Letters: Perspectives on famine in East Africa

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The Independent Online

Somalia is starved of food, and peace

Your report, "Famine victims to get UN aid as Somali militia backs down" (18 July) has major implications for the aid-delivery strategy to starving populations but also potentially for a new political consensus within Somalia.

Dadaab refugee complex is in Kenya, thus necessitating hundreds of kilometres on foot through hostile territory for thousands of famine victims.

Now that Al Shabaab (AS) allows aid deliveries to South and Central Somalia, two significant opportunities present themselves. The first is that feeding centres can be set up in regional centres of Somalia itself, near 80 per cent of the malnourished children and families.

Second, aid collaboration with AS presents a platform upon which political dialogue can be initiated analogous to the ongoing negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The stabilisation of Somalia after close on 20 years of conflict is an elusive prize to be won, however complex.

An obvious long-term downside of continuing to build a mega-city of Somali refugees in Dadaab is that the maturing of long-stay refugee communities in Kenya contributes to internal security tensions and also expands the pool of potential asylum candidates seeking protection in Europe.

Delivery of humanitarian supplies to Somalia itself is more efficient, avoids the unintended consequences of major population dislocation and opens the path to a normalisation process of a disjointed Somali state.

Dr Joseph Mullen, UN Lead Consultant Somalia 1988-93; EC Lead Consultant 2005-06, Eastbourne, East Sussex

Livestock means life for a family

The UN's declaration of a famine across large parts of Somalia, the first there in a generation, is as tragic as it is predictable.

The international community, so adept at mounting vast emergency relief operations, has failed to mitigate the worst of this crisis through its blindness to the one self-evident fact that is clear to all who visit the Horn of Africa: that poor communities rely on livestock.

Many of the poorest people across the region, those who are finding their way to refugee camps, are nomadic pastoralists. They don't grow crops and have few possessions; livestock is all they have of any worth. When pastoralists lose their livestock they are known as "dropouts", they have dropped out of the nomadic lifestyle.

Spana, the charity for animals across the developing world, last supported feeding programmes in north-east Kenya five years ago. There I met dropouts who had lost their livestock and livelihoods.

It's telling that on my last trip, just weeks ago, I met the same dispossessed pastoralists, now completely institutionalised and reliant on food aid, with no livelihood to return to.

The situation is worsening, but there is still time to act. We must protect at least a nucleus of livestock to ensure a future for these dispossessed and desperate people.

Jeremy Hulme, Chief Executive, SPANA, London WC1

Our spies and phone hacking

We are often told we live in a society with over-surveillance and that our privacy is being compromised. Apart from all the council and private surveillance activities, I recall reading about the all-encompassing power of our security services.

I would not expect our secret services to monitor the calls of a minor actor or red-top celebrity but I would expect them to keep watch on the telephones of the Royal Family.

As a consequence, I would have thought their technology could have detected an illegal interception of messages on a royal phone.

One wonders if terrorists hack phones to obtain information and if the security services investigate all hacking to identify the person responsible and their motives? Perhaps the forthcoming enquiries should ask how much our security services knew of the hacking scandal.

John McKinley, Moseley, Birmingham

To me, the most shocking thing to come out of the Select Committee hearing was the boast by Murdoch, a foreigner running a multi-jurisdictional company with no allegiance to this country, that not only had he influenced the outcome of the 2010 general election but that the Prime Minister had personally thanked him for doing so.

Why did the members of the Committee not ask him what right he thought he had to meddle in the internal politics of a country foreign to him?

After all, his answers to the questions they did ask indicated that he had little knowledge and even less interest in what was happening in the UK.

Should David Cameron have been called by the Committee to explain in whose interests he was acting?

It came as a great relief to hear yesterday that he had no "inappropriate discussions" with News International about BSkyB. It would be interesting to hear how he would define "appropriate" and "inappropriate" in these circumstances. The big question is, do we, the ordinary people, want a society where our politicians kowtow to foreign press barons and send young service personnel to foreign wars which have no relevance to our country?

Oligopoly companies such as the banks rip us off while paying themselves enormous bonuses for their own failures without any concept of public accountability, and what used to be world-class public services are being increasingly provided by profit-making companies operating out of tax havens and answerable to nobody.

