ALERT: “Antarctica Melting Vigorously With the Rate Up to 252 Gigatonnes Per Year”

A new study has revealed that melting of the ice and snow from the entire continent of Antarctica has accelerated by 280 percent in the last four decades. The study led by Eric Rignot from the University of California at Irvine found that the rate of that ice loss has not been consistent, with ice disappearing faster in each successive decade.

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Public Health Programmes Failed to Address Anaemia among Girls, Women

Government health and nutrition programs substantially reduce anaemia in children under five years of age and expectant mothers but fail to focus on girls and non-pregnant women, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Considerable progress was made in India between 2006 and 2016 in reducing anaemia in children under five years of age and pregnant women, showed the study titled “Trends and drivers of change in the prevalence of anaemia among 1 million women and children in India, 2006-2016,” published in BMJ Global Health journal. However, there was minimal progress in the anaemia status among teenage girls and women under 50.

However, Improved public health and nutrition programmes for children under five years of age, and higher education and wealth among expectant mothers substantially contributed to lowering anaemia among these two groups between 2006 and 2016, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) said.

Anaemia reduction among teenage girls and women under 50 years, however, showed very minimal progress.

“More than half of the population of women and children in India is anaemic and is, therefore, currently experiencing reduced quality of life in various respects such as work capacity, fatigue, cognitive function, birth outcomes and child development,” said Phuong Hong Nguyen, lead author and IFPRI researcher.

“In addition to describing the problem, showing slow improvements, and showing high variability between different states, our paper identifies drivers of anaemia from a broad set of potential drivers at various levels,” Nguyen added.

The study, “Trends and drivers of change in the prevalence of anaemia among one million women and children in India, 2006-2016”, co-authored by IFPRI’s Samuel Scott, Rasmi Avula, and Purnima Menon; and FHI360’s Lan Mai Tran, was published recently in BMJ Global Health journal.

Using data from two rounds of the National Family Health Survey conducted in 2005-06 and the latest one in 2015-16, the researchers examined changes in haemoglobin and anaemia among a million women and children in India, and to identify key factors contributing to lowering anaemia prevalence in the country.

Among various drivers, positive changes in mothers’ education, coverage of nutrition and health interventions, socioeconomic status, sanitation and meat and fish consumption contributed to improvement in the haemoglobin count — low haemoglobin count indicates anaemia — among both children and pregnant women during 2006-16.

Better education alone accounted for nearly one-fourth of the improvement seen in the haemoglobin count among expectant mothers, and one-tenth in children.

“Further improvements in these common drivers can substantially impact maternal and child anaemia, simultaneously bringing down anaemia prevalence across the country in these two groups,” said Nguyen.

Haemoglobin and anaemia improved significantly among children less than five years; and pregnant women 15-49 years old, but not in the non-pregnant women in the same age group between 2006 and 2016.

Anaemia declined by 11 percentage points among children (70 per cent in 2006 to 59 per cent in 2016), 7.6 percentage points among expectant mothers (58 per cent to 50.4 per cent), and a mere 2.1 percentage points in teenage girls and women under 50 (55 per cent to 52.9 per cent).

“It’s surprising that no progress has been made in reducing anaemia among non-pregnant adult women in India in the last decade. Most programmes have not focused on this group but, instead, have focused on pregnant women and young children,” Scott said.

India’s recently launched Anaemia Mukt Bharat initiative puts the focus on women of reproductive age (20-49 years), who will start receiving weekly iron-folic acid supplementation, which supports the finding on the need to attend to this population segment.

In addition, the Centre has mandated the fortification of salt with iodine and iron, and wheat flour with iron, folic acid and Vitamin B-12.


Migration from Kerala Declined 11% in 5 Years: Study

Factors like the declining population in the 19-25 age-group and stagnant wages in the Gulf countries could be responsible for migration from Kerala declining 11 per cent between 2013 and 2018, a new study says.

“Of the 2.1 million emigrants (from Kerala in the Gulf and elsewhere), 15.8 per cent are females. However, there is a reduction of 3 lakhs migrants, which is one-tenth of the number of migrants in 2013. In 2018, we reached a stage where migrants figures shown a negative growth of 11.6 per cent,” S. Irudayarajan, who led the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS) 2018 told.

