It is difficult not to see the similarity between our Government’s slow response to the flooding of the Somerset Levels and George Bush’s slow response to the disaster in New Orleans.
What we are witnessing is right-wing ideology in (in)action.
The state is being minimalised, many services are being privatised, and government is everywhere being slimmed.
As the inhabitants of these Somerset villages depend on boats to continue their lives, the Government sits on its hands, waiting for the private sector to manage our rivers.
I hope these voters who have been enjoying the floods in their homes for nearly a month are appreciating these political niceties – in the knowledge that their taxes should be as low as possible, that our economy is keenly competitive, and that the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, with his broad experience gained in his family’s leather business, will bring help without further delay.
The decision this week to call in the Army to tackle flooding in Somerset focuses on the need to find the right long-term solution for this catastrophic problem. The Landscape Institute has been campaigning for sustainable drainage for a long time as a cost-effective, green and sustainable solution.
Sustainable drainage mimics nature by absorbing water into vegetated surfaces. It slows down water and prevents flooding, as well as supporting biodiversity.
Sustainable drainage is one of a range of measures in the flooding toolkit, but countries such as Australia, the US, Sweden and Japan have all embraced this approach as an economical and sustainable way of protecting against the human and environmental costs of flooding.
We desperately need Government, local councils, the Environment Agency and water companies each to play their part in incentivising and funding the necessary changes.
The joy of soft, green, sustainable drainage is that it is relatively quick to implement, and we start to see the benefit, however small, as soon as it is built. At present there is a culture of everyone blaming everyone else for the problems and delays. We need a single focus on the outcome, and a positive attitude to problem-solving if we want this to happen quickly and effectively.
Do we want to spend our money putting back together people’s homes, lives and businesses every time we have major storms – or in preventing the problems happening in the first place?
President, Landscape Institute, London WC1
Golden rice is no instant panacea
The theory that GM “golden rice” is a major humanitarian success story (“Greenpeace has blood of millions of children on its hands, says co-founder”, 31 January) is based on a number of misconceptions, the main two being that “golden rice” is available now, and that better alternatives don’t exist.
Over 20 years after this GM research project began, the developers of “golden rice” in the Philippines expect research to continue for at least two more years before it becomes available, if ever. Meanwhile, Helen Keller International, the organisation leading the fight against vitamin A deficiency (VAD), details six proven vitamin A strategies that are working now.
The World Bank has found vitamin A supplementation programmes to be “among the most cost-effective of all health interventions”, and VAD is already dropping so rapidly in the Philippines that it may cease to be a significant problem before “golden rice” comes on to the market.
Dr Doug Parr
‘Fish oil’ from plants a major step forward
The letter from Ben Martin (25 January) concerning the properties of flax (linseed) oil, as well as those of other plant sources, recounts a canard that is understandable but scientifically invalid.
There is no current plant source, other than the GM oilseeds like those produced at Rothamsted, which produces the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish oils.
The major fatty acid in linseed is alpha-linolenic acid, for which there is no compelling clinical evidence for significant health benefits compared with other oils from plant sources such as olive oil.
Nutritionists value fish oils for the special effect of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the major lipid of human brain tissue, and well documented for health effects. Given the dwindling stocks of oily fish, Rothamsted’s plant-based “fish oil” is a major step forward. It will provide a terrestrial source of these oils and reduce pressure on the marine environment.
Professor Maurice Moloney
Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organisation, North Ryde, New South Wales, Australia
Medical data and fears over privacy
Dr Kevan Tucker’s letter (15 January) was misleading, as it confused pseudonymised data and identifiable data.
Since the 1980s, the NHS has been collating information about hospital admissions. This is used to assess the safety of hospitals, compare quality of care, and help plan new health services. At the moment, we are missing this type of information for much of the care outside hospital.
Later this year, the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) will begin collecting this missing information. The HSCIC uses a combination of the NHS number, postcode, gender and date of birth to link a patient’s details. Once a patient’s record has been matched, these identifiers are removed and a reference number for the record is allocated instead.
The HSCIC makes information available in a variety of formats, each of which is protected by a different suite of privacy safeguards, as specified by the Information Commissioner. No identifiable data will be made available to organisations outside the NHS unless there is a legal basis to do so.
Dr Geraint Lewis
Chief Data Officer
In your report “Patients will be identifiable when firms are given access to confidential NHS data, experts warn” (20 January) you say: “The information for sale to profit-making firms will contain NHS numbers, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity and gender.”
As a psychiatric medical records administrator with responsibility for the integrity of a large database of patient details, I can identify anybody in the country in less than 10 seconds, with just their date of birth and NHS number. This will also provide me with their full name and last recorded address.
Truly anonymous data can be useful for trying to analyse statistical trends about patterns of illness and so forth, but there can be no excuse whatever for a gross violation of privacy.
Leave prison problems to the professionals
Having worked as a professional psychologist and adviser to the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, and being a magistrate, I couldn’t let Mary Dejevsky (30 January) go uncorrected.
She, Vicky Pryce, Denis MacShane and Chris Huhne aren’t qualified to comment with authority on the state of prisons in this country, either by virtue of being a columnist or by spending a few weeks in a low-security prison.
And when criminals reoffend, it isn’t the fault of the prisons. It is the fault of the criminals. The rehabilitation programmes in British jails are among the best in the world.
To conclude that the “whole system needs to be rethought from the ground up” shows how ignorant Dejevsky appears to be of that system. Her view seems grounded in the arrogant presumptions of what she refers to as “well-educated, middle-class” people who have been convicted of crimes.
The Ministry of Justice is staffed with well-educated, middle-class (and non-middle-class) professionals who know what they’re doing. Whatever challenges they face will be far better addressed by the staff in prisons who know what they’re talking about.
Dr Eric Cullen
Mary Dejevsky’s lionising of her jailbird acquaintances Denis MacShane, Vicky Pryce and Chris Huhne would have been less irritating if any of the quartet had showed any acceptance of the trio’s wrongdoing.
Professor Chris Barton
Record use of one newspaper?
Is this a record? On 21 January, my daughter took my copy of The Independent (which I had already skim-read) on a bus journey from London to Ghent. She read it cover to cover. Three English-speaking people at her destination devoured it keenly. And many of the topics that arose were discussed over dinner that night. The following day, she got very wet and stuffed pages from the newspaper into her boots; the rest was used to start a fire.
Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire