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UPSC Essentials | Key terms of the past week with MCQs

White Paper Revolution, UNSC and more — here's a highlight of some of the important terms useful for UPSC CSE Prelims and Mains preparation. Don't miss solving the MCQs.

upsc, upsc current affairs, key terms of past week, upsc prelims 2023, upsc mains 2023, upsc essentials, government job, sarkari jobsProtesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing. (AP Photo/ Ng Han Guan)

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Note: Catch the UPSC Weekly Quiz every Saturday evening and brush up on your current affairs knowledge.)

Essential key terms from the last week’s news headlines or between the lines categorised as per the relevance to the UPSC-CSE syllabus along with the MCQs followed.

White paper revolution

Why in news?

Subscriber Only Stories

— Cities across China have been witnessing waves of protests against the country’s tough zero-Covid policy in recent weeks. The movement, which is no longer limited to China alone, is widely being dubbed the ‘white paper revolution’.

— This is because of the blank sheets of white A4-sized paper many of the demonstrators have been seen holding during these protests.

— Many of the protesters have been calling for the resignation of Chinese President Xi Jinping and the end of the Chinese Communist Party’s rule. Large-scale protests like these are rare in China, where public dissent is  usually quickly stifled.


Why are demonstrations taking place in China?

— In November, at least 10 people were killed in a building fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which had been under lockdown for about 100 days. People blamed China’s brutal lockdown for the deaths. When a Chinese official appeared to blame the residents for the incident, protests first broke out in Xinjiang and then eventually spread to Beginning, Shanghai, Chengdu, Wuhan, Lanzhou, and Nanjing.

Why are demonstrators using white paper to protest?


— Over the weeks, the humble white sheet of paper became a symbol of the protests. It has come to symbolise the lack of free speech in the country.

— White papers as a sign of protest were previously used in Hong Kong in 2020, to avoid slogans banned under the city’s new national security law. Demonstrators in Moscow have also used them this year to protest Russia’s war with Ukraine, Reuters reported.

Why are demonstrators using white paper to protest?

— Over the weeks, the humble white sheet of paper became a symbol of the protests. It has come to symbolise the lack of free speech in the country.


— White papers as a sign of protest were previously used in Hong Kong in 2020, to avoid slogans banned under the city’s new national security law. Demonstrators in Moscow have also used them this year to protest Russia’s war with Ukraine, Reuters reported.

— Students at universities in cities including Nanjing and Beijing are holding up blank sheets of paper in silent protest, a tactic used in the country to evade censorship or arrest.

— White is a common funeral color in China and demonstrators are also using it to mourn those lost in the protests, according to a New York Times report.

How are the protests spreading globally?

— The hashtag “A4Revolution” — a reference to the size of the paper — began trending on Twitter after the protests started spreading across the nation. Soon, Instagram and Facebook users around the world started changing their profile photos to blank sheets of paper in support of the Chinese protesters, The New York Times reported. On China’s state-controlled social media, WeChat and Weibo, users are showing solidarity by  posting blank white squares or photos of themselves holding blank sheets of paper. The movement has spread to an extent where the hashtag “white paper exercise” was blocked on Weibo prompting users to lament the censorship. “If you fear a blank sheet of paper, you are weak inside,” one Weibo user posted, as reported by Reuters.

What is the ‘zero-Covid’ strategy?

— It is a strategy that aims to drive down the number of Covid-19 cases by imposing strict lockdowns, closing borders and imposing travel bans.


— Initially, when the pandemic started, Western countries adopted a mitigation approach that involved trying to flatten the curve while strengthening healthcare capacity to deal with possible flare ups. But soon another strategy — the elimination approach — started to find acceptance. This strategy eventually evolved into a Covid-elimination or zero-Covid plan. As part of the plan, governments tried to stamp out outbreaks down to the last case, at any cost.

— Australia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong and several other Asia Pacific countries applied the approach, involving highly restrictive measures, for different lengths of time, with varying degrees of severity in their Covid curbs.

