Sir: Your story about health care in Iraq made very sobering reading ("The battle to save Iraq's children", 19 January).
The single most important thing that would help Iraq's children now would be to end the violence, violence that affects electricity supplies and distribution of medical equipment and which claims the lives of doctors. That's what the Iraqi government, with the support of the coalition forces, is trying to do.
The terrible conditions you describe also have other causes. Their roots lie in what happened under Saddam's regime, which neglected healthcare, so that by 2000 health indicators for Iraq were comparable with some of the poorest countries in Africa. There has been some progress since 2003, with more than 1,000 healthcare facilities rehabilitated or equipped, and more than 6,000 health workers trained, but there is a very long way to go. The UN and the World Bank Trust funds, to which the UK has contributed, are spending over $120m to repair hospitals and train staff. We have also supported the Red Cross/ Red Crescent movement, who continue to supply life-saving medical support in Iraq.
The other task, now that Iraq has an elected government following the end of the occupation, is for that government to deal with the problems affecting the distribution of medical supplies and ensure that Iraq's vast oil wealth is spent on things such as healthcare.
The Development Fund for Iraq, resourced by Iraqi petroleum export sales, is run by the Iraqi government. They have sole control over how these funds are managed and spent. It is overseen by an expert committee appointed by the government to ensure that oil revenues are governed transparently and for the benefit of the Iraqi people. The most recent international audit of the Fund, however, highlighted a number of problems, including weak financial controls in some parts of the Iraqi government. These need to be dealt with and the UK is assisting the Finance Ministry to do this.
HILARY BENN MP
SECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, LONDON SW1
A nation of voyeurs put to shame
Sir: Talk about holding a mirror up to nature. I almost never agree with Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 19 January - "Jade is crude and abusive, but her freedom of speech extends to the right to be rude"), but in this case he has hit the nail on the head.
While the treatment meted out to Ms Shetty by her housemates is deplorable (and it is debatable whether she said equally unpleasant things to somehow "deserve" it), the real issue has been sidestepped by the media and public responses. It is not necessarily the spectre of "racism" that has galvanised opinion so stridently, but the niggling sense that we, the public, have somehow got what we deserved.
We have become a nation of voyeurs who delight in contriving a stressful situation that is designed specifically to make people behave extremely badly to each other. That Jade has garnered most opprobrium is ironic, as she is entirely a creature of the media, which has now turned on her like a pack of wolves. It sees no more mileage in her now she has crossed a line of unacceptable behaviour, arbitrarily placed though that line may be.
She and the other contestants have brought home how debased and vulgar our taste in entertainment is and how we like to see supposed "celebrities" acting like 10-year-olds in the playground. She holds a mirror up to our own crassness, and we are flinching. That this hasn't happened before on Big Brother is astonishing.
Sir: Commentators are right to say that the bullying of Shilpa Shetty is much more complex than being just about race. But race is certainly a factor here. Had Shilpa been a gorblimey Asian woman from Forest Gate, she wouldn't have received a fraction of the unremitting hostility we've seen in the house. But posh white totty wouldn't necessarily have attracted this venom either. Poor Shilpa ticks all the wrong boxes for this group.
This is about an "uppity ethnic" who is perceived as having more than the bullies, doesn't know her place and has ideas above the station they see fit for her. It's about being punished not for what you do but for what you are.
Sir: Most people consider the behaviour in Big Brother to be obnoxious. To put a well-mannered, educated person in contrast to a bunch of ill-educated, unsophisticated female chavs was obviously a set-up. Racist? Yes, stereotyping white people in this way, humiliatingly claiming that this is our way of life.
It's racist all right. Imagine if three ill-educated, coarse Asian women - yes, they too exist - were set up in the house with a nice well-mannered, middle-class white woman. What an outcry that would have created.
Sir: The current stir caused by Celebrity Big Brother simply confirms what the thinking viewer has known all along - that this programme is made by morons, about morons, for morons. The only thing that still puzzles me is why someone reasonably normal and attractive, and apparently still successful, should have wanted to join this ugly, sad crew of shrieking, intellectually challenged has-beens and wannabes?
Sir: I find it curious why such pressure is being placed upon Channel 4 to censor the racist views being expressed by the contestants in Big Brother. It makes little sense, no matter which side you choose to see it from.
Would people of ethnic minorities really be happier if racism was swept out of sight, so others couldn't see it? It still exists, and surely it would be in everyone's best interest if the public could see it happening, and realise that racist views may be more common than they would have believed otherwise.
I doubt anyone will be swayed into a racist lifestyle after listening to Jade, so why not allow her to speak and consider it to be an educational experience of intolerance?
Sir: The sensible reaction to recent events on Celebrity Big Brother is surely "So what?" Shilpa didn't have to go on the show, no one has to watch it, and no one's been physically hurt. Labelling a group of poorly educated whites as Neanderthal and screaming from the rooftops how wicked they are can only add to the alienation and resentment which breed racist attitudes.
Sir: If the brouhaha over racial abuse has aroused the disgust of so many people, then the programme has achieved one of its purposes - to make people think hard about this subject.
CRAWLEY, WEST SUSSEX
UN acts to prevent sexual abuse
Sir: The United Nations shares the concerns about sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers expressed by Philip Hensher (Opinion, 9 January). However, he fails to reflect the UN's determination to address these painful issues.