Many of us feel we are being very badly served by both the administration and big business, and believe it is time for a change. Come back, Watt Tyler: it is time for a new "Peasants' Revolt".

Charles Bidwell, Oxford

I had been eagerly awaiting Julie Burchill's unique perspective on the unfolding phone-hacking scandal. Now that she has addressed the issue ("The day Rebekah's fortune was told", 21 July), what have we, the Independent readership, learnt?

One, Julie once wrote a pornographic novel that sounds unsavoury and very silly; two, never, under any circumstances, buy a used electric toothbrush from Ms Burchill; three, apparently being a Chinese woman automatically suggests that they are likely to be involved in lurid "shenanigans"; and four, Rebekah Brooks is a friend of Julie's and is therefore cute, clever and fascinating, which must be of great comfort to those affected by the actions of the News of the World during her editorship.

Long may the cutting-edge team of columnists provide such searing insight in to the top news stories of the day.

Tim Matthews, Luton, Bedfordshire

"We're shocked & appalled! (Pass the smelling salts, please.) Our company's actions have invaded your citizens' privacy and wrecked the command structure of your principal police force. We've also destabilised your government at a time of deep international economic crisis.

"We've triggered multiple public enquiries that will cost your taxpayers untold millions. We've made massive payments to buy silence, as instructed by counsel. We've closed down your venerable and nationally treasured Screws.

"But we're just honest, hardworking newspapermen who believe everything we're told and don't like to interfere. Are we responsible? Actually, no. It's, er, someone else. We're just not sure who."

Ian Bartlett, East Molesey, Surrey

How unedifying. Even the most limited glimpse afforded us by the parliamentary enquiry into the events at NOTW and associated matters is enough to provoke seditious thoughts in even the most equable citizen.

Why do we tolerate this inchoate nexus of megalomania, amorality, unimpressive cognitive function, excessive economic power, partisan media manipulation, delusional belief systems, self-perpetuating political oligarchy and dubious administration of law?

The demos needs a louder voice and decisive authority. The extant political class must serve its electorate, rather than its own world view, and prove its mettle or go now.

Steve Ford, Haydon Bridge, Northumberland

For Christina Patterson, the Fall of the House of Murdoch is a Shakespearean tragedy, in which the sins of investigative journalism have been exposed by investigative journalists (Comment, 20 July).

Hence, the demise of the News of the World et al is a sad loss to this highly entertaining art, and Murdoch is right to suggest that, in his absence, and the British media will be bereft of "competition".

But she mistakes his meaning: clearly, he refers not to genuine diversity and balance but rather to petty rivalry within a small gang of right-wing billionaires, in the business of saturating the public mind with pernicious, plutocrat-friendly nonsense. Would that really be a loss?

Andrew Clifton, Edgware, Middlesex

Quite a lot of people have resigned recently who knew nothing, did nothing wrong and have clear consciences. Some have resigned twice. I wonder what would have happened if they had actually done it.

Andy Bird, Basingstoke, Hampshire

Is it true that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first introduce to Rupert Murdoch?

Collin Rossini, Bradwell, Essex

Was Wendi Deng protecting her husband or her inheritance?

Dr Alex May, Manchester

Badger cull will be a failure

Some events are as predictable as death itself: into this category falls the proposed badger cull; it will certainly fail.

Here in the Welsh Marches, where badgers abound, as warden of two Herefordshire Wildlife Trust (HWT) reserves, I should immediately call the police if local farmers with guns attempted to trespass.

The HWT, Woodland Trust, National Trust, RSPB, PlantLife, some private land-owners, and even some farmers, would also deny cullers access to their land. Escaping badgers from farms where culling had been done would take refuge in reserves, later to disperse back to farms.

Even if farmers managed a 70 per cent cull, badger numbers would be back to normal within two years of the cull ending; moreover TB levels in cattle would remain obstinately high.

If the £37m of taxpayers' money and time spent on badger culls had instead been devoted to developing a bovine TB vaccine (successful in humans), this problem could easily have been solved.

Dr David Smith, Clyro, Powys

The announcement to give farmers (or other shooters) a free hand to blast away at a protected species, based on incoherent and generally specious analysis, is desperately disappointing.

