Letters: The 'Lusi' mud volcano

The great mud leak
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In relation to the Gulf of Mexico oil leak, I'm surprised not to have seen more coverage of another recent disaster.

In May 2006, a gas drilling operation punctured an underground structure in East Java, Indonesia, which responded by spewing mud driven by pressurised water and gas from surrounding rocks. Ever since then, this "Lusi" mud volcano has churned out 2,500 cubic metres of liquid mud every day, with no end in sight and no reason to expect one for decades.

The mud has steadily spread across the Sidoarjo district and is now seven square kilometres in area and up to 20 metres deep. Beneath it lie 12 villages and their farmlands, and some 42,000 people have been displaced. Economic damage is estimated at several billion dollars, and although the Indonesian President has ordered compensation to be paid, this is not expected to be adequate or delivered any time soon. Other politicians and the courts will see to that.

Meanwhile, in the Gulf of Mexico we have another uncontrollable eruption of gas-powered subterranean ooze, once again from a drilling operation that penetrated poorly known geology with inadequate safeguards. Again, this could go on for decades.

But at least the US President has forced the company that summoned this beast from the underworld to set aside compensation money in an independently administered fund. Here the lessons of Exxon Valdez have been learned, side-stepping what was a 20-year legal process after the 1989 oil spill.

It remains to be seen whether deeper lessons will be learned from either Lusi or the Gulf of Mexico, about human technological arrogance and blithe risk-taking with the Earth's crust, people, climate and biosphere. Today east Java and a major ocean basin, tomorrow where?

Dr Julian Caldecott


Origins of food labels

With reference to the article "Laid bare, the lobbying campaign that won the food labelling battle" (18 June), it is important to note that manufacturers were far from the only party to have lobbied on this hugely important regulatory dossier – health organisations and consumers groups have also been extremely active.

It might be useful to remind your readers of the origins of Guideline Daily Amounts, which started life in 1996 as Daily Guideline Intakes (DGI) for use by the UK Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF).

In 1998, a set of GDAs for labelling purposes were developed as a means of communicating the Government's nutrient intake recommendations in a way that could then be used as part of the nutrition information on the back of food packs. A collaboration of UK government, consumer organisations and the food industry set values for calories, fat and saturates for men and women based on the recommendations of the 1991 COMA report.

Government and stakeholders played a significant role in the development of GDAs, contrary to your article, which suggests they were created purely by industry to further its commercial agenda.

Julian Hunt

Director of Communications

Food and Drink Federation

London WC2

You report (17 June) that socialists and green groups in the European Parliament voted in favour of the traffic-light system of food labelling to inform consumers of what they are actually eating. Centre-right and right-wing groupings including the Conservatives voted for the system favoured by the food corporations and their lobbyists, which obscures from consumers the unhealthy nature of some processed foods and will lead to a continued toll of death and disease.

Just as in the US, where being right-wing means chanting "Drill, baby, drill", the moral difference between left and right is revealed for those who wish to see.

Christopher Clayton

Waverton, Cheshire

I too am disgusted that the food lobby has won its battle regarding the traffic-light system of food labelling. Currently all I have to warn me before purchase is a "healthy choice"' option label or similar. A green light for salt and fat contents on processed food would have made it much clearer that it was underseasoned and tasteless, and should be left on the shelf.

Robert Butt

Richmond, Surrey

Football rivalry in South Africa

Football has been played by many "whites" over the years in South Africa and is not considered "second class" ("Best seat in the house", 14 June).

An excellent recent example is Mark Fish of Pretoria, who played for both Bolton and Charlton Athletic. My own brother-in-law played for Bloemfontein Celtic. Even the great Johnny Haynes came out and played for Durban City for a while in the bad old apartheid days when it was purely a "white" team.

If you spoke to English rugby players you might also get some disparaging comments about football. It's more of a "sport" thing, not a racist belief as your report implies.

What really disturbs me is the number of English journalists who just won't move on from the previous stereotypes about South Africa and keep trying to stir up the apartheid ghosts. Hopefully another few weeks in the country covering the World Cup will help all of them to understand the miracle of South Africa.

David Stephens


I'm tired of this incessant, monotonous, irritating drone. So I'm going to stop listening to the Oasis singles CD and watch the World Cup instead.

Pete Barrett

Colchester, Essex

Sinking of the 'Lancastria'

The letter from R W Nadin (17 June) is a timely reminder of one of the most costly disasters of the Second World War.

Although it was hushed up at the time, and for some time afterwards, the sinking of the Lancastria has had very full coverage in recent years, including a long article in The Independent magazine in December 2000.

Evidence of the full magnitude of the tragedy can be seen on the Ile de Ré, some 150 kilometres to the south of St Nazaire. There is scarcely a commune on the island whose cemetery doesn't contain the graves of anything up to 10 victims of 17 June, carried down by the tides in the days after the sinking.