The survery is the eighth in a series of studies on migration undertaken by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) since 1998. CDS is an internationally renowned, self-governing institution known for its cutting edge research in applied economics and topics germane to socio-economic development. It was established in 1971 by the late Professor K.N. Raj, considered the archistect of India’s First Five-Year Plan (1951-56), and a former Vice Cancellor of Delhi University, with whom he was associated for 18 years.

Explaining the reason for the decline Irudayarajan said it could be due to the cumulative effects of the demographic advances which have decreased the population in the migration-prone age-group (15-29 years) as Kerala attained replacement fertility level in around 1987.

“Wages in the Gulf economies have not improved after the global economic crisis. This has led to lower savings, de-motivating them to migrate. Another reason is wages in the domestic economy have increased compared to other states,” reveals the report.

Explaining further he said the price of oil, on which the Gulf economy is based has been declining since 2010.

The study was conducted through a survey of 15,000 households from January 1-March 31 and was funded by the Kerala government’s Department of Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs.

The study notes that 89.2 per cent of the total migrants from Kerala are in the Middle East countries.
In 2013 while there were 20.70 lakh migrants in the Middle East, the figure fell to 18.93 lakh in 2018.
The remaining 10 per cent of the emigrants are concentrated in the other countries like the USA, the UK, and Australia.

In 2013 there were 8.9 lakh in the UAE while in 2018 it stands at 8.30 lakh, followed by 5.22 lakhs in Saudi Arabia and falling to 4.87 lakh in 2018.

In Qatar, there has been an increase from 1.06 lakhs in 2013 to 1.86 lakhs in 2018 but in Bahrain there has been a fall from 1.49 lakhs in 2013 to 0.81 lakhs in 2018.

The study found that one in every fifth household in Kerala has a migrant, while among religious groups, one in every third household is a Muslim, one in five household is a Christian and one in 10 households is a Hindu.

The estimated total annual remittances to Kerala have been placed at 85,092 crore.
“Of the total remittances at state level, Malappuram district receives 21 per cent, followed by Kollam (15 per cent), and Thrissur (11 per cent),” study reveals.

Concluding his findings, he said the long history of migration from Kerala to the Gulf is in its last phase.

“However, remittances to the state have increased. This is due to the fact that Keralites’ in the Gulf have climbed the social ladder and are earning higher wages, allowing them to remit more. Thanks to the weakening rupee, families remit more. The KMS 2018, has also confirmed that the migration from Kerala is falling and return of migrants is on the rise,” study says.

On the study of return migrants as estimated by KMS 2018, it is 1.29 million, which is about 60 per cent of the number of emigrants.

“The KMS 2018, would be an invaluable pointer for further policy formation in terms of international migration and also employment schemes of the government. The last 20 years of KMS proved that almost 40 per cent of total remittances to the state were used by emigrants in land, housing and its assets.

“With the recent devastating floods, and the massive loss of physical capital and land value, migration can be conjectured to increase at least in the short run. We expect the trend will change after the floods as migration will play major role as a livelihood option for the New Kerala, where we expect further migration and remittances. This requires another quick assessment by the Government of Kerala,” said S. Irudayarajan, who led the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS) 2018 .

However, about one billion inhabitants were added to the world over the past 12 years, bringing the total population to 7.6 billion as of mid-2017 with a net inflow of over 2 million immigrants every year, according to a new report published by the United Nations.

Although the UN believes international migration is a positive force for the economic and social development of the world.

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Rural Youth Prefer Not To Be Farmers: Survey

Youth in rural India are often forced to work in their family farms, but they prefer going to cities, joining the army or becoming engineers, teachers or nurses, found a survey.

A large number of rural youth in the 14-18 year age group, about 42%, were working irrespective of their school enrolment status and among these, 79% were employed in the agriculture sector, showed the Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) 2017 released by the non-profit Pratham.

This means about a third of the over 30,000 rural youth from 28 states who were surveyed worked in the agriculture sector, mostly in their family farms (72% of those who were working).

