Letters: Indonesian forestry

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Indonesia needs our help now to save its forests from disaster

Sir: You report that "Illegal logging 'will ruin habitat of wild orang-utans' " (12 June). Last year I led a study of the EC-funded Illegal Logging Response Centre at the Ministry of Forestry in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Centre was about to close after three years, despite having designed and piloted good new ways of tracking cases against illegal loggers through a notoriously corrupt and leaky prosecution system. I was astonished that the EC was closing down this successful initiative, but even more struck by the fact that the Indonesian government had started, for the first time, to take very seriously the rampant logging and deforestation of its national parks, especially those in Sumatra and Borneo that are homes to orang-utans.

The Indonesian authorities have been struggling frantically to protect these parks with extremely limited resources, using imaginative techniques such as microlight aircraft with global positioning systems and radios to guide enforcement teams to logging camps on the ground. These and other methods were being proved to work, but even as solutions were being found and morale was increasing, one by one the western aid agencies that should have been helping were withdrawing their assistance. This was a reaction to earlier events, in 1999-2003, when illegal logging seemed to be genuinely out of control, and before the Indonesian government had decided to act.

The slow-wittedness of donors and their inability to react quickly to new circumstances is now helping to create a catastrophic loss of biodiversity. What Indonesian park managers need right now is money for patrolling and enforcement in the field, money to plug gaps in their resources created when budgets take months to find their way into the forest areas far from Jakarta. What is needed, therefore, is emergency funding for the parks. Not necessarily a lot - €10,000 a year would make a huge difference to enforcement efforts in a typical park - but it needs to be reliable, and it must get there very, very soon. Otherwise, your paper's obituary pages will shortly be filled with the names of extinct wild species, orang-utans among them.



The honour of being attacked by Blair

Sir: I can think of no higher honour achievable. Being singled out for criticism by Tony Blair shows that you have struck a nerve with your consistent position on issues such as Iraq, something unique among your contemporaries. If you are to be termed a "viewspaper" so be it, the constant calls for "impartiality" only come from, and only serve, the powerful who have everything to lose. Keep up the good work.



Sir: Congratulations. To be specially mentioned by the spin-meister Tony Blair as a metaphor for all he dislikes about the press means you have to be doing something right.



Sir: Following a news report that the Prime Minister had given a lecture on the media that singled out The Independent for particular criticism, I decided to read the text of his speech. It was prefaced with the warning "check against delivery". Isn't this what your paper has been doing all along?



Sir: So how much did you pay Tony Blair to attack the Indy? I'm sure it'll help your circulation figures no end.



Saudi kickbacks are bad business

Sir: Your editorial "Sweeteners and slush funds in a complex world" (8 June) should not be allowed to pass without a rebuke. You attribute condemnation of the Al Yamamah kickbacks to moral indignation and argue that such indignation has no place in the complex world of arms deals, especially when those deals are with an oil-rich state that is the world's largest purchaser of British-made weapons.

There is nothing wrong with moral indignation. The objections to the deal with Saudi Arabia's Prince Bandar are made on legal and practical, not just moral and political grounds. To agree to arrangements that divert hundreds of millions of pounds into private hands and undermine laws and agreements that could limit "sweeteners" is as stupid as it is unconscionable.

In 1999, Britain committed itself to the OECD's anti-bribery convention and in 2002 Britain tightened its own laws so that bribing officials to secure contracts overseas became an unambiguous criminal offence. A newspaper committed to respecting international treaties and to constitutional forms of government should not suggest that it is acceptable for ministers to pick and choose the laws they obey.

There can be no good economic arguments in favour of sweeteners among a community of trading nations genuinely committed to free trade and to poverty reduction. An agreement to outlaw secret commissions is an agreement to reject specious and anti-competitive justifications for slush funds that are as wasteful as they are immoral. Only the short-sighted could accept that it is in Britain's real long-term economic or security interests to undermine international agreements and laws that are designed to promote open markets and to combat corrupt practices.

Britain's most senior law officer and its anti-fraud office now appear to be utterly compromised and BAE's prospects for development in the US greatly weakened. Where is the good sense in that? The arms trade is complicated but complexity is no excuse for going soft on corruption or on waste.



Risks of treatment for short sight

Sir: Your article "Why I threw away my specs" (Extra, 5 June) on the use of contact lenses to temporarily remould the surface of the eye, correcting short-sightedness, displayed the excitable enthusiasm of a promotional advertisement.

Mr Lee Shreeve described his personal experience of the effect of the Ortho-K treatment. He was pleased. But by using the terms "miracle" and "cure" on the front page, you presented this as a treatment option for short-sightedness with a lack of responsibility and balance.

Yes, he threw away his specs, but for how long? I could find no evidence of the long-term effects nor safety of this treatment.

You reported the benefits without explaining the limitations and risks of a treatment for short-sightedness. The main risk to the eye is of corneal infections and sight-threatening corneal ulcers. These have been reported in the medical literature, not only in China, but also in Canada.

The sight-threatening nature of contact lens-related ulcers means the use of lenses requires great care, hygiene and the common sense to seek medical help when the eye becomes red or sore after their use. This makes their use in the young extremely questionable.

