Letters: Flooding in Pakistan

Arabs should help Pakistan
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The Independent Online

The UN is asking for some £500m to be raised for Pakistan's flood victims ("Why is the world unmoved by the plight of Pakistan", front page, 13 August). This is a few days' income for the oil-rich Arab states with all their billionaires.

Remind me again why this is a Western problem when the Muslim world has it so easily within its capacity to sort the problem out for itself, and very quickly indeed?

The relative lack of success of the appeals is not just compassion fatigue, but irritation at the assumption that we have to step in and sort out other people's problems all the time, especially when so much money has been spent and so many lives lost in that region failing to protect ourselves from the militants they are so ineffective at controlling themselves.

This appeal shortfall is the first direct result of the new Cameron straight-talking foreign policy.

Paul Harper

London E15

The millions of pounds donated by ordinary people from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland has shown the level of compassion for the desperate people of Pakistan, but surely it is dwarfed by the millions of pounds or dollars that will have be sent by the many mega-rich individuals in the Islamic world and the oil-rich Arab countries in particular for whom a million dollars or even a billion dollars are mere small change.

While people in the UK have played a part in helping the plight of the people of Pakistan, it is the generosity and commitment of the thousands of millionaires and billionaires of the Islamic world that will have the biggest impact in helping save the devastated people of Pakistan and rebuild their country.

Michael Heppner

London N10

Take courage, and pedal on

How I agree with Roy Spilsbury (Letters, 11 August) about so-called "safe roads". I had just cycled into Wells when I read the letters page and the reference to Mary Ann Sieghart's article. Does she ride a bike or a horse?

You have to be very brave and determined to cycle the Queen's highway in these days of heavy motor traffic. Many motorists do not give cyclists nearly enough space and pass far too fast and close. Care, courtesy and consideration are often lacking.

There is, it seems to me, something of an anti-cyclist culture in Britain and while some cyclists deserve criticism for their behaviour, two-wheelers, powered or not, always come off second-best.

Here on Mendip, an area of outstanding natural beauty, there is no speed limit except the national one of 60mph. Being a rural area, it is popular with cavers, horse-riders, walkers and cyclists.

Many motorists resent cyclists, thinking they have a divine right to road space. I am a motorist, cyclist and motorcyclist and, I hope, I see the other's point of view. The government has an "Active Travel Strategy" to encourage more people to pedal.

The Cyclists' Touring Club, British Cycling, Sky Ride and others are pushing the benefits of cycling, but until drivers are calmed it's going to be a slow process.

G B Thomas

Priddy, Somerset

We got what we voted for

A host of readers (Letters, 10 August) rail at the Liberal Democrats for forming a coalition with the Conservatives. What they appear to forget is that due to Britain's archaic electoral system, the Conservative-Liberal coalition best reflects how voters cast their votes back in June, even if that does not reflect their views.

They may dream of a utopian Labour-led coalition, and if so they also fail to recall that in that situation the Liberals would have been a minority party in government, supporting a discredited party that had, after much early promise, failed to be progressive and for the most part failed to live up to its promises in the previous decade.

It would also have defied the logic of the election result, which may be imperfect but it is what the great British public voted for, like it or not.

Paul Clark

Oakham, Rutland

Council housing not subsidised

I was sorry to see Christina Patterson sounding off about the possible future changes in council housing (Comment, 12 August). Council housing is not subsidised and has not been for many years. The central housing revenue account does in fact show a small surplus, meaning that council tenants' rents are subsidising the rest of the economy.

The difference from private sector "market" rents is that council tenants pay only the actual cost of the housing, including maintenance. Private rents include an element of profit for the landlord and for estate agents, as well as higher costs because of missed economies of scale in administration and maintenance.

I see it as a gross insult to human dignity to forcibly move council tenants out when their circumstances change. Improved incomes from new employment may not last long in these times of employment insecurity. I, living in the prosperous South-east, have been made redundant three times since 1998.

And if families grow up and leave, parents are already offered inducements to move to smaller housing, yet should they wish to stay put in the family home, how dare anyone think they have the right to force them out? Is this going to happen to homeowners too? If not, it's class apartheid.

The answer to shortages of affordable housing is to replace that stock which was sold off at a discount in the 1980s. I have yet to see anyone explain why councils were then forbidden to use the proceeds to replace the lost stock.