However, the survey also showed that just 1.2% aspired to be a farmer. While 18% of the boys wanted to join the army or the police, 12% wanted to be engineers. Young girls preferred teaching (25%) or working as a doctor or a nurse (18%). About 13% of the boys and 9% of the girls surveyed also said that ‘any government job’ is preferable.

The survey results come at a time when farmer protests have rocked several states with demands of better crop prices and loan waivers. Average growth rate in agriculture between 2014-15 and 2017-18 was less than 2% per year, showed government estimates, leading to lower returns from farming.

“The percentage of students in agricultural or veterinary courses around India amounts to less than half a percent of all undergraduate enrolment,” mentioned in the survey report, adding, “although the percentage of population working in agriculture and related areas has now reduced to about 50%, it is an area that could use a more educated and trained workforce considering that productivity lags far behind world’s leading nations.”

Commenting on the abysmal numbers among youth who wanted to continue in farming, survey also revealed that “mechanised or scientifically supported high yield agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries and the allied processing industry will be able to generate a cycle of demand, market, profits and potentially aspirations in the near future.”

The youth are not interested to continue as farmers due to the falling profitability and incomes in agriculture, said Yogendra Yadav, farm activist.

“While the lowest central government job pays Rs22,000 a month, income of a farm household from agriculture is about Rs3,800 per month… who will want to be in an occupation which requires back-breaking work without any dignity or income,” Yadav said. “While well-off large land owning farmers are educating their children to find a job outside agriculture, a small farmer would even prefer a job of a peon in a government office.”

“Across the country, as returns to farming have dipped, rural families also prefer not to marry their daughter into a family where farming is the main source of income,” Yadav added further.

Government data corroborates this. According to NSSO’s last Situation Assessment Survey of agricultural households, the average monthly income of a farm household in India was just Rs6,426 per month in 2013 out of which the share of cultivation and livestock was just Rs3,844—implying 40% of incomes earned by agricultural households were due to non-farm sources.

Further, a 2014 survey released by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies also showed that about 60% of farmers were ready to quit farming for a better job in the city. “When asked whether they would like to see their children engaging in farming only 18 % responded positively,” said the report titled State of Indian Farmers.


2.5 million migrant labourers in Kerala: Study

Kerala is home to some 2.5 million workers from other Indian states, and a minister said: “We know little about them, care little for them and do little for them.”

According to the labour ministry, 75 percent of the migrant population is from West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and Odisha.

The study said the workforce was almost entirely male, aged between 18 to 35 years and highly mobile within Kerala. They work mostly up to seven days a week for contractors.

Labour Minister Shibhu Baby John told the assembly that migrant labourers were today one of Kerala’s wealth creators.”While their numbers have grown in recent years, we know little about them, care little for them and do little for them,” he said.

“Sixty percent work in the construction sector. They also work in the hospitality, manufacturing, trade and agriculture sectors. “Their skills range from unskilled to skilled carpenters, masons and electricians,” said John.

The study adopted a unique train-based survey of migrant labourers to estimate their numbers and their annual inflow into Kerala. Study team members got into 63 long-distance trains entering the state. They felt that was the only way to estimate the migrant labourers coming and leaving.

The study found out that over 70 percent of the labourers earned above Rs.300 a day. On an average, each labourer sends Rs.70,000 to his family annually.

What attracted them to Kerala was the relatively high wage level and prompt payment.The study recommended that there should be a voluntary registration of migrant labourers based on which all benefits to them would converge. Affordable housing for the migrant labourers has also been suggested.


Will social media replace traditional media as democracy’s fourth pillar?

The increasing polarization among media in India — and perhaps across the world — has led to an unprecedented trust deficit in everyday news. What was once regarded as the fourth pillar of democracy today finds itself under the scrutiny of citizens as tainted news published with self-securing motives are an everyday occurrence in our times.

The times we live in are extremely challenging for the media. How media outlets have been hand-in-glove with political leaders and parties is no secret today. A journalist now commands far less respect in society than was the case even a decade ago. All of this, along with a host of other compelling factors, have together led to a massive down-slide in the media’s place in a liberal democracy. There is the suspicious eye of the audience, who, even while reading or watching what the media reports, refuses to believe. Media is no longer, for most audiences, the honest purveyor of news — difficult to digest but apparently true.

