The Indian Express

Head Line: Study warns: A third of Hindu Kush Himalaya glaciers will melt by 2100

1) Prelims:

  • Mains Paper I: changes in critical geographical features (including water-bodies and ice-caps) and in flora and fauna and the effects of such changes.

 Why in news:

  • The ‘Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment’ released Monday by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) provides insights into changes affecting one of the greatest mountain systems in the world.
  • Over 350 researchers, practitioners, experts, and policy-makers were involved in drafting the HKH Assessment Report which is styled after the IPCC reports.

Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment Report findings:

  • At least a third of the ice in the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush will melt down this century as temperatures rise, disrupting river flows vital for growing crops from China to India.
  • And even if the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° C is achieved, one-third of the glaciers would go, says the report.
  • Even if efforts are made to limit global warming to 1.5̊C by the end of the Century, the Hindu Kush Himalaya will warm by around 1.8 ̊C, the report has found.
  • The warming will at least be 0.7 ̊C higher in the northwest Himalaya and Karakoram region.
  • The HKH will warm more than the global mean and more rapidly at higher elevations.
  • Even the most ambitious goal set by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming would lead to a 2.1 spike in temperature in the HKH region leading to melting of one-third of the region’s glaciers.
  • It also points out that the Tibetan Plateau, Central Himalayan Range and Karakoram will warm more than the HKH average.
  • The warming rate over the last 50 years in the HKH has been 0.2 ̊C per decade.
  • Warm nights have increased throughout the region, and extreme absolute temperature indices have changed significantly,” the study notes.
  • Extreme indices in the region have also changed over this period:
    • occurrences of extreme cold days and nights have declined (days by 0.85 days per decade, nights by 2.40 days per decade),
    • while occurrences of extreme warm days and nights have increased (days by 1.26 days per decade, nights by 2.54 days per decade).

Warning given in report:

  • The report warns that extremes in precipitation are increasing in the HKH region.
  • The number of intense precipitation days and intensity of extreme precipitation have increased overall in the last five decades.
  • If these trends persist the frequency and magnitude of water-induced hazards in the region will increase in the future.
  • “Observed and projected changes in the cryosphere will affect the timing and magnitude of streamflows across the region, with proportionally greater impacts upstream,” the study notes.
  • Further, it notes that as a result of climate change, “a consistent increase in streamflow is expected at large scales for the upstream reaches of the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra rivers until at least 2050.
  • In the Indus, this increase will result from increased glacial melt for a limited period, while in the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, it is expected to result mainly from increased precipitation.
  • Pre-monsoon flows are expected to decline, with implications for irrigation, hydropower, and ecosystem services.

 About Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH):

  • HKH region covers 3500 kms across eight countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Pakistan.
  • It is the source of ten major river basins including the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus in India.
  • Two billion people are dependent on the HKH for their water needs across Asia.
  • Glaciers in the HKH region are a critical water source for some 250 million people in the mountains as well as to 1.65 billion others in the river valleys below.
  • “The HKH is sensitive to climate change — air pollutants originating within and near the HKH amplify the effects of greenhouse gases and accelerate melting of the cryosphere through the deposition of black carbon and dust, and changing monsoon circulation and rainfall distribution over Asia,” it states.

Way Forward:

  • The report notes that the cryosphere -parts of the Earth system where water is in frozen form- is an important part of the water supply of the extended HKH.
  • The report also points out that consensus among climate models for the region is “weak” which is a result of the area’s complex topography and the coarse resolution of global climate models.
  • The report calls for greater recognition of mountain areas and the HKH region in global efforts.


Head Line: Why is Palghar being repeatedly jolted by earthquakes?

2) Prelims:

  • Mains Paper I: Important Geophysical phenomena such as earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanic activity, cyclone etc.

Why in news:

  • Dahanu town in Maharashtra’s Palghar district has been hit by some 30 low-intensity earthquakes since November last year, leading to more than 10,000 residents of 40 villages moving out of their homes into tents erected by the district administration and National Disaster Response Force.


  • The first quake hit on November 11, and was followed by others measuring between 2 and 4 on the Richter scale. Walls have cracked and collapsed in Dhundalwadi gram panchayat.
  • The strongest so far has measured 3.9.
  • The National Centre for Seismology (NCS) under the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the CSIR laboratory National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, have set up 5 stations with seismometers in Dahanu and Talasari to identify the source of the earthquakes and understand their cause.


  • Data collected so far point to an “earthquake swarm”, a series of many (sometimes thousands) low-intensity earthquakes without a discernible main shock that can occur over weeks in active geothermal areas.
  • A swarm lasting over 3 weeks killed 500 people on or around the Indonesian island of Lombok in July-August 2018.
  • According to the experts, who briefed officials of the State Disaster Management Authority, the tremors, known as “swarm earthquakes” because of their frequency and concentration in a small area, were caused by the movement of tectonic plates which is normal in the Indian peninsula.
  • In India, sequences of low-intensity quakes are common in areas that have been hit previously, like Saurashtra in Gujarat and Koyna in Maharashtra, but they are also seen in areas without a history of seismic activity.
  • Scientists have found no mining activity to explain the quakes, and have ruled out a small reservoir nearby as the cause.
  • The measuring stations have isolated the epicenter to within 5-10 km of the quake sites, nudging scientists from the Gujarat government’s Institute for Seismological Research (ISR) towards the swarm hypothesis.
  • Swarm earthquakes are also known to have lasted much longer, with tremors shaking Vellore in Tamil Nadu for 287 consecutive days in 2016-17.


