim to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan, by sending envoys to witness them.

The two agreements set out a course for the next 14 months, including the pullout of U.S. troops, the denial of space to foreign terrorist groups and any violence against the U.S. and allies, and intra-Afghan dialogue.

However, after a closer look at the texts of the two agreements distributed to news agencies, named the ‘Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognised by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban, and the United States of America’, and the ‘Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan’, diplomatic and security experts say the impact on India may be a cause for worry for the government.

Terms still nebulous

“The reduction in violence is a much-needed respite for Afghans,” said Amar Sinha, National Security Advisory Board member and former Ambassador to Afghanistan.

However, he added that “all Taliban demands have been front-loaded, while the actual terms of the ‘peace deal’ are yet to be negotiated between the Taliban and the Afghan side, facilitated by the U.S. So, much of the heavy lifting remains.”

More critical of the agreement, Anand Arni, former Special Secretary in the Research & Analysis Wing, who worked closely on Indian policy in Afghanistan, said it was “entirely one-sided”. “Taliban cannot deliver on the assurances it has given, and yet the U.S. has handed over Afghanistan to them. There is no reference to the Constitution, rule of law, democracy and elections,” he said.

The salient points of concern are:

Does the term “U.S. and Allies” include India?

In the Doha agreement, the Taliban has guaranteed “enforcement mechanisms that will prevent the use of the soil of Afghanistan by any group or individual against the security of the United States and its allies”. However, it is unclear whether India, which is not a U.S. ally, is included in this definition, and whether Pakistan-backed groups that threaten India would still operate in Afghanistan. The Kabul declaration with the Ghani government, more specifically, commits to stopping “any international terrorist groups or individuals, including al-Qa’ida and ISIS-K, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States, its allies and other countries.”

Impact of prisoner release and lifting sanctions

Officials worry most about the “mainstreaming of the Haqqani network”, which Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists reportedly fight alongside and were responsible for the 2008 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. According to the agreements, 5,000 Taliban prisoners will be released by March 10, 2020, the first day of intra-Afghan negotiations, and the remainder in another three months. Officials also point out that the U.S. has committed to taking Taliban leaders off the UN Security Council’s sanctions list by May 29, 2020, which could considerably bring down the number of terrorists Pakistan is accused of harbouring, according to the FATF greylist conditions. This might benefit Pakistan during the June 2020 FATF Plenary, when it faces a blacklist for not complying.

Handing powers to Taliban

In the Doha agreement, the U.S. has committed to clearing five bases and bringing troop levels down to 8,600 in four-and-a-half months, and even appears to submit to the possibility of a Taliban-led government, by extracting promises that the Taliban will not provide “visas, passports, travel documents or asylum” to those threatening the U.S. and its allies. This appears to sideline the “Intra-Afghan” dialogue, and India’s support for the election process for leadership in Afghanistan. In the last section of the agreement, the U.S. and the Taliban seek “positive relations with each other and expect that the relations between the United States and the new post-settlement Afghan Islamic government as determined by the intra-Afghan dialogue and negotiations will be positive”.

This indicates that the Ghani government, which India has recognised as winner of the 2019 election, will only serve for an interim period. This also raises a big question mark on the future of Afghanistan’s government, and whether it will remain a democracy. “The bottom line is that India cannot look at the agreements or the route to Kabul via Washington’s view,” said Mr. Arni.

Above all, experts warned the Afghanistan-Pakistan dialogue facilitated by the U.S. on cross-border terrorism and mechanisms must not cut India out of the region’s security architecture.

It is firm on a third aircraft carrier and six advanced submarines under Project-75I, but will also look for more unmanned solutions

Doing with less: The Navy has cut down on the requirement of P-8I long-range patrol aircraft from 10 to six.Bhagya Prakash K.

Facing increasing budgetary constraints and with several big-ticket acquisitions lined up, the Navy is looking at adopting unmanned platforms, both aerial and underwater, in a big way, Navy sources said.

However, it is firm on a third aircraft carrier and the next line of six advanced submarines under Project-75I.

This year, the Navy’s share in the capital allocation of the defence budget is ₹26,688 crore, while officials said the committed liabilities alone stood at ₹45,000 crore. “We are working on ways to manage it,” one official said.

Last year too, the Navy’s capital allocation was ₹23,156 crore, while the liabilities were ₹25,461 crore. In the past few years, the Navy’s share as a percentage of the defence budget has been going down.

As part of the fleet rationalisation plan, the Navy has cut down on the requirement of minesweepers from 12 to eight and additional P-8I long-range patrol aircraft from 10 to six. The Navy now has no dedicated minesweepers in service, and is resorting to makeshift arrangements. It has procured some autonomous underwater vehicles, and efforts are on to procure more. Similarly, the Navy operates some Israeli drones, and is in the process of procuring 10 General Atomics Seaguardian High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) armed drones from the U.S. for maritime surveillance. “It is imperative to look for more unmanned solutions,” the official said.

Recently, Chief of the Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, called for a staggered approach to big procurements, and said the third carrier was too expensive, and the Navy would have to choose between submarines and a third carrier.

“As an expanding blue-water Navy with growing responsibilities, we need power projection. It is not about one over the other. We need more submarines, but we also need a third aircraft carrier so that we have two operational carriers on each seaboard at any given time,” a Navy source said. “We will push the case,” he said.

Pointing out that big-ticket procurements were inherently staggered, the source said, “Both are long-gestation projects and each has a different role. If we start planning now, it will take 10 to 15 years to get an aircraft carrier. So we cannot delay it.”

The P-75I is being processed through the Strategic Partnership (SP) route. The Navy has short-listed five foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEM) and two Indian strategic partners, based on the response to the Request for Information and the subsequent criteria-based evaluation. “The project is on track, and there is no change in the numbers. We should be able to issue the Request for Proposal by April,” the source said.

The Navy envisages the proposed second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-II) to be displacing 65,000 tonnes and conventionally powered, with a steam-launched catapult for launching and recovering aircraft. “The Navy has done a detailed study, and the specifications have been arrived at based on the requirements. The IAC-II should cost around ₹45,000 crore,” another source said, adding there were exaggerated cost estimates being quoted.

In addition, the Navy has several big-ticket acquisitions lined up. These include 111 naval utility helicopters, six additional Boeing P-8I aircraft and 13 BAE Systems MK45 naval guns.

Pages ( 1 of 4 ): 1 234Next »