Down To Earth(August1-15 2023)

Food Security

Context: Russia declared its withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Black Sea Grain Initiative

●    It was brokered by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey in May 2022 in view of growing food prices and food insecurity in wake of Russia invading Ukraine and blocking its cargos in the Black Sea.

●    It is linked to efforts to ensure exports from three key Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea – Odessa, Chornomorsk, Yuzhny / Pivdennyi as well as Russian food and fertilizer reach global markets.

●    The Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) was established to monitor the implementation of the Initiative. The JCC is hosted in Istanbul and includes representatives from Russia, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations. The UN acts also as the Secretariat for the Centre.

●    Ukrainian vessels guide cargo ships into international waters of the Black Sea, avoiding mined areas. The vessels then proceed towards Istanbul along the agreed maritime humanitarian corridor.


●    Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest exporters of grain and sunflower oil. One-third of the African nations procure half their wheat demand from Ukraine.

●    Some 33.5 million tonnes of agricultural products have already been traded under the Black Sea initiative.

●    Russia's withdrawal has disrupted food supply to countries that desperately need grains.

○    Russia has warned that “all ships in the Black Sea bound for Ukrainian ports will be considered potential military cargo”, meaning they will be attacked.

○    Russia bombed the port cities Odessa, Chornomorsk and Mykolaiv, from where grains are usually exported and which were part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Russia’s demand:

●    To continue with the grain deal, Russia demanded lifting sanctions on the Russian Agricultural Bank and reopening supply lines to export agricultural machinery and parts.

Food as weapon:

●    The fragile centralised world food supply system — where a few countries produce most food while many others depend on them — seems to be a target for flexing strategic strength.

●    In many UNSC meetings after the Russian invasion, members deliberated on its targeted attacks as using “food as a weapon of war” in context of global food security.

●    The attacks bring back a painful memory for Ukrainians — ‘Holodomor’, a Ukrainian word for ‘hunger extermination’ refers to the famine of 1932-33 in the country, then a part of Soviet Russia.

○    Joseph Stalin enforced collectivisation of agriculture in 1929, specifically targeting Ukraine. Its lands and produce were procured, leaving nothing for local consumption. Many studies say some four million Ukrainians died of hunger.

●    The US’ first regulations for war conduct — the Lieber Code of 1863, signed by President Abraham Lincoln said it was “lawful to starve the hostile belligerent, armed or unarmed” to hasten surrender.

●    Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger reportedly said later, “Who controls the food supply, controls the people.

●    During World War-II, Adolf Hitler's “Hunger Plan” killed over four million Soviet people; food was forcefully taken from them for German soldiers and civilians.

Way Forward:

●    In May 2018, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2417 that for the first time condemned “starvation as a method of warfare” and listed sanctions for it.

●    Global leaders called Russia's withdrawal. Perhaps, it is a version of a food weapon that not just starves local people but also shatters a global supply chain.

Genetic link to asymptomatic COVID-19 cases

Context: At least 20% of people who got infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus never feel sick. Now scientists have identified a genetic mutation that is linked to a higher likelihood of avoiding symptoms during infection.

What roles do genes play in covid-19 sickness?

●    A study by scientists in the US and Australia suggests that this protection could be linked to a mutation in human leukocyte antigen (HLA), a gene in the body.

●    HLA codes for a protein that helps the body differentiate between self and foreign cells. The mutated version of this gene helps T-cells, which are part of the immune system, to quickly recognise and attack the SARS-COV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

How will this finding help public healthcare?

●    The scientists say knowledge of a gene that can possibly defend the body against covid-19 could aid in development of more effective vaccines.

●    However, they warn that the study is limited in scope — it relies on data from self-reports and also is restricted to Caucasian individuals. Hence, they push for more research on the link between HLA and COVID-19.

Climate Crisis: Impact on India

Context: The first fortnight of July 2023 saw a breach of climate records of thousands of years, clearly showing that the global climate crisis is now a cataclysm.


●    The new normal for the planet’s climate is impacting over two-thirds of the world population.

●    In India, the first sign of it was seen in the northern region in early July this year.

○    A western disturbance — a low pressure area that originates in the Mediterranean region and moves towards India — interacted with a monsoon low pressure area.

○    A western disturbance in July is rare because they mostly form in winters; and rarer is its interaction with a monsoon low pressure system resulting in extreme rainfall and cloudbursts, causing flash floods and massive landslides.

○    A decade ago, a similar interaction triggered the catastrophic Uttarakhand floods in June that killed over 5,000 people and destroyed infrastructure in the hills.

●    This year also, the interaction impacted the fragile Himalayan states and the western state of Rajasthan and Punjab.

○    Places like Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, the Union Territory of Ladakh have broken the record of rainfall.

○    Some 13 states and Union Territories recorded ‘large excess rainfall’, which is at least 60% more than normal rainfall as defined by IMD.


Regional variation in rainfall:

●    Most of India was still dry, with monsoon rainfall much below normal. Over 69% of states and Union Territories — mostly in southeastern and southern regions — were rain-deficient.

