Letters: Drought in Kenya

Questions need to be raised about Kenya's population growth rate
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The Independent Online

Sir: In your articles on the current drought in Kenya (13 and 17 January), blame is laid on deforestation. People cut down trees primarily for firewood and the more people there are, the greater is the need for firewood, and the more cattle they will own to overgraze the land.

I am a demographer and I have worked on all the censuses of Kenya in the last 50 years. I have watched the population of that country grow from 8.6 million in 1962 to 11 million in 1969, 15.3 million in 1979, 21.4 million in 1989, and 28.7 millions in 1999; now in 2006 it is estimated to be in excess of 34 millions. It has therefore quadrupled during my working lifetime.

Clearly such rates of growth cannot be sustained indefinitely. And only two things can stop it: either the birth rate comes down or the death rate goes up.

In Kenya in the 1970s a woman who lived to the age of 50 had an average of eight live-born children, by the late 1990s it was down to less than five births per woman and it was predicted that the downward trend would continue. But in 2003 a survey showed that the decline had stalled at five births per woman: the government's hitherto vigorous family planning programme had run out of steam. Unless the fall in fertility can be resumed in the near future, a further doubling of the population to about 70 millions by the middle of this century will be almost inevitable, despite rising mortality.

This situation is not peculiar to Kenya. In neighbouring Uganda, the population has grown from 6.5 millions shown by the 1959 census to 24.7 millions according to that of 2002.

Yet in all the discussions during the past year on how to lift Africa out of poverty, the question of population has been conspicuous for its absence. It is no longer fashionable or politically correct. In some circumstances population growth can be a stimulus to economic development; but in others the reverse is true. I have not the slightest doubt that in the case of Kenya it has been a grievous handicap, and instrumental in keeping the majority of the people in that country locked in poverty.



Time to stop the killing of whales

Sir: As thousands of Londoners have shown interest in the whale in the Thames, we should remind ourselves that, at this time, seven Japanese ships are, it is estimated, making their biggest catch in 20 years - of over 900 whales. Sea Shepherd Marine Conservation Society and Greenpeace have been following these vessels, which operate in the southern ocean whale sanctuary, in Australian waters.

A global moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place since 1986, but Japan describes its programme, called JARPA-2, as "scientific". This replaces the JARPA-1 programme, which took 440 Antarctic minkes each season; we understand that in two years' time, JARPA-2 will expand to include humpbacks, the favoured species for whale watchers and on the Red List of Threatened Species.

Japan also runs a "scientific" whaling programme, at a different time of year, in the north Pacific, called JARPN, which last year took 100 sei whales, 100 minkes, 50 Bryde's whales and five sperm whales.

It would be very helpful if all this concern for one disoriented whale could be directed towards the protection of those many creatures of the same species being slaughtered now in what should be their sanctuary.



Sir: In the article "Depths of despair" (20 January), your reference to Japanese fishermen as putting whales under threat is misleading. Whales are among the precious marine resources, and they should always be utilized in a prudent manner, so that stocks remain sustainable.

Japan is keen to preserve endangered species and has absolutely no intention of causing them to become extinct. We believe that endangered species of whales, such as the Blue whale, should be carefully preserved. On the other hand, many species of whales, such as the Minke whale, are increasing and abundant, as your article pointed out.

In its scientific research, Japan is only catching species of whale that either are abundant (such as the Minke whale) or have recovered sufficiently in numbers (such as the Humpback whale), on a scale not susceptible to affect the stocks of those species, ie in essence in a sustainable manner. Japan has never hunted endangered species.

Therefore, endangered species and the species whose stocks have deteriorated are nothing to to with Japan's research whaling. Your allegation " whether it's Japanese fishermen... whales are under ever greater threat" is unfounded. I believe that "save the endangered species of whales" is a correct slogan.



Sir: How beautiful it was to see a whale swimming so close, how touching it was to see the brave efforts of the experts and the love of the public, yet how sad it was to see the whale die. For two days, the tireless efforts of marine experts to save that beautiful creature, a mammal that is not vastly different in intelligence from the human, gripped the nation. We stayed glued to our televisions or even crossed London to see it, willing this long-travelling mammal to make it back out to the deep waters it knows as home.

Standing with a crowd by the waterside overlooking the business metropolis of Canary Wharf we fell silent in awe at the sight of this gentle giant being transported to the mouth of the sea.

As our lives are quickly refilled with stories of celebrity scandal or human carnage in the troubled areas of our world, I for one hope that we do not forget this weekend.



Sir: I'm heartened and saddened by the reaction to the whale in the Thames. Although it's great to see so many people care about one beautiful endangered mammal, thousands are being hunted by Norway, Iceland and Japan.

Let's send those countries' leaders a loud message from the British public - we do not find whaling acceptable in today's world and will fight to stop you practising this barbaric industry. We want our endangered wildlife alive!



Sir: We should all be grateful to the river police for keeping the unfortunate whale away from Battersea Bridge. A nudge from the marine leviathan could have closed it for another six months. In fact in the bridge's current parlous condition, a reasonably athletic shoal of whitebait would represent a serious threat.



