UK troops in Iraq are meeting challenges we cannot even imagine
Sir: I want to express my dissatisfaction with much of the reporting on our troops' presence in Iraq. It is understandable that many people are angry about our forces being in a country that many feel they should never have been sent to and it is understandable that reporters will focus on that anger. However, there should be responsibly positive reporting on the difficult job our men and women are facing there every day.
My brother is a captain in the infantry and is stationed in Iraq. He is doing his job and serving our country in the way our elected government has ordered him to. He has told me how frustrating it is for him and his men that the excellent work they undertake daily is not reported on.
He has nothing but admiration for the privates in our army, many of them teenagers, who, while working in dangerous and difficult situations, still act as ambassadors for our country in the face of understandably suspicious and fed-up Iraqis. He cites as an example the "teenage lad from Manchester" who helps find and start a generator for a local school and while doing so is able to reassure the locals that the British army will not be there for ever, that they want to help the country rebuild and reorganise before they leave.
Whatever your opinion on the war, it is amazing that we have young men and women with the presence of mind and confidence to rise to the many challenges they meet daily. Challenges I imagine we at home cannot possibly understand.
There is more happening in Iraq than the car-bombs and public outrage - there are excellent professionals feeling increasingly that the public disregards the dangers and the sacrifices that they face. Supporting our troops means more than demanding the government bring them home; it means supporting them in the meantime with our concern. They read the papers too.
Officials seek 'soft targets' to deport
Sir: You report that immigration officials are using soft targets to boost their deportation figures ("Immigration: the real scandal", 18 May).
The Klopot family lived in Crewe for the past four years and made a valuable contribution to local life. Mrs Helen Klopot was a violinist who appeared as a soloist with the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra and contributed enormously to the musical life of the area, having been trained at the Moscow Conservatoire. Her husband worked in IT, and their two teenage children were settled at schools here.
They were given just 15 minutes to pack their bags at 7.30 on a Sunday morning, and were taken to Tinsley Detention Centre, and flown out to Israel (not their home country) a day later on 13 March. It appears that immigration officials believe this behaviour is acceptable and is condoned by our Home Secretary and the British public. It should be obvious, however, that it is barbaric and unfitting for a civilised country.
Charles Clarke recently talked about attracting talented people from overseas, but when talented people are already here, they can be treated as they might be in Stalinist Russia. I am appalled and ashamed that our own government behaves in this way, probably to appease, as usual, the more xenophobic elements in our society.
NEWCASTLE UNDER LYME, STAFFORDSHIRE
Sir: Your story on "Immigration: the real scandal" was one-sided. Is it really a scandal to give priority to people entitled to use the NHS ahead of a visitor to the UK? Or to deport a 23-year-old Mexican citizen who overstayed her visa and did not have a marriage visa or leave to remain? Or to deport someone whose asylum claim has been rejected to a country with prospects of joining the EU?
I married a legal migrant through the proper channels, and it annoys us when your newspaper portrays as unfair and harsh policies which - as long as people are honest - work well. As for Ese Elizabeth Alabi, this is a tragic story, but donor hearts are in short supply and should be used first for citizens of this country.
Scourge of Aids beyond Africa
Sir: I would like to congratulate The Independent on the RED edition highlighting the severity of the HIV/Aids epidemic in Africa (16 May). However, the epidemic is not confined to Africa. Last year, Asia was home to an estimated 8.3million people living with HIV (UNAIDS, 2005).
Neither is the epidemic limited to the developing world: one in 50 people in Manhattan was HIV-positive in 2004 (UNAIDS, 2004); and indeed the cumulative number of deaths from Aids in the US is equivalent to that of 10 Vietnam wars. One must remember that when figures start rising, the curve is exponential: the more people infected, the more people are likely to be become infected.
PRESIDENT, SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY STOP AIDS SOCIETY
Sir: I take exception to the publication of two letters (8 May) which show a grave lack of understanding of HIV.
Peter Smith is unaware that when one or both of a couple have HIV, any resulting child of that union does not automatically become infected with HIV. With today's drugs, the infection rate in newborns is less than 2 per cent.
Bernard O'Connor states: "Unless or until a vaccine comes along, the only way to keep Aids at bay is through abstinence before marriage and fidelity within it." This is blatantly untrue, as studies of serodiscordant couples have shown that when condoms are used consistently for intercourse, none of the negative partners became infected. Not one.
We need to get the truth about HIV infection prevention out to the public instead of perpetuating the myth of abstinence only as an effective prevention of HIV infection. I am living with HIV myself and work in the field of HIV prevention education.
PEEL, ISLE OF MAN
Too many people, not enough water
Sir: The media have covered the matter of water shortages in South-east England by discussing the effect of climate change. This is not the only factor and is, probably, the most insignificant reason for reduced supplies in that region.
The population is increasing in the South-east by over half a million every 10 years. When London is included that number is nearer to 1 million. That is far more than any other region. Is the potential water storage capacity being increased to reflect that increased demand ?
The weather in the South-east might also be drier. However, when the increased demand is combined with other factors such as water wastage and leakage, it is hardly surprising drought action is needed.
Sir: Your front-page headline "Drought Britain" (17 May) is misleading: the central issue is not drought but leakage, or the inability of the water companies to deliver sufficient water to the consumer.
There is no water shortage, as such - the water we require is simply being circulated from aquifer to borehole to treatment works to leaky supply pipes, from where it percolates back down to the aquifer. The money and energy spent in maintaining this endless circulation, if added to the substantial directors' bonuses and excessive profits, would go a long way towards paying for the necessary repairs.