○    Jharkhand had 45% less than normal rain, Kerala 35%, Bihar 31% and Karnataka 25% less than normal rain till July 15.

●    Climate Research and Services of IMD released the Standard Precipitation Index on, which showed 3% of the country’s area as extremely dry, 5% as severely dry, 8% as moderately dry and 32% as mildly dry.

Reasons for dry spell in India:

●    An intense marine heatwave has been raging in the Bay of Bengal that usually means a drier monsoon for central India and enhanced rain over the southern peninsula.

●    The usual time scale depressions (low pressure area) of 10 to 60 days (slower timescale) are reducing, while the depressions of 3-10 days (faster timescale) are increasing. Their path is now much more towards northwest India than north-central India.

●    Northwest India is witnessing above average rainfall because of this trajectory. A warmer Bay of Bengal is likely playing a role in increasing faster timescale depressions and reducing slower timescale depressions.

Effect on Global Climatic Pattern:

●    Beyond the Indian subcontinent, too, climate change has continued to wreak havoc.

●    The oceans are becoming warmer and absorbing energy that will remain there for hundreds of years.

●    According to preliminary data analysed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the global average temperature remained above 17°C making the hottest days on record in mid-July.

●    The North Atlantic is one of the key drivers of extreme weather. The North Atlantic SST is linked to heavy rain or drought in West Africa.

●    Antarctic sea ice, too, reached its lowest extent for June — at 17% below average — shattering the prior June record by a considerable margin.

○    June temperatures in northwest Europe were record-breaking. Canada, US, Mexico, Asia and eastern Australia were particularly warmer than usual.

Way Forward:

●    The exceptional warmth in June and early July occurred at the onset of the development of El Niño, which is expected to further fuel the heat on land and in the oceans, leading to extreme temperatures and marine heatwaves.

●    We can expect more records to fall as El Niño develops further and these impacts will extend into 2024 and beyond.

El Nino and Global Warming

Context: El Niños and La Niñas, will increase significantly by the second half of the 21st century.


●    The World Meteorological Organization declared that El Niño conditions had developed in the tropical Pacific for the first time in seven years, setting the stage for a likely surge in global temperatures and disruptive weather and climate patterns.

El Niño and global temperature increase:

●    The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a naturally occurring large-scale climatic phenomenon involving fluctuating ocean temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, coupled with changes in the overlying atmosphere affect the global temperature pattern.

●    El Niño episodes are associated with warming of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

●    It occurs in irregular cycles of two to seven years, and presents three phases: El Niño, La Niña, and a neutral phase.

ENSO affecting Earth’s climate patterns:

●    The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report indicates that “it is very likely that ENSO rainfall variability, used for defining extreme El Niños and La Niñas, will increase significantly, regardless of amplitude changes in ENSO SST variability, by the second half of the 21st century” in most emission scenarios.

●    Therefore, we might expect El Niño in the future to be wetter in this region and La Niña to be drier.

Way Forward:

●    Under greenhouse warming, an increased air-sea coupling arising from enhanced upper equatorial ocean stratification underpins the increase in ENSO variability.

●    We have a good understanding of past El Niño teleconnection and precipitation impacts, however, the complexity of interactions between ENSO and climate change require more climate research and investigations.

Moon-bound mission

Context: The moon is more than Earth’s natural satellite, having impacted its every aspect, from origin of life to climate change


●    On July 14, the Indian Space Research Organisation successfully launched India’s third trip to the moon. The spacecraft seeks to land a rover in August and study seismicity and thermal properties of the lunar surface.

Moon: Critical in seeding and shaping life

●    Since the 1960s, when Earth’s fascination with its nearest celestial neighbour was at its peak, countries have launched over 110 missions to study the moon.

●    The attempts have tremendously improved our understanding of not just the moon but also Earth, as well as the origin and evolution of life.

●    Evidence suggests the moon had a critical part in seeding and shaping life, and it still does.

○    It has definitely had an impact on Earth. Our planet would have looked very different without it. We may have had different organisms with different behaviour, and maybe, humans would not have existed.

●    Five orbiters and one rover are currently active on the moon. Overall, countries have made 47 attempts at soft landing on the moon of which only 20 have been successful. Chandrayaan-3 aims to land a rover on the lunar south pole.

There have been 20 successful moon lander missions so far:

●    Russia’s Luna missions (8);

●    America’s Surveyor missions (5);

●    America’s Apollo missions (6); and

●    China’s Chang’e 5 mission (1)





●    Launched in 2008, Chandrayaan-1 orbiter made history by confirming the presence of water on the moon.


●    With its launch in 2019, India aimed to be the first country to reach the south pole, but failed to achieve soft landing. It consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover.

●    This was India’s first attempt to soft land on the moon, in which the lander failed, but the orbiter continues to be active.

●    It is aimed at mapping the moon’s topography, investigating the surface’s mineralogy and elements, studying the lunar exosphere and looking for signatures of water ice.


●    Launched on July 14, 2023, it is expected to make a soft landing in the fourth week of August around the south pole on the near side of the moon.

●    The mission consists of a propulsion module, a lander module and a rover. The propulsion module will carry the lander and rover from the injection orbit to the luna