Why did countries move away from zero-Covid?


— By the middle of 2021, healthcare authorities started questioning the zero-Covid approach to fight the disease.

— When vaccines started being rolled out worldwide, some countries also simultaneously started a gradual shift towards fewer lockdowns and more freedoms for citizens.


— As the UK lifted restrictions putting its faith in the vaccination drive, France started issuing health passes to the vaccinated to enter public spaces. Around the same time, Australia, after battling the record Delta wave surge, too started talking about “living with the virus” with focus shifting from number of cases to total hospitalisations.

— However, New Zealand and China were among the countries that stuck to the elimination response. New Zealand ultimately transitioned away from a hard elimination approach in October 2021, but China has refused to pivot.

Why has China’s approach been criticised?

— While the virus has evolved, China’s response to tackling it has been rooted in zero-tolerance for Covid cases. While this has helped the country stamp out every flare-up, a hard-to-lock-out Omicron variant has made the outbreaks frequent.

— Beijing’s harsh countermeasures to tackle Covid have imposed immense hardships on the lifestyle and livelihoods of citizens, making the curbs unpopular.

— However, the country has refused to budge on most elements of its policy, despite the WHO saying that its Covid response was “unsustainable”. It continues to be the last big economic power still wedded to the zero-Covid policy.

Point to ponder: The surge in China is a warning that the pandemic is not over yet. Comment.

1. MCQ

Recently seen in news “A4Revoltuion” refers to:

a) Protests in Iran against country’s strict female dress code.

b) Protests in China against the country’s zero covid policy.

c) JP Morgan commit climate neglect protests.

d) None of the above.

Volcano Eruption

Why in news?

— Mauna Loa, the world’s largest active volcano, erupted after 38 years on Sunday (November 27), spewing ash and debris, and covering the night sky of Hawaii’s Big Island in an incandescent red hue.

— Aerial images showed molten lava flowing out of the volcano, whose name translates to “long mountain” in the native Hawaiian language. Mitch Roth, mayor of Hawaii County, was quoted as saying by NPR that the eruption does not appear to be threatening any downslope communities.


Why do volcanoes erupt?

— The deeper one goes under the surface of the Earth towards its core, the hotter it gets. The geothermal gradient, the amount that the Earth’s temperature increases with depth, indicates heat flowing from the Earth’s warm interior to its surface. At a certain depth, the heat is such that it melts rocks and creates what geologists call ‘magma’.

— Magma is lighter than solid rock and hence it rises, collecting in magma chambers. Chambers which have the potential to cause volcanic eruptions are found at a relatively shallow depth, between six to ten kilometer under the surface. As magma builds up in these chambers, it forces its way up through cracks and fissures in Earth’s crust. This is what we call a volcanic eruption. The magma that surfaces on the Earth’s crust is referred to as lava.

Why are some volcanic eruptions explosive and some not?

— While the typical image of a volcano is that of a fountain of lava spouting high in the air from the mouth of the volcano, eruptions vary in intensity and explosiveness, depending on the composition of the magma.

— In simple terms, runny magma makes for less explosive volcanic eruptions that typically are less dangerous. Since the magma is runny, gasses are able to escape, leading to a steady but relatively gentle flow of lava out of the mouth of the volcano. The eruption at Mauna Loa is of this kind. Since the lava flows out at a slow pace, people typically have enough time to move out of the way. Geologists are also able to predict the flow of the lava depending on the incline and exact consistency it has.

— If magma is thick and sticky, it makes it harder for gasses to escape on a consistent basis. This leads to a build-up of pressure until a breaking point is reached. At this time, the gasses escape violently, all at once, causing an explosion. Lava blasts into the air, breaking apart into pieces called tephra. These can be extremely dangerous, ranging from the size of tiny particles to massive boulders.