The very purpose of media’s existence is in a crisis — a crisis that could well result in social media taking on the “fourth pillar of democracy” tag. And this could happen far earlier than projected. This may happen because of a variety of reasons, primarily because the attraction that the social media has for those who were earlier fed by the mainstream media and the increasing affordability of the internet for the less privileged.

From television channels to most leading dailies in India, the reportage on non-sensational news — whether it is cultural or social and clubbed as “soft” news — is fast diminishing. Pages that were earlier dedicated to theater, music and books are being replaced with “hard” politics — or simply negative and conflict-bearing news — that point to the grim picture of the times we are living in. There is no space to breathe for a particular section of readers that is intellectually inclined. Social media, thus, comes as a natural relief to such audience as just a couple of clicks in the keyboard will lead a visitor to the content that he wants.

Added to this is the challenge posed by the affordability of the internet in India. Telecom operators have already rolled out unlimited monthly internet plans that are, quite shockingly, even cheaper than a monthly subscription of most newspapers. At the same time, there is a significant rise of “social media influencers” across platforms on the internet. Celebrities of the internet in their own right, many social media influencers target niche audiences based on language, geographical location and even religion and caste, in many cases.

But the most significant factor leading to a slide in the traditional media’s position is a result of its own doing. In the race to make the utmost use (and monetary profit) of the internet, media outlets of our times have given it their entire content. The excitement to read the newspaper early in the morning, therefore, is gradually dying, because almost everything that appears in the newspaper is already trending on the social media in advance.

As is widely known, the internet-news concept in India has been plainly borrowed from the West, without an attempt made to either protect the sovereignty of print or to filter the content that goes online. Internet thrives on content — and content of a certain kind that will appeal to the user instantly — clickbaits. So even newspapers that would never publish a certain kind of article in their print editions actually end up having many of those kinds on their websites. What we miss here is the trust deficit that gradually builds in the reader for the entire brand of a given newspaper that publishes such content.

The circulation mafias and selective advertisements have made matters worse for the traditional media.

But the rapidly rising popularity of social media and its increasing user-base cannot alone replace media as the fourth pillar of democracy. After all, media is the trusted voice of the people and, as African-American human rights activist Malcolm X said, media is “the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses”.

Hasn’t social media too come to command a similar, if not more vicious and quicker, authority today?

Social media and the internet are still new phenomena in India, something that even today’s college-goers have seen evolving before their eyes. Traditional media, on the other hand, has been around for hundreds of years. It is high-time that media entrepreneurs and voices from the fraternity re-evaluate traditional media’s interaction with social media.

If not, social media may well, if not already, replace the traditional media as the fourth estate — and that is a fear more forbidding.

(Saket Suman is a Principal Correspondent at IANS. The views expressed are personal.)


27,488 government posts for SCs/STs/OBCs unfilled

A staggering 27,488 government jobs reserved for scheduled castes and tribes and other backward classes are lying vacant with the maximum discrimination against these categories being in the educational sector, a report reveals.

According to the reports shared by the Asian Centre for Human Rights, out of the unfilled posts as of May 8, 2013, 12,195 are reserved for scheduled tribes, 8,332 for other backward castes and 6,961 for scheduled castes.

The report titled “India’s Unfinished Agenda for Inclusion: A study on denial of reservation to the tribals in the government services and posts” said central universities were the most discriminatory against these communities.

In 2006-07, there were 46 ST professors against the sanctioned posts of 1,187. Their number fell to a mere four against the total posts of 1,667 in 2010-11 in central universities, the report said citing information provided by the University Grants Commission (UGC) under the Right to Information Act.

In 2010-11, there were 10 ST readers against the total strength of 3,155, while in 2006-07, 18 readers were employed against 1,744 posts in universities under the central government.

However, STs had better representation in the top echelons of the government, it added.

The data provided by the UGC shows that India’s higher educational institutions remain the most casteist, possibly a reflection of the opposition to the reservation policy.

The population of scheduled tribes in India is over 840 million.