Down To Earth(April 16-30 2022)

Note: Please note that some inputs have been given by our team in order to make the topic more relevant to UPSC.

Prelims Focus

Pahariya Tribe: It is a tribe mostly inhabiting the State of Jharkhand.

  • Pahariyas practice Jhum or Shifting cultivation. In this method, the tribe clears a part of the forest by burning the existing vegetation and practice agriculture on the land for a few years. As the productivity of the land parcel decreases, they leave the land fallow and shift to another land in adjoining area by again burning the vegetation in the new land. It is also called Slash and burn cultivation.
  • The community was in the news as they started using seed banks established by NGOs. This has led to an increase in yield and a decrease in debts of the tribals.

Mercury Pollution: Countries have agreed to eliminate the use of mercury in artisanal and small scale gold mining.

  • The agreement was reached in the 4th Conference of Parties to the Minamata Convention, held in Bali, Indonesia. It is a non-binding agreement.
  • Artisanal and small-scale gold mining is the largest source of Mercury pollution in the world. The miners combine Mercury with gold ore to form an Amalgam. Then, they burn the Mercury to extract pure Gold.
  • Though the method accounts for 20% of the total Gold production in the world, it is also responsible for 38% of the total mercury pollution, as per United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


1. Institutional Oversight

Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Disaster and disaster management.
  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.


Context: An increase in the occurrence of disasters has increased the prevalence of poverty in the world. This has pushed more women into the trap of human trafficking and is detrimental to the socio-economic development of society.

Climate Change and Human trafficking

  • Climate Change: Climate change has become a reality of our times and has emerged as one of the most important global problems. According to the UN, ‘Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.’ These shifts may be natural, such as through variations in the solar cycle or by human activity like the increase in emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs).
  • Disaster: Due to climate change, the weather patterns have been disturbed across the globe causing frequent disasters. According to UNDRR, ‘Disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts’.
  • Sustainable Development Goal: SDG goal 8.7 is to ‘Take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.’
  • Relationship Between Human Trafficking and Climate change: The people involved in primary sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, aquaculture and in collection of forest produce, are worst affected by repeated disasters.  The family loses their livelihood. As a result, men move to nearby cities in search of manual work. Mostly they are underpaid or work as bonded laborers.
  • Vulnerability: The family of such men are most vulnerable to human trafficking. The young girls are lured into prostitution and sold in big cities. There are incidents of desperate families selling their young daughters to sustain themselves. Such young girls may be further sold to the prostitution mafia leading to further exploitation.

Factors that shape vulnerability to human trafficking

  • Poverty: Poverty is the prime driver of human trafficking. Due to sudden loss of livelihood, many families fail to meet even the basic needs of life. Such families are highly vulnerable and fall prey to the agents of prostitution mafia, looking to exploit the vulnerable families. Girls are human trafficked by thugs under the false pretense of a better life. As per the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Report, there is a rise of 20-30% in the cases of human trafficking in disaster affected areas.
  • Conflicts like war: Media reports have pointed out that catastrophic events like wars lead to a huge loss of human life. In such conditions, many orphaned or abandoned girls are pushed into the clutches of Prostitution. As per a Global Report on trafficking in person by UN, released in 2020, 50% of the victims of human trafficking were females, 30% were children and 20% were adult men.
  • Naxalism: At the same time, conflicts force people to migrate to safer areas. Facing a loss of livelihood, people turn towards prostitution in order to sustain themselves. This is visible in conflict prone areas of India such as the north-eastern states as well as the Naxalism-affected areas. The tribals from these areas are sold as workers in the cities. Also, the issue affects minors also in countries like India. For e.g., as per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Report 2020, 50% of the victims of human trafficking were below 18 years.
  • Uneven development: Presence of geographical disparity in development prompts migration from less developed areas towards more developed ones in search of a better standard of life. Such developed areas become a hub of human trafficking. As per World Migration Report, 2022, released by United Nations International organization of Migration, more people are migrating due to climate change as compared to conflicts and war. In fact, around 30.7 million people in the world and 4 million people in India migrated in 2020, due to climate induced disasters. 
  • Gender inequality: In the areas where gender equality is absent and rights of women are non-existent, women are more vulnerable to human trafficking, child marriage and prostitution. In areas like Taliban, this is not only done for money, but even to ensure discipline as well as social punishment for not following the societal norms.
  • Climate Vulnerability in India: The Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) launched its first vulnerability index and has analysed 463 out of 640 districts that are vulnerable to extreme floods, droughts and cyclones. The States of West Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme climate events such as floods, droughts and cyclones in India. In fact, 80% of the Indians live in high climate risk zones. 