Yes, we must protect our herds and our farming livelihoods. But if there is any connection, inoculation is the obvious solution. If an EU directive supposedly resists that, then we all need persuading why.

The badger is an important link to our rural heritage and to cull whole families and badger communities is a savage and retrograde step that beggars belief.

Steve O'Connell (C) London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton

Museum is open and still free

I was unhappy to read your article, "Museums slash staff and opening hours after 'devastating' cuts" (20 July) it inaccurate in relation to Leicester.

Although some of my Labour colleagues considered museum closures and admission charges in the budget process this year, they decided that the council must keep all sites open with free admission.

Museums play a vital role within the economic and social regeneration of the city and we will continue to build on this.

Sir Peter Soulsby, Mayor, Leicester City

Who ordered Chinook to fly?

Major Michael Hamilton (letters, 20 July) clearly speaks with the authority of inside information on the Chinook crash. But, to lay the matter fully to rest, it is vital, even allowing for the secrecy surrounding Special Forces, that we should be told who ordered the flight, and why was there such a hurry?

The major says that the pilots had already flown "nearly six stressful operational hours that day over the bandit country". Surely they would have been well over their duty aircrew duty time long before reaching their destination.

Why was the Chinook used? This was not an operational flight. There were rumours at the time that the party were supposed to have flown in a fixed wing aircraft which became unavailable.

What was the flight plan? If the route was to be directly over the Mull of Kintyre the aircraft should surely have been at a greater cruising altitude.

If, on the other hand, the helicopter was intended to fly parallel to the coast up the Sound of Jura it would have been off course. Why? Compass error?

Unless these issues are cleared up the impression will persist that excessive risks were taken with the lives of valuable experts and that the pilots carried the can for failures higher up the command chain.

Frank Donald, Edinburgh

Sign on here to be a coastguard

Charles Norrie (letters, 21 July) suggests setting up a volunteer coastguard service after the Government's decision to close many existing stations. There already is a volunteer service manning ex-coastguard lookouts around the UK. We are called the National Coastwatch Institution.

I have been a member for about four years now and can recommend it as a most interesting and rewarding way of giving up a few hours a week. Full training is available and all that's required is the ability to spot, plot and report potential incidents to the emergency services or to maintain contact when required during rescues.

Anybody interested in joining NCI can find us at http://www.nci.org.uk/

Karen Hopkins, East Dereham, Norfolk

Science shows GM to be safe

I strongly welcome the recommendation issued by the BBC Trust that journalists and programme-makers should "clearly distinguish well-established fact from opinion when covering scientific issues".

The Trust's recent review into how the BBC covers issues where there is scientific consensus, "such as the safety of genetically modified crops", concluded that the BBC should not be compelled to provide "false balance" by giving airtime to "critics of the majority view".

At a time when the global population is predicted by the UN to shortly reach seven billion, most governments across the world now agree that more food needs to be grown more sustainably if we are to tackle the food security challenge.

To do this, farmers need the full toolkit available to them, including GM technology. While scientists are always open to genuine new evidence, the time for emotive scaremongering is over; so is the time for lengthy debate between groundless perceptions and substantial evidence. What we need now is action.

GM crops are not new; they have been successfully grown around the world for 15 years. It's not a silver bullet, rather one of the many essential tools to help farmers feed the world.

And after more than two trillion meals containing GM ingredients have been consumed, maybe the "critics of the majority view" should move on; the rest of the world has.

Dr Julian Little, Chair, Agricultural Biotechnology Council, London W1

Southern exposure

As a former resident of Abu Dhabi and member of the Southern Emirates Curry Club, I take issue with your assertion (15 July) that Dubai and Abu Dhabi are "northern cities" and that the "rural areas in the south" are less well off. A quick look at the map which you helpfully provide will belie this claim.

The expression "northern emirates" 'is generally taken to encompass the five emirates outside Dubai and Abu Dhabi that have neither braggadocio nor oil.

Chris Maloney, Chester

Only right

The position of "only" within a sentence can alter its meaning strikingly (letters, 21 July). I would ask my students to take the sentence, "The driver broke his leg", and place "only" in front of each word, then study the implications.

Bernard Smith, Hailsham, East Sussex