News Wrap


The flash floods in India’s mountainous state of Uttarakhand have left over 7000 dead or missing, comprising temple tourists and local hill inhabitants. During the catastrophe of mid June 2013, the Mandakini river came gushing down the Kedarnath Valley, sweeping away towns and villages of districts Tehri, Chamoli, Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag. Amidst fluctuating weather conditions, security forces rescued around 2500 people by air from Badrinath Gangotri, Harsil and Pithoragarh. About 1000 people stranded  were rescued on foot, from Gangotri. An estimated 1,20,000 stranded people were rescued. There were mass cremation of bodies in Kedarnath, Rishikesh, Pauri, Tehri and Haridwar areas. As a lot of rodents have died, there are threats of plague breaking out, in the Kedarnath region. Local families are high and dry, as many of them have lost their bread winners. Agricultural land does not produce much. Restaurants and hotels are empty. The relief money of earlier disasters has not reached many, even after two years. Interior road and water supply schemes are damaged. There is no contract with hundreds of villages that are accessible only on foot.

Delhi’s Yamuna
Despite orders from the National Green Tribunal (NGT), bureaucratic tangles between Delhi Traffic Police and the Transport Department has been hampering the work of clearing debris, on the eastern and western banks of river Yamuna, flowing along Delhi. The eastern bank of the river Yamuna has around 37,000 cubic metres of debris dumped, and the western bank of the river has about 53,000 cubic metres of dumped debris. Delhi traffic police has been unable to give permission for the goods vehicles registered outside the capital to ply. Hence, heaps of construction material waste dumped along the river bank, are not being removed. The debris clearing trucks are not conforming to Bharat III stage of emission standard. There is a processing unit for debris at Burari and other specific dumping yards. Construction waste dumped along the Yamuna river banks is not being removed, because of government policy muddles.

Savings Bank Inclusion
Slightly more than 50% of India’s population has simple savings bank account. Financial inclusion is low, even though financial inclusion is a key critical parameter, by which the new banking licenses are expected to be issued. Just one in two Indians has access to a savings bank account, and just one in seven Indians has access to bank credit. With a population of 1.2 billion, there are merely 684 million savings bank accounts in India. Financial penetration is the highest in southern India with 62.2% and western India with 38.2%. On the basis of parameters of branch, deposit and credit penetration, across the 632 districts in India, the bottom 50 districts in Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Nagaland and Manipur, have just three banks per 100,000 of population, which is just half of the 7.6 bank branches, on an all-India level. These districts have just 2% of the total bank branches in the country. India’s six largest cities have 11% of the country’s bank branches.

The Afghan War
On the day in June 2013, NATO celebrated the transfer to Afghan security forces of control of the remaining 95 districts of the country in which western forces have been in the lead, the USA announced that it was to talk directly to the Taliban, in Qatar. America’s longest war has cost the American taxpayers more than $800 billion (360 billion pound), and the British getting on for 40 billion pound. By Jan 2002, the al-Qaeda Arab terrorists had been removed from Afghanistan. But the Taliban had not been defeated. They pulled back into the south and east of Afghanistan, back across the Duand Line, the porous border that separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, into the lawless Pashtun tribal areas of Pakistan. With American forces not prevailing, US commanders, on ground, believe the Taliban, top middle, have to be part of any peace process. The Taliban rebels are increasingly divided between pragmatists and ideologues. They want to avoid past mistakes, both domestic and diplomatic. Some rebels are keen not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base, from which attacks on other countries could be launched. The Pashtun peasants make up the bulk of the Taliban’s troops, and they long to return to their farms and families.

Blue Nile
Since May 2013, Ethiopia has been diverting the waters of the Blue Nile river, with the purpose of constructing the Great Ethiopian Renaissance dam, a $4.7 billion, 6000 megawatt hydro electric project. The plan envisages Ethiopia of becoming Africa’s largest exporter of power. Egypt imports almost 40% of its food requirements, and is fully dependent on irrigation water from the Nile, to grow its food. The 1929 treaty provided 90% of the Nile’s water to the downstream countries of Egypt and Sudan. Rain feeds all the waters in the upstream for countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Egypt is opposed to Ethiopia’s plan to dam the main tributary of the Nile. Ethiopia plans to spend around $12 billion on dams on the Blue Nile, for electricity and irrigation. Uganda is negotiating with China for financing a 600 megatt dam on the White Nile. The upstream countries had signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement (2010) to obtain more water from the Nile, effectively rejecting the colonial era treaty, and demanding that Egypt relinquish its veto, and accept a lower water quota.

Shale Oil reserves
It is estimated that ‘‘Technically Recoverable’’ shale oil resources are 345 billion barrels in 42 countries, stretching from Russia to Argentina, or 10% of global crude supplies. Horizontal drilling or fracking were pioneered in US shale rock formations, about ten years ago. Only the USA and Canada are producing oil and natural gas from shale in commercial quantities. Russia has the largest shale oil resources with 75 billion barrels, USA has 58 billion barrels, and China has 32 billion. Gas from shale formations increased world natural gas resources by 46% to 22,882 ton cubic feet. Reconfiguring the map of global oil trade, US crude imports are at a 16-year low. The lid on crude oil prices at about $120 a barrel, has been helped by the production from shale. Enough water, specialised drilling rigs to support fracking, and large domestic pipeline networks, provide advantages to USA and Canada. Beneath their properties, the US landowners have rights to hydrocarbons.

Vol. 46, No. 7, Aug 25-31, 2013

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