Cannabis causes drug addiction

Sir: The news that Charles Clarke has decided to keep cannabis at the lower status of class C is deplorable (reports, 19 January). Despite evidence to the contrary the Government has refused once again to accept that cannabis is the starting point for the spiral into drug addiction experienced by many today.

At our London based charity Drugsline we have had direct experience of the problems that can occur when young people are caught up in a cycle of addiction to drugs and alcohol. These young people need the support of the Government and have been let down by this decision.

Politicians from all parties should be encouraging better education about the dangers of drugs and mixed messages about the effects of substances such as cannabis are not helpful.

We agree with Shadow Home Secretary David Davis when he says that this decision is a "tragedy for many thousands of young lives" and would call on other politicians to think seriously about what the policy means for individuals and their families.



How to reform invalidity benefit

Sir: Incapacity benefit makes poor people poorer (leading article, 16 January). The Government is right to reform it as it is not fit for its purpose, but it is crucial that in demanding more of claimants, the state delivers more support. A reformed benefit must fulfil two functions: swifter and more effective routes into work, and a decent income for those who are unable to work because of a long-term health problem or disability.

If tougher conditions are placed on claiming IB, then the state must also dramatically improve its ability to deliver appropriate support. At present the UK's spending on welfare-to-work support for IB claimants is dwarfed by spending in other EU countries. On average, IB claimants receive £80 a week, and a reformed system must guarantee security and dignity for those who cannot work.



Fear mongering by risk assessors

Sir: Joan Bakewell is right to point out that the massive exaggeration of risk is fuelling our sense of panic and limiting our imagination (20 January). However, I think that she could have made her point far more forcibly.

As I argue in my book Risk and Society, risk is not simply a social phenomenon that has become somehow more noticeable and related to the increase of legal action directed at professionals who get it wrong. Rather, risk has now become a moral imperative dominating medical and social services. The anticipation and prevention of risk has given rise to a huge industry of professional risk assessors and fear mongers. Risk is not only associated with terrorism, global epidemics, and famine, but with such seemingly innocuous objects as personal stereos and vacuum cleaners.

The rise of an increasing societal concern with uncertainty has resulted in a "risk community" emanating from government, industry, and trade unions. The avoidance of risk has become a defensive institutionalised strategy and, even more worryingly, has been invoked to justify an increasing use of surveillance and, in some cases, the breaking of international law. Perhaps most importantly, though, the exaggeration of risk, in increasing fear, diminishes trust and social cohesion.



More care for the elderly

Sir: Thank God for Johann Hari's excellent piece on how we treat the old ("The real scandal is how we treat the old", 19 January). The King's Fund has produced evidence for years about discrimination against older people in health care. Help the Aged have rightly demonstrated that a fifth of older people in care homes are suffering from malnutrition, as many of them also do if they are in our hospitals, unless staff remember to feed them, whilst the incidence of the use of "chemical coshes" to quieten down "difficult" older people has never been higher.

Is this not the time to call for some serious ministerial accountability for how we treat the oldest and the frailest? And is this also not time for revisiting Age Concern's millennium "Debate of the Age", so we can think through how we really want to live when very old, and what provisions need to be made privately, publicly and by the voluntary sector for us, as we reach ever greater ages, and are increasingly frail at the end of our lives?



Chinese childbirth

Sir: In 1982,I was one of a delegation of 21 British women invited to tour China by the All China Federation of Women. Our tour included a visit to the Shanghai Hospital for Women, where we saw women receiving acupuncture to turn their foetuses from a breach position ("Acupuncture does combat pain", 21 January).

We also attended a delivery where the mother was receiving acupuncture. She delivered a baby girl, apparently without great discomfort.



British republic

Sir: The 1707 Act of Union (Letters, 21 January) embraced Scotland and England (which then included Wales). Before it could become United Kingdom Day, Britain would have to divest itself of Northern Ireland. Perhaps one day it might also renounce all its past annexations ("United") along with its hereditary Protestant leadership ("Kingdom"), and become a federation of three British republics. Now that would be a day worth celebrating.



Banks and balaclavas

Sir: I have just one query to make concerning Seth Mortimer's gripe (letter, 18 January) about Muslim women getting away with wearing a veil in a bank, when he was told to remove his balaclava. What sort of person walks into a bank wearing a balaclava and doesn't take it off? I think they might be thought of as members of that highly oppressed minority, "armed robbers".



Neighbourly love

Sir: Alexander Jacoby (letter, 17 January) claims: "Liberal humanism modestly proposes that people should treat other people as they should like to be treated themselves." A remarkable similarity here to Jesus' command: "Love your neighbour as yourself."



Doctors' pay

Sir: I earn £95,000 for a 48 hour week and get an additional £8,000 per annum for providing an extra 26 hours per week on call. Training entailed six years at medical school and 13 years as a junior doctor. If I have an "off day" and bodge an operation I face suspension from work and a charge of manslaughter. Are taxpayer's getting a poor deal? (18 January)




Words of warning

Sir: Spring cleaning this Sunday, I came across a buried copy of The Independent from 12 September 2001. Turning the pages, I found an article by Robert Fisk on what was then the "chief suspect" of the previous day's terror attacks: Osama bin Laden. The headline was "Atrocities may be designed to provoke America into costly military adventure". We cannot say that we were not warned.