The great majority of those in the Commonwealth War graves are support troops – pioneers, ordnance corps or gunners – and many are simply categorised as "An unknown soldier of the 1939-45 war".

Michael Foss

Teddington, Middlesex

I was glad to see the letter from R W Nadin. There has been much publicity regarding the evacuation of allied troops from Dunkirk, rightly so, but thousands of troops, many of them injured, made their way to St Nazaire after Dunkirk and waited on the beach and in shallow water to be taken off, all the while being bombed and strafed by German aircraft.

My husband was one of the "lucky" ones, but he said the horrifying sight of hundreds of men, struggling to survive the sinking of the Lancastria amid the oily waters, would remain with him for the rest of his life.

On landing to a low-key reception, the survivors were forbidden to reveal what took place in the Bay of Biscay that day as the Government felt the news would destroy the much-needed euphoria felt by the nation at the rescue of the troops from Dunkirk.

Pat Burton

St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex

Just go and look it up

We are now so used to researching on the internet that we seem to be incapable of making the effort to look anywhere else. David Lister, speculating on the first reviews of Les Misérables (12 June), regrets that they are "not that easy to come by".

He must know that there is a British Library newspaper reading room at Colindale where he could have found the cuttings; what he means is that he couldn't be bothered. That's understandable; he was only writing a mildly entertaining paragraph. Still, not good to pretend that there aren't more comprehensive facilities for looking things up than Wikipedia.

Derek Parker

Mosman, New South Wales, Australia

Rusty tower

I was startled to see that Broadcasting Place, Leeds, has been declared one of the world's four best towers of 2010 (17 June). As one who has to walk past this hideous rusty box every day, I wonder what the worst are like.

John Smurthwaite


Perspectives on the crisis in Kyrgyzstan

Political causes behind the 'ethnic' conflict

Much reporting of the current violence in Kyrgyzstan suggests that the cause is ethnic conflict, with only brief mention of other underlying factors.

But our experience promoting peace and security in the country shows that existing internal divisions are easily reinforced by insecurity and compounded by a lack of faith in the government's ability to protect all its citizens, regardless of race or ethnicity. Following the change of Kyrgyzstan's government in April, the provisional administration still appears distant and unreliable to much of the public, and struggles for legitimacy.

At this time, where the government lacks the resilience to provide the security its citizens need, international support is required to prevent the kind of wider conflict we are currently seeing. We believe that an impartial multilateral presence should be made available for civilian monitoring in sensitive areas and the building of confidence between communities, similar to the ambition of the EU's monitoring mission along the disputed Administrative Boundary Line between Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Further, if an immediate upsurge in conflict can be averted, communities should be encouraged to play an important role in shaping future security and justice provision for all those living in Kyrgyzstan. Such active community involvement is crucial for prospects of lasting peace in the country.

Henry Smith

Director, Saferworld, London N1

Your article on the unfolding violence in Kyrgyzstan, "Kyrgyz gangs accused of 'genocide' as death toll rises" (14 June), lapses into the genre of reporting familiar from the Balkan wars: inter-ethnic conflict driven by ancient hatreds, with a clear demarcation between victim and victor.

Such accounts miss the much more messy and complex realities: of a city marked by centuries of cohabitation and inter-marriage; of complex, interweaving lines of identification marked by place of residence, religion, language and mode of life; of Kyrgyz sheltering their Uzbek neighbours from attack, and of Uzbeks doing the same to Kyrgyz; and of people of all ethnicities living in fear of criminal violence in a context of acute government failure and deliberate provocation from supporters of ousted president Bakiev.

Conflict in southern Kyrgyzstan has taken on an inter-ethnic dynamic, certainly, but the roots of this conflict are intensely political: they lie in the redistribution of power between crimino-political groupings in the wake of the 7 April overthrow of ex-president Bakiev, and in the mobilisation of networks of kinship and friendship in the face of spiralling rumours that "they" are attacking "us".

This violence, which has cut across ethnic lines, has occurred in the context of deteriorating opportunities for Kyrgyzstanis of any ethnicity to make a livelihood at home; of the progressive exclusion of ethnic Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstani political life, and of the criminalisation of politics under Bakiev.

Dr Madeleine Reeves, University of Manchester; Dr Sarah Amsler, Aston University; Kanykei Bayalieva-Jailobaeva, University of Edinburgh

Gulzat Botoeva, University of Essex

Dr Sally N Cummings, Jeanne Feaux de la Croix, Mohira Suyurkulova,

University of St Andrews; Dr John Heathershaw, University of Exeter

Dr Nick Megoran, University of Newcastle; Dr Johan Rasanayagam,

University of Aberdeen; Rebecca Reynolds, Glasgow University;

Dr Balihar Sanghera, Elmira Satybaldieva, University of Kent;

Dr John Schoeberlein

Harvard University