  • Seismologists are wary of drawing a definite conclusion without more data.
  • They have not ruled out the possibility of either the quakes now subsiding or of a big one coming.
  • NCS Director Dr Vineet Kumar Gahalaut said identifying the quakes as a swarm would suggest there is little threat of a deadlier one hitting in the near future.
  • Dr M Ravi Kumar, ISR Director General, said: “We still don’t know whether the earthquakes are a result of seismic activity, hydro-seismicity due to water percolation post-monsoon, or magmatic activity in the region.” If they continue, “a closer look” would be needed, Dr Kumar said.


Head Line: Missing the healing touch

3) Mains Paper II: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.


  • People expected some measures to strengthen the country’s ailing public healthcare system from this year’s Union budget.
  • However, the much-needed strengthening of the country’s primary healthcare system has once again taken a backseat indicating the government’s misplaced priorities.

 Budgetary provisions for Health sector:

  • There is, indeed, an increase of more than Rs 7,000 crore in nominal terms from last year’s expenditure on health in this year’s budget — the outlay has increased from Rs 56,045 crore to Rs 63,298 crore.
  • Accounting for inflation, this amounts to a 9.2 per cent increase in real terms.
  • However, allocation under the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) — which provides funds for rural primary healthcare — has been reduced in real terms (accounting for inflation).
  • Its share in the health component of the budget has declined steeply over the past four years — from 52 per cent in 2015-16 to 41 per cent this year.

 Neglect of primary care:

  • Within the NRHM, there have been budget cuts for reproductive and child healthcare projects and maintenance of rural healthcare infrastructure.
  • The allocation for controlling communicable diseases under the NRHM has been reduced in real terms.
  • Communicable diseases like TB, diarrhoea, pneumonia, hepatitis and other infections are still a major problem for India.
  • Conversion of health sub-centres to health and wellness centres that put more emphasis on non-communicable diseases does not augur well for primary care in the country.
  • Neglecting these major components of primary care seems to be a continuation of the policies that have led to the virtual dismantling of the rural public health infrastructure.

 Allocation for Urban and tertiary care reduced too:

  • The National Urban Health Mission has been allocated only Rs 950 crore — this, when the estimated average yearly budgetary requirement for the mission is Rs 3,391 crore from Central funds.
  • Allocation for tertiary care components — the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (a programme for building-AIIMS like institutes), for example — has also remained stagnant in real terms.
  • Funds for upgrading district hospitals have been reduced by 39 per cent in real terms.

 Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana:

  • Majority of the increase in the budget’s health component has gone to fund the Rs 6,556-crore Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PMJAY).
  •  The scheme is supposed to give a Rs 5-lakh annual coverage for in-patient care to 10-crore poor families. However, the budgetary allocations do not match up to that promise.

 Health care sector in India:

  • The National Sample Survey’s (NSS) health data of 2014 shows that out of an estimated total 24.85 crore families in India, 5.72 crore hospitalisations had to be made.
  • By that calculation, out of the 10-crore families, there would be roughly 2.3 crore hospitalisations in a year.
  • This means that from the Rs 6,556 crore government funds, health insurance agencies on average have only Rs 2,850 to pay per hospitalisation (assuming there are no administrative costs or insurance overheads).
  • The average out-of-pocket expenditure (OOPE) per hospitalisation is much higher — around Rs 15,244 as per NSS 2014 data, which amounts to Rs 19,500 in 2019-20 assuming a 5 per cent annual inflation.
  • The PMJAY’s budgetary provisions for insurance agencies will barely cover 15 per cent of this expenditure.

 Under-utilisation of funds in the allied sectors:

  • In the allied sectors, there was an alarming under-utilisation of funds in the 2018-19 fiscal.
  • The revised estimates for the year show that the National Rural Drinking Water Mission and the Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana have utilised only 78 per cent and 50 per cent of the budgeted funds, respectively.
  • The government’s flagship programme, Swachh Bharat Mission (rural), also did not fully utilise the Rs 15,343 crore allocated in 2018-19.
  • Its allocation has been further reduced to Rs 10,000 crore for 2019-20.
  • The neglect of the ICDS under the UPA government has accelerated since 2014.
  • This year’s budgetary allocation for the scheme, in real terms, is still a touch below the expenditure of 2013-14.

 Increasing out-of-pocket expendituremajority of the treatment not covered by the insurance schemes:

  • The modest increase in budgetary allocations in health should have been prioritised towards improving the worn-out public sector district hospitals, community health centres, primary health centres and sub-centres in under-served areas.
  • Instead, public money has been inefficiently used for the more expensive intervention of insurance, which can cover just 15 per cent of only in-patient OOPE.
  • NSS 2014 data shows that 97 per cent episodes of illnesses in India are treated in out-patient care centres and this accounts for 63 per cent of the overall medical expenditures.
  • So, a majority of the treatment and expenditures are not even covered by the insurance scheme for in-patient treatment.

 Way Forward:

  • Neglecting public health infrastructure and public provisioning to make way for monetary support in the form of insurance for buying healthcare services from the private sector is not pro-poor policy.
  • It is transfer of public funds to the corporate sector in the name of pumping technological interventions.
  • There is no surprise that the private sector has welcomed the government’s insurance initiative.

The Hindu

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Times of India