— This sort of eruption can be deadly as thick clouds of tephra race down the side of the volcano, they destroy everything in their path. Ash erupted into the sky falls back to Earth like powdery snow. If thick enough, blankets of ash can suffocate plants, animals, and humans. Further, when the hot volcanic materials mix with nearby sources of water, they can create mudflows that have been known to bury entire communities alive. Mount Vesuvius, which obliterated the city of Pompeii, is an example of an explosive volcano.

— The Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) is a scale used to measure the explosivity of a volcano. It has a range of 1 to 8 with a higher VEI indicating more explosivity. While the VEI of the current eruption at Mauna Loa is not known yet, the previous eruption in 1984 was deemed to have a VEI of 0. The highest VEI ever recorded in Mauna Loa has been 2 (in 1854 and 1868).

Here are some famous volcanoes in the world.

Krakatoa, Indonesia

— One of the most catastrophic volcanic eruptions ever occurred in Krakatoa in 1883 (VEI 6). The volcano released huge plumes of steam and ash. The explosions were so brutal, they were heard 3,100km away in Perth, Western Australia. According to the Dutch colonial authorities, Krakatoa’s eruption and the consequent tsunamis caused 36,417 deaths, though modern estimates peg the number to be much higher.

Mount Vesuvius, Italy

— In 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius erupted (VEI 5), in one of the deadliest eruptions in European history, killing as many as 16,000 and destroying the town of Pompeii. According to scientists, the explosion released 100,000 times the thermal energy that was released with the atomic bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is said to have instantly boiled the blood of all those who were too close to it. The explosion was described by Greek writer Pliny the Younger, who was present nearby, as being “sometimes bright and sometimes dark and spotted… more or less impregnated with earth and cinders.”

Mount Fuji, Japan

— A defining image of Japan, Mount Fuji towers over the countryside with its snow-capped peaks and barren surface. It last erupted in 1707-1708 (VEI 5) and had a devastating effect on the local population. The tephra release led to significant agricultural decline, leading to widespread starvation in the Edo (now Tokyo) area. Although this eruption itself did not directly kill a lot of people, its subsequent impact proved deadly.

Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland

— Sometimes referred to as E15, it is one of the many volcanic features of Iceland. In 2010, a relatively small eruption (VEI 4) managed to bring air traffic in Europe to a complete standstill. In total, 20 countries closed their airspace, impacting approximately 10 million travellers.

Kīlauea, Hawaii

— Adjacent to the Mauna Loa, this is one of the most active volcanoes on the planet. It has been erupting intermittently since recorded history, with its eruption lasting from 1983 to 2018 being the longest continuous eruption ever recorded. It is a major tourist attraction, with the earliest hotel built at the edge of the volcano in the 1840s.

Mount St Helens, USA

— Located in Washington State, Mount St. Helens was a major eruption that occurred on May 18, 1980 (VEI 5), and it remains the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in U.S. history. It started after an earthquake hit the region, killing 57 and causing property damage over $1 billion. It remains an active volcano and one that is considered to be amongst the riskiest by scientists.

(Source: Mauna Loa volcano in Hawaii erupts by  Arjun Sengupta)

Point to ponder: What’s known about the Russian volcano that may be about to erupt?

2. MCQ

Consider the following statements: (2013)

1.The Barren Island volcano is an active volcano located in the Indian territory.

2.Barren Island lies about 140 km east of Great Nicobar.

3.The last time the Barren Island volcano erupted was in 1991 and it has remained inactive since then.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 and 3

(c) 3 only

(d) 1 and 3


Why in news?

— December of 2022 began with India assuming the presidency of two global bodies — G20 on the first day of the month and UNSC on the second.


What is UNSC

— The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was established by the UN Charter in 1945. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.

— The other 5 organs of the United Nations are the General Assembly (UNGA), the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat. The council is headquartered at New York.

— The council has 15 members: the five permanent members and ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. The five permanent members are the United States, the Russian Federation, France, China and the United Kingdom. Every year, the General Assembly elects five non-permanent members (out of ten in total) for a two-year term. The ten non-permanent seats are distributed on a regional basis. The council’s presidency is a capacity that rotates every month among its 15 members.

