Vietnam's transformation is a beacon for the developing world
Sir: There is much analysis in the media of the results of the WTO meetings mainly along the lines of how much or how little "new money" is being offered (never mind delivered) by the developed world to Third World countries mostly in Africa. What seems to be lacking in all the debate is a blueprint of how these countries can extricate themselves from their desperate situation. Throwing money at the problem has proven to be only a short-term paliative at best and broadly inappropriate.
Having just spent time in Vietnam it seems to me that country is a beacon for revival. The second half of the 20th century for Vietnam was as bad as anything one could imagine. Between 1945 and 1948 20 per cent of the then 10 million population died of starvation. The "American War" (as the Vietnamese call it) and its aftermath ravaged the country for almost three decades.
In the last 15 years the country has transformed itself. No one goes hungry even though the population is now 84 million and rising; in fact, they are net exporters of food. Education is a key part of government expenditure with new schools opening in even the remotest villages. The infrastructure is being dramatically improved and industrial development is formidable. Welcome to the new tiger economy! All this has been achieved with neither money being showered nor democracy being pressed on the country.
Peace and stability, political and religious pragmatism, education and industriousness are the ingredients for success. Vietnam realised this and implemented a programme which has capitalised on their assets. If only the impoverished countries of the world would learn from this.
CHESHAM BOIS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: It is understandable that many aid agencies and poverty activists are disappointed with the outcome of last week's WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong, despite the progress that was made on agricultural export subsidies and special market access for least developed countries. The inability of the WTO to meet its original goal for Hong Kong of agreement on a full framework of trade concessions on agriculture, industrial tariffs and other issues of importance to developing countries is a missed opportunity to accelerate the pace of progress.
2005 has been lauded as a year of change for global poverty alleviation, and indeed the emphasis given to Africa by a raft of events - including the G8, the Make Poverty History campaign and the Live8 concerts - has had a genuine impact on awareness of these issues. However, the World Economic Forum's recently published Global Governance Initiative Report has concluded that while progress is beginning to be made, the international community is still exerting less than half the effort necessary to achieve the United Nations Millennium Goals, many of which have a deadline of 2015.
The outcome of the WTO talks exemplifies how the international community is taking initial but far from sufficient steps needed to meet its stated ambitions. Much remains to be done in 2006 to transform the "Doha Development Round" from an aspiration to a concrete plan of action. The hardest bargaining lies ahead.
MANAGING DIRECTOR, WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM, GENEVA
Asylum seeker sent back to Iraq in error
Sir: It was a grave error for immigration officials to return an asylum seeker to Iraq without the chance to consult his lawyers (report, 20 December). Worse, he was probably taken in the clothes in which he stood at the time of his arrest with the small change he happened to have in his pocket.
Failed asylum seekers are being regularly returned to third world airports without even the price of a bus fare. In many cases they are given no chance to pack. Some have nobody to whom to go back.
Criminal prisoners get a discharge grant and a travel warrant on release; they have job interviews set up, housing advice and access to social security. They will have been in prisons with welfare officers.
Sending failed asylum seekers to the third world without luggage and money is a scandal. It is clear failure of the duty of care and one which the Home Office is reluctant to address. They could make a start by giving a discharge grant of, say, £100 to all those being removed; training immigration officers to see that those arrested collect their property; and appointing welfare officers in all the 10 immigration removal centres in the UK (there is currently just one).
CO-ORDINATOR, HASLAR VISITORS GROUP, PORTSMOUTH
Sir: Charles Clarke's representative declares that the Secretary of State realises that he has made "a regrettable mistake" in deporting a Kurd refugee illegally, and is now doing "the decent, honourable thing".
But no, he is not resigning. Not at all: we learn that the Home Office is now looking for the man in question, who may, not really surprisingly, be "in hiding". If the search is conducted with the same ineptitude as the deportation, the chances of finding the unhappy refugee alive must be slim, despite the flak jacket and helmet with which the Home Office solicitously equipped him.
The excuse advanced for this "mistake" was that this refugee "was considered to be at risk of self-harm or suicide", and therefore "not given removal directions in time to consult lawyers". Strangle logic and a strange mixture of intolerance and pseudo-concern for the refugee's well-being. Are we to infer that Home Office officials thought the man less likely to commit suicide once deported, or simply hoped he would do so elsewhere than in the UK?
The whole business might be laughed off as just one more example of the comic incompetence of the Home Office, were it not for the potentially tragic consequences for the refugee and his legitimate British fiancée.
Sir: Let me make sure I have understood this correctly: our soldiers were sent to Iraq on a false pretext of the threat the Baathist regime presented, without filters in their tanks, with (in the case of the murdered redcaps) radios that were beyond archaic and with insufficient numbers of flak jackets to protect them from enraged Iraqis and trigger-happy Americans alike.
Yet flak jackets were provided to ensure the safety of those being forcibly (and erroneously) returned to Iraq, now that the mission has supposedly been "accomplished"?
Blame farmers, not badgers
Sir: With reference to your excellent cover story "The culling fields" (16 December) it is outrageous that the NFU refused to take part in the pre-movement testing of cattle unless they got a mass badger cull. The farmers have blackmailed the Government into taking the most appalling and pointless measures.
From the ranks of the NFU come those who brought us mad cow disease, factory farming and huge declines in birds and butterflies as a result of chemical sprays. Yet we are expected to believe farmers' claims that up to 96 per cent of bovine TB is due to badgers, and it looks like we're in for another sickening slaughter of one of our most endearing and cleanest mammals. (Your cover picture showed a badger collecting grass for its bedding, which they change regularly).