It is incorrect that "the UN only acts decisively against its own failings when those failings become public". To take the example of Sudan that Hensher cites, long before the media covered the story, the UN had put in place mandatory training programmes, initiated 13 investigations in 2006 alone, and repatriated soldiers found guilty of misconduct.
Hensher acknowledges that it was a UN report that shed harsh light on the problems in Congo in 2004. But he does not mention that since then, the UN has put in place a far-reaching reform programme. We have established conduct and discipline teams and independent investigative offices in all of our largest peacekeeping operations and training on prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse is now mandatory for all of our peacekeeping personnel in the field. Missions have established points-of-contact to receive complaints.
Hensher says that the organisation is "keeping these allegations quiet". Since 2003, the UN has publicly issued annual system-wide statistics on the number of allegations and investigations relating to sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN personnel. Missions, too, have instructions to provide information to victims and host communities on the outcome of completed investigations.
Between 1 January 2004 and 21 November 2006, UN investigations into allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse were completed involving 319 peacekeeping personnel in all missions, resulting in the summary dismissal of 18 civilians, repatriations home of 17 police and 144 military personnel. Those repatriated include senior officers sent home for failing to prevent acts of sexual exploitation and abuse.
UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL FOR PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK
Fix carbon in cities of timber
Sir: If you had a building material that required virtually no inputs to produce, was stronger than steel, yet was so advanced that humans could never hope to create anything like it, and at the same time could fix CO2 for over a thousand years - you'd probably find a use for it. It's called timber and we need to start building whole cities with it.
To argue as Johann Hari does (18 January), that for tree-planing to offset CO2 emissions we would have to ensure that any new forests "must never be allowed to decay or die" is nonsense; we must harvest them for timber. Trees are at the heart of the answer to climate change.
Sir: It is imperative that we travel by train on all journeys less that 500-600 miles. All such short-haul flights should be banned; and as Johann Hari suggests, railways must be upgraded and fares lowered At the moment it is cheaper to drive to London than to go by train from where I live in Kent.
Infections caught in French hospitals
Sir: I am a great admirer (and user) of the generally excellent French health system; nevertheless I must challenge your headlined letter (16 January). It is untrue that hospital-acquired infection is not an issue in France. Hospital-acquired infections are called maladies nosocomiales and were recently the subject of a full-page article in our local newspaper. French internet sources on the topic can also be found.
French hygiene procedures are probably vastly superior to those in UK hospitals (which indeed would not be difficult) but proper evaluation must be based on more than an individual instance.
DR CLARE GALLAWAY
Mortified by a misidentified motor
Sir: Sure, the geopolitical, social and cultural marmalade we find ourselves wading through is significant, but nothing much matters any more when someone like Will Self (PsychoGeography, 13 January) makes a fundamental car identification mistake.
Literature is littered with the wrecks of inappropriate or mis-identified motors. I only raise myself from the torpid puddle of ennui I frequently bathe in because Will is usually such a stickler for detail and I hope mortified at his error. I imagine he's larruping himself with weft or lapidating himself with peach stones as you read this. A Voyager is of course a Chrysler, not a Chevrolet.
HAYWARDS HEATH, WEST SUSSEX
Sir: Correspondents such as Andor Gomme (letter, 17 January) who fret about modes of address should remember that historically, "Mister" is an intrusive modernism. Only within living memory has it been applied to all and sundry: the 1930s England cricket captain was a "gentleman" and hence "Mr Jardine"; his stalwart fast bowler was a "player" and just plain "Larwood".
How to pick peers
Sir: I believe there may be a way of reconciling the seemingly diametrically opposed views of Mr Field (16 January) and Mr Thomas (18 January) on the selection of peers. They could be the recently retired senior officers of respected national institutions such as NSPCC, CBI, Countryside Alliance, the armed services and churches, but the institutions would be selected and regularly re-selected by Parliament. Thus we have a body of serious and broadly experienced members of the second chamber selected by a democratically elected body.
In Gandhi's footsteps
Sir: It is heartening to learn that Mr Brown aspires to emulate Gandhi. It would certainly differentiate him from Mr Blair. One wonders, however, what Gandhi would have done when the Prime Minister contrived to go to war against Iraq on a false pretext, or what he would do now when thousands are dying because of the failure of the British Government to discharge its duty as an occupying power and provide basic medical needs and amenities in Iraq. Would Gandhi approve of Mr Brown's placid, passive or compliant conduct?
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Naming a mountain
Sir: Your article "Snowdon will be snow-free in 13 years, scientists warn" (18 January), claims that those who originally named the peak called it Snow Dun, the Saxon for "snow hill". Those who really did originally name the peak did not speak Saxon or Anglo-Saxon; they spoke Cymraeg (Welsh) and they named it Yr Wyddfa. We Welsh-speaking British have always called it this, a name that contains no reference to snow. When the snow regretfully ceases to fall on it, at least we will have no need to change its name.
SAIN NICOLAS, BRO MORGANNWG, CYMRU
Dylan at Woodstock
Sir: Only a Bob Dylan pedant would bother to point out that His Royal Bobness did not appear at the 1969 Woodstock Festival as mentioned by Janet Street-Porter (18 January). A really sad Bob pedant might counter by pointing out that he did play at one of the awful "anniversary" festivals which crop up sometimes, but that would just be too pedantic, and, I'm sure, not what Janet was referring to.
PURTON, GLOUCESTERSHIREReuse content