Impact of Disasters

  • Lack of Social Security and Support Systems: As stated above, Climate change is causing frequent disasters, leading to poverty and displacement and creating a vulnerable group of population, which is being targeted for trafficking. It is the main reason why disaster areas are hotbeds of human trafficking. Post disaster, the government only focuses on immediate relief and the objective is to save as many lives as possible. However, there is a need to look into long-term rehabilitation and restoration of livelihood of the people.
  • Economic Impacts: Disasters lead to huge loss of lives as well as the loss of physical infrastructure, both private (house, cattle) and public (damage to schools, highways, electric line). It may also lead to ecological issues like salinization of agricultural land.
  • Social Impacts: Though the Economic losses of disasters are significant, it is the social impacts which are gradual and lead to a loss of standard of life for the people. Such impacts include:
  • Child marriage: Due to frequent disasters, many families lose their source of livelihood. In such situations, young girls of the family are forcefully married or sold for money to sustain the family. The instances of child marriage are more prevalent in disaster prone areas such as West Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan etc.
  • Child labour: Climate related disasters lead to young children being forced to work in hazardous occupations to sustain the family. Such occupations include brick kilns, factories, roadside tea stalls, tea gardens etc. Such establishments employ children to cut the labour costs. 
  • Prostitution: As stated above, many desperate families opt for or are forced into prostitution, in order to sustain their livelihoods.
  • Bonded Labour: In desperate times, people make desperate decisions. It includes borrowing at usurious rates of interest. It is difficult to pay back such loans, leading to many people being caught in the web of bonded labour. Sometimes, due to rampant poverty, they are forced to sell their organs. 
  • Exploitation by Contractors: Similarly, male members of the family migrate to cities as construction labour leaving the family in villages in search of better avenues of employment. Such labourers are either underpaid or not paid by the contractor.


  • Climate change causes frequent disaster events, leading to severe poverty and unemployment. Instances of human trafficking are more pronounced in such areas, thus, establishing that climate change and human trafficking are interrelated. It is pertinent to ensure that such loss of livelihood does not lead to innocent people being exploited at the hands of prostitution mafia and exploitative middlemen.

Practice Question

  • Discuss how climate change leads to an increase in the vulnerability of poor people. Also, highlight the factors leading to vulnerability and the socio-economic impact of climate change on the people.


  • Vulnerability is an essential element for defining disaster impacts and its threat to people. How and in what ways can vulnerability to disasters be characterized? Discuss different types of vulnerability with reference to disasters. (GS-3: 2019)
  • How important are vulnerability and risk assessment for pre-disaster management. As an administrator, what are key areas that you would focus in a disaster management. (GS-3: 2013)


Prelims Focus

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER): It is an experimental megaproject, being undertaken in France.

  • The Project seeks to replicate the production of Solar energy on the Earth by using nuclear fusion reaction to generate heat.
  • ITER is being made in the form of a ‘Tokamak’ device (toroidal chamber with magnetic coil).
  • The project is being funded by Seven countries, viz. India, China, US, EU, Russia, Japan and South Korea. However, it has cooperation agreements with other countries like Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan and Thailand.


Topics covered from the syllabus:

  • GS-3: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.
  • GS-3: Achievements of Indians in science & technology; indigenization of technology and developing new technology.

Context: It is believed that nuclear fusion process holds the key to producing non-polluting, sustainable power, which could run the global economy, without hurting ecological balance in the world. Recently, some breakthroughs have been achieved in the field which has made the dream of unlimited power closer than ever before.