— Each member of the Security Council has one vote. Decisions of the Security Council on matters are made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members. A “No” vote from one of the five permanent members blocks the passage of the resolution.

— It should be noted that any member of the United Nations which is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without vote, in the discussion of any question brought before the Security Council whenever the latter considers that the interests of that member are specially affected.

What are the roles and powers of the UNSC and its President nation?

— Some of the significant roles of the UNSC broadly include maintaining “international peace in accordance with the principles and purposes of the United Nations,”and “to determine the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression and to recommend what action should be taken.”

— The Council President, according to the UNSC handbook, exercises a vast range of powers such as holding meetings of the Security Council, approving provisional agendas, signing records of the meetings, besides other crucial decisions.

“On the first working day of the presidency, the Council president holds an informal breakfast to discuss the draft programme,” which is “attended by the permanent representatives of all Council members.” The programme of work (PoW) — which in simpler terms, is a calendar of priorities which the President nation would work towards during its tenure — is adopted soon after the breakfast.

How is the UNSC President nation elected?

— The official website of the UNSC highlights that each of its 15 member states assume its presidency for a duration of one month, following the English alphabetical order.

— India had also been in the presidential position in August 2021.

What are India’s priorities as the Council President?

— This month, India’s PoW includes briefings, consultations and reports on global developments in Syria, Libya, Middle East, Colombia, South Sudan, and Congo among others.

— An open debate on the “maintenance of international peace and security” through “new orientation for reformed multilateralism” and a briefing on “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts” which would involve discussions on principles and way forward through a “global counter-terrorism approach” remain key to the Council. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will be traveling to New York on December 14 and December 15 to attend these signature events.

— The country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ruchira Kamboj will preside over the Council for this month.

(Source: India assumes presidency of two global bodies: All you need to know about G20, UNSC by  Ariba)

Point to ponder: India has been at the forefront of the years-long efforts to reform the security council and it rightly deserves a place as a permanent member.

3. MCQ

With respect to the Security Council of UN, consider the following statements

1. It consists of 5 permanent members, and the remaining 10 members are elected by the General Assembly for a term of 1 year.

2. Any member of the United Nations which is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without vote, in the discussion of any question.

Which of the above statements are correct?

a) Only 1

b) Only 2

c) Both 1 and 2

d) Neither 1 nor 2


Why in news?

— Starting Thursday, the government has introduced paperless entry at select airports to make air travel hassle-free. Under this initiative, airports will use a facial recognition software called ‘DigiYatra’ for entry. This means, passengers won’t need to carry their ID card and boarding pass.

— In the first phase, the initiative will be launched at seven airports, starting with three — Delhi, Bengaluru, and Varanasi, followed by four airports namely Hyderabad, Kolkata, Pune, and Vijayawada by March 2023. Subsequently, the technology will be implemented across the country.

— The Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), run by GMR, had in August announced the soft launch of the Centre’s DigiYatra initiative, rolling out the beta version of its app for Android platforms. The Delhi airport has the required infrastructure set up at the airport’s Terminal 3, and other airports are also setting up the requisite infra for it.


What is DigiYatra and how will it work?

— DigiYatra envisages that travellers pass through various checkpoints at the airport through paperless and contactless processing, using facial features to establish their identity, which would be linked to the boarding pass. With this technology, the entry of passengers would be automatically processed based on the facial recognition system at all checkpoints – including entry into the airport, security check areas, aircraft boarding, etc.

Which airports/airlines offer the facial recognition technology?

— The facility will be available for passengers taking domestic flights at Delhi’s Terminal 3, Bengaluru and Varanasi airports. DigiYatra will be launched at four more airports — HyderabadPune, Vijaywada and Kolkata — by next March. Later, DigiYatra will be rapidly rolled out across all other airports.

— Among airlines, passengers travelling Air India, Vistara and IndiGo on their domestic network can avail this facility at the three airports. SpiceJet, GoFirst and Akasa Air are yet to offer the DigiYatra facility.