The evidence shows that the benefit of these night-time lenses is short-term. The eye regresses to short-sightedness when the lenses are withdrawn. The risks of sight-threatening ulcers due to contact lens is highly significant in young children and teenagers, particularly when compared to glasses, which have zero risk of corneal ulcers.



The thriving bees of Somerset

Sir: "Let it bee" (7 June) claimed that Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) has spread from the US to the UK and claimed an increasing number of cases of the disorder in Somerset.

Somerset beekeepers have not reported any cases of CCD, and, in fact, most have reported lower winter losses than in previous years, and bumper crops of spring honey from thriving colonies of bees.

My understanding is that CCD in the US is confined mainly to commercial beekeeping operations. In the UK our National Bee Unit and Bee Inspectors are, as you report, keeping the situation under close scrutiny. This is not a crisis, but it does reinforce the need to husband carefully our valuable bee stock in the UK.

Our main concern is that government bee research funding is at an all-time low and we could not deal with CCD if it did arrive on these shores.



Old people: time to end the uncertainty

Sir: The Government should make up its mind about old people: on one hand they'd prefer everyone to die the day after they cease working and paying taxes - peacefully, in their sleep, of course. On the other hand, we are not allowed to choose to die; and we are lectured on unhealthy lifestyles which may shorten our lives (and, more to the point, be a drain on health services).

I suggest the solution is to encourage the elderly to take up an "extreme sport". Crocodile hunting springs to mind, or base jumping. There are very few injuries to be treated with such sports - you live or (preferably) die.



Artistic obsession with smoking

Sir: David Hockney is a better artist than statistician, to judge by his comments on smoking ("Hockney fumes at the 'dreary people' threatening his beloved habit", 12 June).

Anyone with an understanding of the latter will know that any large sample will almost certainly contain some results at both fringes. It should therefore not be a surprise that a few smokers and their passive victims survive to a ripe old age. But it is clear that far too many suffer premature deaths.

Great artists tend by their nature to be self-obsessed (but perhaps Mr Hockney could find one or two to "disprove" this observation?) so again no surprise that he'd put his own pleasure above that of others. We non-smokers may, to his sophisticated eyes, be "dreary", but many of us are a little obsessed about our health and that of our friends and families.

I can hardly wait for 1 July and my first visit in ages to our delightful local pub, which will be so much improved when customers can breathe freely in it.



Sir: Mr Hockney is free to poison himself behind his cricket pavilion, but those who wish to breathe smoke-free air inside it have been fighting for the right to do so. The awkward squad remains alive and well ... and has won.



Beware takeover by the bilingual elite

Sir: Ruth Kelly is right, of course, to question the routine translation of official documents into foreign languages . Furthermore, only British Standard English should have any official status anywhere in the United Kingdom, except in a local authority area where one quarter or more of the population is made up of native speakers of another language indigenous to these islands, in which case that language should have equal status.

Just as was once predicted by Leo Abse, the Welsh are now discovering what the people of Northern Ireland and of much of the United States will soon discover, and what the Canadians discovered long ago: that enforced bilingualism or multilingualism transfers economic, social, cultural and political power to a bilingual or multilingual elite.

In Wales, in Northern Ireland, in much of the United States, in Canada, and in great swathes of urban England and Scotland, those who are or will be excluded are the black and white members of the English-speaking working class.



Lessons of Iraq

Sir: If I read pages 8 and 9 of Tuesday's edition correctly, we are in future going to avoid the mistakes that led to the invasion of Iraq, but it would send a signal of disunity to our brave armed forces if we bothered to find out what those mistakes actually were. I say, this joined-up government thing could really catch on.



Traditional BBC values

Sir: While the leading article (8 June) on similarities between Springwatch and Big Brother was entertaining in a tongue-in-cheek way, I think you failed to point out that the similarities begin and end with their consummate manipulation of the reality-TV format. Springwatch is by far superior because it does something the BBC is frequently accused of having forgotten: it entertains and educates in equal measure and is truly a family show. Maybe Reithean broadcasting values have survived into the 21st century after all.



Motorway moralising

Sir: I recently drove across Germany. It was a pleasant experience, not least because at no point did I have to endure overhead electronic motorway moralising. Here I am reminded every mile or so to Think and Make Time for a Break, though there are precious few places to take one. In Germany, they have verdant laybys every 20 kilometres. It seems that the Germans have spent their money on actual transport infrastructure: our politicians have spent it on noticeboards for Nanny.



Aid and corruption

Sir: The $60bn aid money pledged by the G8 leaders in Heiligendamm to fight Aids, malaria and TB in Africa, has to be seen in the light of the estimated $148bn lost to that continent each year through corruption. Indeed, the recently retired Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, has claimed that 25 per cent of Africa's combined income is lost to graft - that's $15bn of the G8 cash gone before one child gets its treatment. Wouldn't it make more sense to tackle that issue first, before throwing more money into the sizeable coffers of corrupt governments?



Nuclear madness

Sir: I was intrigued to learn (The Green Goddess, 7 June) that scientists once assured us that the atomic bomb was "harmless". Can you tell us, was this before or after Hiroshima and Nagasaki?