Letters: Tourism in Burma

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The Independent Online

A torrent of tourists would help protect the poor people of Burma

Sir: In your leading article on Burma (26 July) you say tourism is a weapon in the hands of the generals and that the evidence suggests foreign exchange brought into the country tends to end up in the hands of the military elite.

In the year to 31 March 2007, Burma earned from its 175,000 international tourists $195m, which is peanuts, hardly enough to cover operating costs and provision of goods and services.

It takes neighbouring Thailand only five days to earn what Burma does in a year. I could make out a respectable argument that the junta may even be subsidising tourism.

What Burma needs is not fewer, but more Western travellers, enlightened, responsible, enquiring and compassionate. They should flood in by their tens, if not hundreds, of thousands. They are the best protection we can offer to the long-suffering Burmese people.



Sir: The Commons International Development Committee is right to call for the Government to give more aid to the poor people of Burma.

Tragically, their education system has deteriorated to an extraordinary degree. Only the children of the military elite can gain any quality education, with the university campuses dispersed, students under strict surveillance, and many academic staff self-exiled.

Prospect Burma is a small charity giving scholarships to Burmese students to attend universities abroad, aimed at maintaining a cadre of educated people able to help rebuild civil society when conditions allow.

This year we shall give more than 150 grants for students at universities mainly in Thailand and India. We support educational projects which work across the Burmese borders and within Burma.

We get support from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's Peace Prize funds, and a grant from the US State Department. But the Department for International Development, and Europe, have refused help although we are cost-effective and meet a need ignored by most organisations working on the Burmese borders.



BAA ban attempt will not succeed

Sir: Members of the Campaign to Protect Rural England will be surprised, and perhaps faintly amused, to find themselves on the British Airport Authority's blacklist of protesters ("Heath-row puts up legal barricades to keep away protesters", 27 July).

But BAA's quest for a wildly disproportionate injunction should not be dismissed as a one-off corporate own-goal. There are worrying signs that an eagerness to stifle debate and prevent protest is becoming more prevalent. This is visible in government proposals to reform the planning system, which will make it more difficult for people to have a say in debates about the location of major infrastructure development, including airports.

Others point to the sad irony of BAA pressing for an injunction against climate change protest when the UK is reeling from record summer flooding. But we should be equally concerned at attempts to use an ever tighter net of legal restrictions to limit democratic engagement on issues of clear national importance.

Policy-making without participation lacks legitimacy.



Sir: Moves by the British Airport Authority to curtail protests in and around Heathrow during this August's Camp for Climate Action will not succeed.

Two years ago, the Government brought in draconian laws banning "unauthorised" protests within 1km of Parliament. In October 2005, I was arrested for standing opposite Downing Street and reading out a list of soldiers killed in Iraq ("Acts of defiance against war turned ordinary people into criminals", 8 December 2005).

Since then hundreds of anti-war activists, including me, have repeatedly flouted this law. Many of us have been arrested, charged and fined - in some cases repeatedly - but this has not dented our determination to continue.

Those heading for the camp realise that unless something is done to curb airport growth, aviation will overwhelm all the cuts in CO2 emissions we manage to make elsewhere.

Whatever the outcome of BAA's court hearing, I and my colleagues in Rising Tide Hastings will be heading for the Climate Camp on 14 August, and will also be holding peaceful protests in and around Heathrow.



Holland has answer to flooding problem

Sir: As a Dutchman living in the UK, I am aware that whatever weather we have here is likely to end up in Holland the next day. I was wondering how my home country was coping with the rains but could hardly find anything on the internet until I stumbled on a short item on the website of a regional news organisation.

It read: "The Water Management Body [for the relevant part of the Netherlands] has taken measures to deal with possible high water levels. The water levels [in the drained lands or polders] have been lowered; the pumping installations have been put in action and the locks are ready to be closed.

"Last Friday, the Water Management Body started to lower the water levels in the canals [surrounding the polders]. As long as there is a sufficient difference in the levels between [the main polders] and the Waddenzee [the shallow sea and mudflats between the north of the Netherlands and the Friesian islands], water can be drained off into the sea.

"Weather predictions are favourable, but the Water Management Body is ready to take measures as required."

Looks like my countrymen can cope with the rain. Maybe the UK parliament should send a committee over to see how they do it.



Sir: As a self-employed plumber working to water bylaws to keep customers safe, it is a shock to be told that Severn Trent is to contaminate the potable water in Tewkesbury's water main.

They say they are telling people not to drink or cook with the water. My questions are:

One: How do you stop children drinking the water in the shower? Or the old and the infirm drinking it by mistake?

Two: How do they intend to clean the pipes in homes, businesses and empty properties afterward?

Three: After a century of the nation's confidence in drinking tap water, how will this be rebuilt?

Is this just another ploy by Severn Trent to save their vast profits?



Praise for the BBC integrity

Sir: I entirely applaud your editorial comment ("Time for the Corporation to throw off its hair shirt", 20 July) on the present furore at the BBC. In my view, the BBC has done more to raise and maintain standards of civilised discourse than any other institution in this country.