Building new homes and repairing and bringing into use the hundreds of thousands of empty flats and houses whose owners cannot be bothered to rent them out would pay vast dividends in employment.

J Blincoe


Apprenticeship is a way to success

Mary Curncok Cook, chief executive of Ucas, is absolutely right ("Ucas chief puts the case for apprenticeships", 2 August): of course young people should consider apprenticeships, only not as a poor second to a university place but as an equally valid option.

That this recommendation should come about purely as the result of a shortfall in university funding is to be regretted, but the message is nonetheless valid and not a new one.

For more than 20 years, I worked either directly in vocational education and training or for organisations promoting it as an alternative to sixth form or university.

I used to point out to parents that if their offspring took up an apprenticeship scheme they would not end up in debt after qualifying, they would have earned a wage in the meantime (in some cases a surprisingly high one), and they would have superb career prospects at home and abroad.

Furthermore, if living at home, they would be able to contribute to their weekly upkeep. It was an uphill struggle at times because many headteachers and heads of sixth forms were more concerned with sixth-form numbers and the kudos of university entrance successes.

It was, and probably still is in some places, "The Great Career Mis-selling Scandal", as I once heard Michael Wicks aptly paraphrase it.

It was also made more difficult because David Blunkett, while Secretary of State for Education and Skills in the early days of New Labour, did a pretty good job of wiping out high-quality, objective careers advice by diverting money to the Connexions programme, which was far more of a social measure than one concerned with learning.

But if Mary Curnock Cook's advice is to be followed, it needs to be underpinned by sound, independent guidance, starting well before GCSEs and A levels.

Patrick Cosgrove

Chapel Lawn, Shropshire

Don't blame Coco Pops

Christine Haigh's letter (22 July) criticises the Health Secretary for suggesting companies such as Kellogg's should play a part in tackling the obesity epidemic. She claims the Government plans to "hand its anti-obesity epidemic over to corporate partners".

Kellogg's cereals have been around for more than 100 years and we've been improving them for almost as long by adding things such as fibre and taking out things such as salt.

Coco Pops have been around for 50 years and pre-date the obesity epidemic we face. Demonising them is not the magic bullet we seek.

Chris Wermann

Regional Corporate Communications Director,

Kellogg's UK, Manchester

Get the picture?

Soon the A-level results will be out, and the media will be focusing on students opening their envelopes and mostly shrieking with delight. Is it too much to hope that the cameras might be pointed at some students who are ugly, male or working-class, or maybe all three?

Sam Boote

Keyworth, Nottingham

Finger point

Johann Hari claims that 600,000 people are worked to death in Chinese factories each year (Comment, 12 August), and that 33,000 fingers are lost each day. That's roughly 1 per cent of the entire Chinese population losing a finger every year. I find this hard to believe.

David French


Red herring

Your article "Now Britain and Iceland go to war over the mackerel" (11 August) says that, "Iceland has always jealously guarded its fishing rights, so much so that a row that erupted in the 1970s almost brought Helsinki and London to the brink of military action". Was Finland prepared to fight with or against the United Kingdom in the Cod War?

Jon Summers

Stogumber, Somerset

Perspectives on road safety

Do speed cameras really work?

It is all very well for the police to claim that speed cameras are an effective road-safety tool but the evidence doesn't altogether bear that out. Position a speed camera at a the centre of a random concentration of serious accidents and it will almost always be followed by a rapid reduction in the local accident rate, but not bothering with the speed camera in the first place would also almost always be followed by a rapid reduction in the local accident rate. That is the nature of random events.

Road-traffic casualties have been showing a persistent downward trend from the mid-1960s. If speed cameras were really as effective as claimed, their introduction in 1992 should have heralded a golden age in which the year on year reduction increased.

In fact, from 1989 to 1993 (a period that showed a particularly sharp decline), the reduction in road deaths averaged 350 per year. From 1994 to 2003, the rate averaged just 14 per year.

We have never had an explanation about why the rate was so eye-catching before speed cameras were introduced and so eye-watering in the following years. I will be interested to see if the warnings about the hundreds of extra deaths to be expected lead to any discernible upward trend.

Roger Chapman

Keighley, West Yorkshire

Designed to fail?

Only in Britain could we have devised a system where the installation and maintenance costs of speed cameras fall on local government, whilst the considerable income from the fines they generate go to the Treasury. One would almost think it had been designed to fail.

Andrew Whyte

Shrewsbury, Shropshire