After more than 30 years of study, experts Maff/Defra have been unable to show that TB spreads from badgers to cattle.
The shy badger has been horribly baited and persecuted for centuries. Now these beautiful, benign and very clean creatures are once again made the scapegoat. It will be a national disgrace if the culling proceeds.
Sir: The President of the Country Land and Business Association imagines that badgers would welcome the impending cull as in their best interests (letter, 20 December). By the same reasoning, I assume that his members' French counterparts must have welcomed the guillotines of the Terror. Its champions also claimed that their cull was in the best interests of everyone.
Sir: Turkeys, badgers, spent-up dairy cows; if we really cared, we would take the simple decision to stop consuming meat and dairy products and allow the badgers to live in peace.
Racism in Australia, and nearer home
Sir: You report the disorders in suburbs of Sydney. I am very fond of Australia and visit it increasingly for work. The family would not be surprised by emigration plans. But there will not be any and racism is one of the reasons.
I shall not forget an educated 15-year-old who was incredulous, as I told him and his parents over a meal that words that he was using in normal conversation could cause him to be arrested in the UK, if used in public. Aussies just don't see what is wrong with words I haven't heard in daily usage since the days of Alf Garnett.
Here, we've come a long way, although not far enough in the white enclave of North Yorkshire, if the not-so-hidden feelings about the new Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, are anything to go by.
The real winners of house price inflation
Sir: So "house prices on the rise again" is "good news" (20 December). Good news for whom, precisely? Certainly not for the young person trying to acquire a first home nor for those needing to move to larger accommodation or a more expensive area. For the lucky few, able to downsize and release capital, there may be an opportunity.
But the main beneficiaries of this rampant inflation are estate agents and the Treasury, with their constant percentage cut from a rising total. The Treasury even gets a double bonus, from increasing liability to stamp duty on each transaction and to inheritance tax when the lucky owners finally have to cash in their bricks. Why does this myth of the benefits of house price inflation have such a grip on the public mind?
DR R M MORRIS
LITTLE CRAWLEY, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: I fail to comprehend how house price rises can be considered good news. It seems every time I get close enough to get a foot on the property ladder, they run off again. As an NHS employee whose pay rises will probably be pinned to below the rate of inflation, the concept of a predicted yearly rise of between 5 and 15 per cent is sickening and to hear it described as good news appalling.
J W MCSTRAVICK
SWINTON, GREATER MANCHESTER
Endangered life in the undergrowth
Sir: You summarise the Alliance for Zero Extinction annual report on the status of the world's most endangered animals ("Frontlines of a fight for survival", 13 December). I fully support their aims, but it appears the report is flawed since it excludes insects, which constitute three-quarters of the world's species.
International conservation organisations consistently promulgate a narrow view of wildlife, aided by the media, especially television, whose output of natural history programmes is inversely proportional to species diversity - 95 per cent of programmes are devoted to birds and mammals, which constitute less than 5 per cent of the planet's wildlife.
We need a fresh approach to wildlife conservation that includes all forms of animal and plant life: without insects, many ecosystems would begin to fail: for example, crop pollination would cease, with disastrous consequences for mankind. There are many charismatic insect species (birdwings, swallowtails) on the verge of extinction which require active conservation now.
It is like the iceberg that sank the Titanic: we ignore the larger part below the surface (life in the undergrowth) at our peril.
SECRETARY, ROYAL ENTOMOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON SELLING, KENT
Lord of the dance
Sir: Nothing has changed in the last 50 years ("A song and a dance: Straw's sister in cathedral controversy", Pandora, 21 December). When, in the early 1950s, Vaughan Williams was rehearsing Holst's great choral work The Hymn of Jesus, a setting of an ancient gnostic text that exults liturgical dance, he reported that many people even objected to singing about dancing in a church.
CHIPPING NORTON, OXFORDSHIRE
Tool for terrorists
Sir: Your article "I spy with my little laptop" (21 December) raises the issue of the possible misuse of pictures from Google Earth by terrorists and the requests by some governments to have sensitive pictures obscured. Was it the US government (or, given recent events, the President, perhaps) who asked you to print an image of the US Capitol captioned "The White House"?
Sir: As a retired NHS general dental practitioner I have every sympathy with your correspondents who report their deregistration (letters, 21 December). It is worth pointing out that it is the Government which is making this change, in complete contrast to the practice established in the 1990 contract. Dentists' choices are now limited, accept the new arrangements or leave the NHS system. As some dentists believe that this change was ill-considered and will be actively damaging to the continuity of their relationship to each patient, they are distinctly unhappy about their choices.
Marriage and society
Sir: It is a pity that your report of the Civil Partnership ceremonies should refer to them as "gay marriages" (20 December). Whilst a humane and tolerant society accords dignity, security and respect to such unions, whether or not approving of them, marriage is different. Marriage means man, woman, children, even when man or woman dies or departs, even when there are no children. Civil partnership is for the benefit of the individuals. Marriage, while benefiting the individuals, has also the wider purpose of the benefit and continuity of the whole of society.
REV BERNARD O'CONNOR OSA
ST MARY'S PRIORY, BIRMINGHAM
Sir: Your newspaper has a fine tradition of giving minimum exposure to the activities of the royal family. Would it now be possible for you to exercise a similar self-denying ordinance in respect of our other royal family, Sir Elton John and David Furnish?
BURFORD, OXFORDSHIREReuse content