And its beneficent influence abroad is incalculable. I have been watching the excellent BBC4 series of programmes on BBC World, which is trusted and depended on by millions of people worldwide. The standard of journalistic integrity and professionalism displayed by the staff in these programmes is blazingly apparent.

The idea that a former editor of The Sun, which has done so much to trivialise and debase the function of the media, should find fault with all this is simply grotesque.



Our medieval rulers were French

Sir: Andreas Whittam Smith's "The English are Romantics, the French pragmatists" (Comment, 23 July) has it the wrong way round. The new English plantation is the opposite of the 12th-century pattern.

His "English King Henry II, who also ruled Normandy" would be more accurately described as "the French Duke of Normandy, Henri, who also ruled England". He was a vassal of the King of France, and spoke French; there is no evidence that he spoke a word of English.

The Plantagenet kings of England spent less than a third of their time in England between c1154 to 1200, with Richard Couer de Lion probably only spending six months of his reign here. They were French.

Henri would be better described as part of the French plantation of England, not the other way around.



Hindu leadership 'misguided' on bull

Sir: So Shambo the bull has been slaughtered. Sad, but necessary. Anyway, the rhetoric from the Hindu leadership that "life is sacred, hence it is sacrilegious to take the life of this bull" was an over-simplistic and naive interpretation of Hinduism.

Though the Hindu religion places a great deal of emphasis on the sacredness of all life, including animal life, it also warns that such marvellous ideas should be put into practice only after taking into account the context.

This situation was easy to appreciate: the life of this one bull could endanger the lives of many other animals, as well as humans. Without water-tight quarantine arrangements, nor any animal hospitals that can treat cattle in isolation, the only rational option would be to cull it.

There is nothing in the Hindu religion that would not agree with this sober conclusion. Yet a misguided Hindu leadership saw fit to turn this issue into a national campaign to save a Hindu bull. Thousands of Hindu youngsters were persuaded to sign a petition of protest.

Now these young Hindus may feel the establishment has let them down because it is somehow anti-Hindu, which is clearly not true. What has let them down is poor Hindu leadership that chose a simplistic interpretation of the situation and blew it out of all proportion for its own ends. They did not show the slightest concern that the integrity and credibility of Hinduism was being seriously compromised.

As long as the Hindus put up with such poor leadership and as long as the media does not wise up to the activities of opportunist leaders, stories of this kind will continue to surface.



Wind-farm figures are meaningless

Sir: Airtricity, in its annual report last week, states that its wind-farms have the capacity to produce 383 Megawatts of electricity, enough to power 230,000 homes for a year. These figures are impressive, but meaningless.

The reality is that because output is so critically dependent on wind speed the overall output is only about 25 per cent of capacity and on average two-thirds of this is wasted because it's generated when the power is not needed.

With the wind at their back, Airtricity will be lucky to power 10 per cent of the number of homes stated. This level of return does not justify the environmental degradation caused by wind farms or the huge investment of resources involved.



Briefly... Sloppy sub-titles

Sir: Why do TV programmes insult deaf viewers by giving us "gonna" and "wanna" in the sub-titles? And why are they often unnecessarily delayed and out of sync? To make matters worse, the sub-titles are not corrected for repeats.



New party needed

Sir: So Steve Richards (Comment, 26 July) urges David Cameron to resist the urge to move to traditional Tory issues such as tax cuts, Europe and immigration, which in his opinion "are what gets them going". Over the 10 years of Labour government, the tax burden has increased (council tax), the EU has continued to erode UK sovereignty and as for immigration: this government assured us there would be only "13,000 Polish plumbers" only to see east European migration rise to more than 600,000. A centre-right party in British politics is vital, to at least raise these issues on the political agenda.



Musical star

Sir: Sun Ra is not the only exponent of "Space Music" (letter, 27 July). Holst wrote The Planets.



Art attack

Sir: Many thanks to David Rodway (letter, 25 July), for pointing out that to fully appreciate the artworks of Stella Vine, a viewer "requires the 'negative dialectics' of seeing the vision and creativity that are absent from it, but shouldn't be". Here was I, thinking of visiting the Oxford exhibition to see her colourful and quirky portraits. Learning I would first need to understand Theodor Adorno's neo-Hegelian/Marxist theory of sociology, history, knowledge, metaphysics and aesthetics saved me the train fare.



Cuts both ways

Sir: Siôn Jones (letter, 26 July) says that "in a post-devolution Britain, the tendency to use British and English as synonymous touches raw nerves in these British countries that are not England". It also touches raw nerves for many of us from England. This confusion of British and English is certainly not helped by the media's frequent reporting of specifically English news as though it were more generally British.



Lady in red

Sir: Sue Arnold's comments about her mother's funeral (Comment, 19 July) reminded me of my husband's death 10 years ago. The funeral director asked how many cars I needed and I replied: "One." A friend said to me: "You can't go to his funeral in a red car." "Watch me," I said. I did.



Fill me up, Scotty

Sir: Given the reports about drunks in space (27 July), how long before we hear, "Houston, we have an alcohol problem"?