Sir: The suggestion that all homes should have water meters is entirely sensible. Each household should be supplied, depending on the number of people living there, with adequate water for basic purposes at a basic price. Any water used in addition would be charged at a premium price, so that householders would be wary of using excessive water.
This principle could also be applied to electricity and gas, making us all meaner and greener.
Sir: Leaky water mains mostly leak back into the ground from whence much of the water was extracted. Surely stopping the leaks will just make the groundwater shortages worse.
Our veal calves are well cared for
Sir: While we respect, and indeed share, Julia Stephenson's concern for the welfare of calves (18 May), we must point out that there is nothing inherently "barbaric" either about rearing calves for veal or about moving them from one part of Europe to another - provided that they are well cared for in transit and in the rearing units.
The calves being exported from Britain will be reared in group housing systems that comply with the new EU calf welfare regulations. None of them is being consigned to veal crates, and the NFU would not condone it if they were.
They travel, not in "crates", as Stephenson alleges, but in purpose-built vehicles, fitted with fans, drinkers and in-cab monitors. For the sake both of the calves and of the good name of British farming, we are determined that the resumed calf export trade should be conducted to the highest standards of animal welfare.
DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS NATIONAL FARMERS UNION STONELEIGH, WARWICKSHIRE
Innocent Briton on death row
Sir: An innocent Briton is to be executed in Pakistan in a few days' time, unless people join us in writing to the Pakistani High Commissioner to demand his release.
Mirza Tahir Hussain, a British citizen, was placed on death row despite having his murder charges overturned. He should have been released in 1996 but the dead man's family was able to bring a fresh case under Sharia law; a case described by one of the judges as a "miscarriage of justice".
Pakistan will execute this man on 1 June (his 36th birthday) unless we do what we can to encourage them to back down. The more information we read about the case, the more certain we are of his innocence.
We urge all fellow Britons to write to Dr Maleeha Lodhi, the High Commissioner for Pakistan, to demand Mr Hussain's release. She can be contacted at 34-36 Lowndes Square, London SW1X 9JN. Or, write to us and we will pass your comments on.
SYED KAMALL MEP
(CONSERVATIVE, LONDON) SAJJAD KARIM MEP LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SPOKESPERSON ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND CHAIR OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT FRIENDS OF PAKISTAN GROUP EDWARD MCMILLAN-SCOTT MEP (CONSERVATIVE, YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER), VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CLAUDE MORAES MEP (LABOUR, LONDON) DIANA WALLIS MEP (LIBERAL DEMOCRAT, YORKSHIRE AND THE HUMBER) TERRY WYNN MEP (LABOUR, THE NORTH-WEST) EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, BRUSSELS
Rail freight no use for the way we live now
Sir: Nigel Wardle (letter, 17 May) reckons traffic congestion is worsening because freight now goes by lorry instead of rail.
Leaving aside that the total number of commercial vehicles in the UK has remained fairly constant at around a million for the last decade while car ownership has rocketed to well over 25 million, our changing economy is as much to blame as - admittedly pathetic - government transport policy.
Rail is fine for serving the bulk raw material needs of manufacturing, for example delivering iron ore and coal straight to a steel mill. However, a service-based economy based largely around shopping, in particular 24-hour supermarkets selling perishable goods, can't be served by railway sidings but requires constant deliveries by large trucks. Smaller vans could be substituted, but at a ratio of around 20 vans to one articulated lorry this isn't very environmentally efficient.
Or we could stop buying things we don't need. But then Gordon Brown's "miracle" might collapse.
'Da Vinci Code' outrage
Sir: Can you imagine a film portraying Mohamed as a radical feminist? Can you imagine a cinematic presentation of Islam as a veneer of paganism? I thought not. Why not? Is it because those who worship Christ do not react threateningly? In Christian protest at The Da Vinci Code may I point out that it is not my outrage its producers need to worry about, but God's.
PASTOR ALI MCLACHLAN
Prisons aren't working
Sir: Daoud Fakhri asserts that crime has fallen because more criminals are being locked up (letter, 17 May). Crime rates have fallen sharply over the last decade, yet the prison population has leapt by 25,000. The explanation is that more people are being jailed for relatively minor offences, at huge cost to the taxpayer. Prisons are failing to deliver effective rehabilitation programmes. Prison doesn't work: most prisoners reoffend within two years of release. However, courts continue to send too many people to jail, in the mistaken belief they are being "tough on crime".
Put a cork in it
Sir: Assuming a wine bottle cork or screw cap weighs about 5g, 15bn being disposed of per year equals 75,000 tonnes of rubbish (letter, 16 May). Can switching from biodegradable cork to non-biodegradable metal/plastic really be called progress?
HOVE, EAST SUSSEX
Sir: Photographs accompanying your article "Outcry over office plan for Smithfield market" (18 May) gave the misleading impression that our proposed regeneration plans include the demolition of the main market building complex. This is not the case. The proposals, which have been approved by the City of London, relate only to a disused building called the General Market Building fronting Farringdon Road. In fact, our proposals will be beneficial to the existing meat market complex, which remains unaffected. That is why they are supported by the meat traders of Smithfield.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, THORNFIELD PROPERTIES PLC, LONDON W1
Sir: Michael K Baldwin ("Banana torture", letters 16 May) appears to be wide of the mark. His measurement of the banana's resistance at 1.6ohms, seems desperately low. I measured one and it had a resistance of some 500,000 ohms. He should change his grocer immediately.