Process of Nuclear Fusion

  • Nuclear Fusion: It is a reaction in which two or more light nuclei merge to form a single heavier nucleus. During this process, the total mass of the merged nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei. The leftover mass is converted to energy. The scientists hope to harness this leftover energy to heat water and turn a turbine in order to produce sustainable, non-polluting electricity.
  • Working of the Process of Nuclear Fusion: Nuclear Fusion process involves the fusion of two nuclei to form another element. The stages of process are as below:
  • Deuterium and tritium atoms are heated to temperatures 10 times hotter than the surface of the sun. This is necessary as the pressure on Earth is very low as compared to that of the Sun.
  • The nuclei of the atoms fuse. The fusion reaction leads to the formation of helium, releasing neutrons and energy.
  • The energy is used to heat water, and the released steam runs turbines that produce electricity.
  • The Experiment: The experiment was conducted at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire. It led to the generation of 12 MW of power for a period of 5 seconds. Though it may seem small, it is a great achievement in the field of Nuclear fusion.
  • High temperature: This process happens at extremely high temperatures. As stated above, in the Sun, this process happens at 10 million °C. However, on the Earth, where the pressure is much lower as compared to the gravitational pressure in the Sun, the required temperature is above 100 million °C.
  • Plasma formation: On heating Deuterium and Tritium, the two variants of hydrogen at the required temperature, the gases got converted into plasma which is the fourth state of matter. It was then held in place using superconductor electromagnets as it spun around in the doughnut-shaped reactor, fusing and releasing a vast amount of energy as heat.
  • Global Research: Many countries around the world have shown progress in harnessing nuclear energy. For e.g., at Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) located in China, plasma temperature at 120 million °C for 101 seconds and 160 million °C for 20 seconds, were achieved. Similarly, in 2020, South Korea also reached 100 million °C for 20 seconds in an experiment.
  • India’s Contribution: India is also trying to achieve energy security. The country built its 1st Tokamak in the 1980s and an advanced version of this machine was commissioned in 1995 at the Institute for Plasma Research, Gandhinagar. India has also contributed 9% of ITER’s construction cost and is responsible for delivering cryostat, which is necessary to cool the reactor.

Benefits of Nuclear Fusion

  • Fuel Efficiency: One of the benefits of Nuclear Fusion is the low requirement of fuel, despite the production of a huge amount of energy. For e.g., in the experiment at Oxfordshire, only 0.17 mg of Deuterium and Tritium were used to produce the energy. As per the team, the same amount of energy production would have required 10 million times more fossil fuel as the raw material.
  • Availability of Fuel: Unlike fossil fuels, Deuterium and Tritium are abundantly found in nature, thus, solving the issue of the availability of fuel. For e.g., Deuterium can be extracted from sea water. Similarly, Tritium is the by-product of nuclear fission, which is already being undertaken in several countries around the world.
  • No wastage: Unlike fossil fuel based energy production, nuclear fusion does not release harmful gases or toxins as the by-product of reaction. The fusion process involving hydrogen atoms releases Helium gas, which is inert in nature and is relatively non-reactive. In fact, even the nuclear fission reaction, which is currently used to produce energy in the nuclear plants, produces radioactive wastes, which need to be disposed of, so as to not harm the population.
  • Ecological Benefits: Nuclear fusion as a source of clean energy could help the world reach net-zero emissions. It can help limit global average temperature rise to below 2℃, preferably 1.5 above the pre-industrial level, as enumerated in the Paris Climate deal.
  • Safety: Nuclear fusion is considered safer than Nuclear fission. This is because nuclear fission may be subjected to disasters like uncontrolled chain reaction, leakage of radioactive material, weaponisation of byproducts. Moreover, Nuclear power plants may be subject to damage due to natural disasters, leading to catastrophic failures, like Fukushima disaster.

Challenges in Nuclear Fusion

  • Maintaining the reaction: As stated above, nuclear fusion requires high temperatures as a prerequisite for the production of energy. The problem is compounded on the surface of Earth as the existing low pressure on Earth raises the required temperature level. Although scientists have been able to create Sun-like conditions on Earth, it is difficult to maintain over a long period of time, thus, imposing limitations on the process.
  • Viability: Currently, the problem being faced in the Nuclear Fusion process is the high requirement of energy to produce a favorable environment. For e.g., the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor, used 36 MW to release 12 MW of energy, thus questioning its viability. However, the scientists are confident of increasing the efficiency of the reactor in the long term to make it viable and feasible for commercial use.
  • Financing the Project: Due to the above-mentioned challenges, it has been difficult for the Scientific Establishments to procure funding for the Project. However, experts have reported that the situation is changing quickly as the Experiments have started to show promise of future delivery.


  • Since the announcement of Nationally Determined Contribution at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, nations have made efforts to take such decisions on their energy mix which can help them meet their climate goals, while keeping energy security in mind. Nuclear Fusion process can be a handy technology in the effort as it promises to be a cheap and non-polluting alternative for the sustainable production of energy.

Practice Question

  • Discuss the achievements in the process of Nuclear Fusion in recent decades, while highlighting the relative advantages and disadvantages of the process.


  • With growing energy needs should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (GS3 - 2018)

Give an account of the growth and development of nuclear science and technology in India. What is the advantage of fast breeder reactor programme in India? (GS3 - 2017)