Letters: Victorian water system

A world-class city let down by its Victorian water system
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Sir: The acute long-term water supply problems in the South-east obviously make it imperative that the water companies cut leakage from the system ("Water industry comes under fire as 3.6 billion litres are lost every day", 17 May).

But there is at least one other immediate step which should be taken that stops short of towing icebergs up the Thames estuary. The proposal for a desalination plant east of London has, in our view, quite wrongly been vetoed by the Mayor. This is despite the fact that it would provide water for 900,000 consumers on the eastern side of the capital - exactly where London will grow fastest in the years leading up to the 2012 Olympics and Thames Gateway expansion.

On the same day that we read about the failings of London's Victorian water system there were reports that the enormous commercial and residential construction now under way in Moscow could be undermined by that city's creaking power and sewage infrastructure. It is little short of a continuing national disgrace that London, the leading commercial centre in the world, finds itself hamstrung by infrastructural problems almost identical to those of a city which spent seven decades labouring under communist misrule.



Sir: For the last year or so the water companies have been warning us of impending water shortages but we only received written notice of "our" hosepipe ban towards the end of March. Until then people carried on with impunity. Now the company that serves this area has been granted a drought order, which doesn't come into force for another 10 days. So all those people who have been filling swimming pools, using industrial car-washes, watering golf courses and hosing down their garden furniture will continue to do so for the time being despite the "extremely serious" situation.

If ever a mixed message was being sent out this is it. We are threatened with standpipes but for months, when all this inessential use was being sanctioned, billions of gallons were being washed away daily.

I can put bricks in the toilet cistern, stop running the tap when I clean my teeth, share a shower (with a friend) and pour my washing up water on the plants until I am blue in the face. Unfortunately the water companies' slow and half-hearted response probably means I am wasting as much of my time as they are of "their" water.



What Africa needs is good government

Sir: Bono says, "We will hear the usual carping about [Aids] being Africa's own fault" (leading article, 16 May). It is hard to argue against peace or an end to world poverty; but to move beyond slogans to action, we must be clear about the underlying problems.

The UK's Africa Commission identified good honest governance as the key issue holding back development. The report states: "The issue of good governance and capacity building is what we believe lies at the core of all Africa's problems. Until that is in place Africa will be doomed to continue its economic stagnation".

It is daft to expect that if hundreds of billions of pounds in aid did not work in the past, thousands of billions will work in the future. The priority should be assisting developing countries establish good governance and the rule of law. Once a country is on the path to good governance, improvements in trade and the harnessing of local entrepreneurship will generate wealth and development, with aid and debt relief contributing at the margins.

Maladministration, ineffective institutions, corruption and repression have a near-infinite capacity to waste resources. Worse, bad government can all too easily divert scarce resources to the purchase of weapons.



Sir: This week being Christian Aid Week, many of the stories speakers such as myself are telling involve Christian Aid partners in Africa who are helping HIV/Aids victims. Your special edition, so full of moving information, is a real bonus. Within hours I had amended prepared talks/sermons to include statistics from the paper and impress folk with the front cover. Thank you for raising the profile of HIV/Aids in this way.



Sir: I applaud The Independent for embracing the RED scheme so wholeheartedly. Every courageous initiative that Bono takes on board to change the world makes me prouder than anything to be a U2 fan, and every quality newspaper that gets on board, the number of critics silenced increases.



Why science has to use animals

Sir: Alistair Currie, Director of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection is quoted as saying (15 May) "Animal experimentation is old-fashioned science - it may have been useful 50 years ago but in the 21st century we have a lot of techniques that we can use instead." He omitted to mention a number of salient facts.

The vast majority of biomedical research is indeed carried out without animals, using the very alternative techniques he espouses. However, there remain a few situations where there is no alternative to studying a living animal. The Home Office strictly enforces regulations which ensure that no study can be carried out using animals where an alternative exists. No scientist I know would use animals in research were it possible to use an alternative without halting the medical advances we so desperately need. Apart from a desire to minimise animal suffering, research involving animals is very costly and time-consuming. Many researchers and their families are subject to intimidation and threats for their commitment.

British biomedical research is at the international forefront and to suggest that it is 50 years out of date insults those many dedicated scientists, doctors and vets who work hard to develop new understanding and medicines.

Along with Tony Blair and the vast majority of sensible and informed people in this country, I believe that improved health and wellbeing for us, our children and the world provides the moral imperative for continuing our work.



Sir: I cannot possibly convey to you how strongly I am offended by being referred to as "the respectable face of intimidation" by Thomas Sutcliffe (16 May). Both the BUAV and myself are implacably opposed to violence and intimidation on moral grounds and if Mr Sutcliffe had troubled to read our full statements on both Mr Blair and the Gladys Hammond case that would have been clear to him.

My point was that extremism feeds on a lack of faith in the political process and that is confirmed to me by innumerable contacts from people in the animal rights movement who believe that this government made promises on animal experimentation it has failed to keep. Indeed, some activists strongly criticise me and the BUAV for "wasting time" on political lobbying and public campaigning. The Government must beware of driving alienated people into the arms of the extremists.

Of course the roots of extremism and responsibility for it do not lie with the Government but that does not mean that they cannot contribute to it by their actions. This is a complex issue: my quote in your paper simplified it - and Mr Sutcliffe's comment has brutalised it.



Market side by side with supermarket

Sir: There has been much inaccurate reporting of the Queens Market issue in the media ("Superstores want to take over the world", 11 May). Queens Market will continue to be owned by Newham Council but leased to St Modwen Properties. There will be a supermarket as well as market stalls and shops. Queens Market will remain on its existing site, in a refurbished open-sided market hall.

All the current licensed traders will continue to have their stalls, the majority of them in the same place. The entrance to the supermarket will be at the back of the market hall, so the market traders will continue to have prime position.

The petition of 12,000 names, which was in response to a draft proposal, has never been presented to Newham Council. There is no petition against the current scheme. St Modwen will submit a detailed planning application in October and in the meantime, consultation with traders and residents is continuing.