How can people avail the DigiYatra facility?

— For availing the service, a passenger has to register their details on the DigiYatra app using Aadhaar-based validation and a self image capture. In the next step, the boarding pass has to be scanned, and the credentials are shared with airport authorities.

— At the airport e-gate, the passenger has to first scan the bar coded boarding pass and the facial recognition system installed at the e-gate will validate the passenger’s identity and travel document. Once this process is done, the passenger can enter the airport through the e-gate.

— The passenger will have to follow the normal procedure to clear security and board the aircraft.

— Facial recognition technology is beneficial as it makes flying more convenient and reduces congestion at airports. The facial recognition system at various airports across the globe, including Dubai, Singapore, Atlanta and Narita (Japan), have helped bring in efficiency.

How is DigiYatra being implemented?

— The project is being implemented by the DigiYatra Foundation — a joint-venture company whose shareholders are the Airports Authority of India (26% stake) and Bengaluru Airport, Delhi Airport, Hyderabad Airport, Mumbai Airport and Cochin International Airport. These five shareholders equally hold the remaining 74% of the shares.

(Source: DigiYatra: These airports in India now have facial recognition technology. How does it work? by  Mihir Mishra)

Point to ponder: The big problem with facial recognition is that as the technology gets faster and more accurate there are worries that it will be used for mass surveillance. Do you agree?

4. MCQ

In addition to fingerprint scanning, which of the following can be used in the biometric identification of a person? (2014)

1. Iris scanning

2. Retinal scanning

3. Voice recognition

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

a) 1 only

b) 2 and 3 only

c) 1 and 3 only

d) 1, 2 and 3

Martian megatsunami

Why in news?

— A megatsunami on Mars was likely caused by an asteroid impact like the Chicxulub collision—a massive asteroid impact that led to the mass extinction of most dinosaurs on Earth—that happened in a shallow ocean region.


— Previously, researchers have proposed that an asteroid impact on a Martian ocean in the northern lowlands caused a tsunami around three billion years ago. For the new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers analysed maps of Mars’s surface which were created using images from previous missions to the planet. Prior to this study, the location of the impact crater was unclear.

— The crater in question has a diameter of 110 kilometres and is located in a region that previous studies suggests may have been covered by an ocean. The authors of the new study suggest that this crater may have formed around 3.4 billion years ago by an asteroid collision.

— In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers simulated asteroid collisions in this region to find out what type of impact could have caused this crater and led to the megatsunami. The simulations revealed that similar craters could be caused by either a nine-kilometre asteroid that encountered strong ground resistance or a three kilometres asteroid encountering weak ground resistance. Such collisions could release 13 million megatons of TNT energy or 0.5 million megatons of TNT energy respectively.

— For comparison, the Tsar Bomba, the most powerful thermonuclear weapon ever tested, generated energy worth approximately 57 tons of TNT energy. But both these hypothetical impacts would generate craters measuring 110 kilometres in diameter while causing tsunamis that reach as far as 1,500 kilometres from the impact site.

— The scientists suggest that this impact could have had a lot of similarities with the Chicxulub impact, which according to scientists could have triggered massive megatsunamis and earthquakes.

Point to ponder: Why is Mars so interesting to scientists, and the adventurer that lives in us all?

5. MCQ

What is die difference between asteroids and comets? (2011)

1. Asteroids are small rocky planetoids, while comets are formed of frozen gases held together by rocky and metallic material.

2. Asteroids are found mostly between the orbits of Jupiter and Mars, while comets are found mostly between Venus and Mercury.

3. Comets show a perceptible glowing tail, while asteroids do not.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

a) 1 and 2 only

b) 1 and 3 only

c) 3 only

d) 1, 2 and 3

ANSWERS TO MCQs: 1 (b), 2 (d), 3 (b), 4 (d), 5 (b)


First published on: 05-12-2022 at 17:02 IST
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