Letters: Water crisis

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Human greed and stupidity have caused this water crisis

Sir: Since February 2003, I have worked on the water business in Jordan, and for many years elsewhere. I can assure John Reid ("Water wars", 28 February) that water resources are screwed up in the Middle East without any help from global warming.

Global warming did not reduce the flow of the upper Jordan river by 90 per cent; Israel's National Water Carrier did, starting in 1958. Nor is it global warming that has reduced the flow of the Yarmuk river, a major Jordan tributary, by more than 50 per cent in the past 10 years; dams, mostly Syrian, did.

In 1982, Israel started to integrate the West Bank water network into the Israeli system and, by 1995, 45 per cent of Israel's water came from the West Bank and Golan Heights. So it was not global warming that led the UN General Assembly on 18 December 1997 to pass Resolution 5207, that includes the words: "... calls upon Israel, the occupying Power, not to exploit, to cause loss or depletion of or to endanger the natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territory, including Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan".

What has been the response of the international community? Most international aid is for urban water, and the number one agenda item is the false god "privatisation", backed with loads of money to build big new pipes. Securing significant funds for basic water loss-reduction remains difficult. Agriculture, the main water user, barely gets a mention. Generalising the cause as global warming makes a convenient scapegoat, absolving, as it does, individuals, governments and international institutions from responsibility for specific acts of greed and stupidity. Global warming merely brings the day of reckoning closer.



Sir: Only 2.5 per cent of the world's water is "fresh", so could some uses we make of precious fresh water be served by the salt variety? Do we really need to flush our loos with drinking water?

When the US millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt built his summer cottage in Rhode Island he included an en-suite for each bedroom. The baths had four taps for, hot fresh, cold fresh, hot salt and cold salt water. Those days, bathing in salt water was considered healthy. I did not check which variety was used for flushing.



Let us hear the case for animal testing

Sir: I am pleased to see the pro-animal testing lobby come out on the streets. Not because I agree with them, but because the debate has been for so long one-sided, the research community either standing aloof from public debate or simplifying the arguments for animal studies to ridiculous soundbites. The recent "Pro-Test" march in Oxford is a start, but their strategy will fail unless it develops beyond yah-boo sloganeering.

Leaving aside animal-rights extremists and their fallacious arguments and terrorist mindset, the onus should still be on the medical research community to convince us their animal studies are ethically and scientifically sound.

Even if one accepts, as I do, that some animal experiments are unavoidable, a strong argument against the use of animals in pharmaceutical research is that much of the motivation behind the development of new drugs is not medical imperative, but rather the need for commercial companies to continually develop, test and market new product, even if much of that new product is little different to what is already available and known to be effective.

Those who advocate and defend the use of non-human animals in medical research would do their cause a great service by addressing these issues in public. If the pro-testing community is to stand any hope of defeating animal rights extremists, it needs to work much harder on its public outreach, and it should assume that its audience is able to engage with the arguments in detail.



Sir: In "Militants meet their match" (27 February), it is said that "all primates should be included in the 1986 ban on vivisection that applies to chimpanzees". Many of the most effective treatments for debilitating degenerative diseases of the brain have come from research in non-human primates done since 1986.

These include the remarkably effective treatment of deep brain stimulation for Parkinson's disease and other movement disorders, a treatment developed entirely on the basis of research in primates and which is now available at several centres in the UK, not least in Oxford (where the neurosurgeon is Professor Tipu Aziz) and here at the UCL Institute of Neurology.



The silent disease of biopiracy

Sir: I congratulate Andrew Buncombe for the article "African bio-resources 'exploited by West' " (17 February). It greatly contributes to raise public awareness on the deleterious effects of biopiracy, a serious environmental offence that affects every biodiversity-rich country in the world.

Biopiracy is like a silent disease: it is hardly detectable, it frequently does not leave traces and is an elusive activity perpetrated and oft abetted by many well-known multinational companies. Unfortunately, it does not attract the same media coverage or public outcry as other environmental problems, such as deforestation and pollutant emissions.

In accordance with the Convention of Biological Diversity, benefits generated by the commercial utilisation of genetic resources should be shared with the countries of origin of those resources. But those who passionately defend the environment often forget that this silent pillage is effectively robbing developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia of the means to finance important sustainable development projects, and is also a powerful disincentive for their biodiversity conservation efforts.

Brazil will host the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention (Curitiba, March 20-31) and has strongly defended the adoption of an international regime to ensure benefit-sharing arrangements under the Convention, which we believe is an important step for eliminating the scourge of biopiracy.



No words on West Lothian Question

Sir: I am surprised that such an "extensive" report as the Power Inquiry makes no mention of a most fundamental flaw in the present British constitution. I am astounded that a report which issues a damning indictment on the state of our democracy can make no mention of the West Lothian Question.

The call for the transferral of authority over England's domestic affairs to an English parliament, in the same way as is afforded to Scotland, should have been mentioned by a report which advocates decentralisation. That this anomaly was not even touched on renders the inquiry pointless.



Sir: An essential element of the campaign has to be to reduce the power of the party whips, and allow MPs to vote according to their consciences and their beliefs.

Under the new Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, ministers will be able to alter any existing Act merely by proposing an order in the House of Commons. A few weeks later the law will have been changed without a debate or a Commons vote, and the government whips will, of course, ensure no member seeks to force a debate by challenging the order.

Tony Blair or his minions could use this power, if the Bill goes through, to repeal what is left of Magna Carta and our other ancient protections against an overweening executive, all the while telling us they are thereby strengthening democracy. They must be stopped.



Equal opportunities and equal parenting

Sir: Politicians and commentators are right to bemoan unequal pay and career opportunities for women ("Blair has failed the cause of equal pay", 27 February). A major cause of this must surely be the expense incurred by employers when women take (well-deserved) maternity leave for up to a year, several months of it on full pay. It is far more economical to employ men in well-paid senior jobs because their paternity leave entitles them to only two weeks' leave paid at the statutory rate of just more than £100 per week. Many men do not even take this because of financial pressure.

Trying to force employers to pay men and women equally may lead to increased discrimination at the selection stage. Inequalities in pay and promotion would be reduced if men were offered similar parental leave. This would suit many working families, perhaps allowing the woman to return to work when she stops breastfeeding and the man to take over childcare for a few months without loss of earnings.

Helen Wilkinson did mention the improved parental leave granted to men in Norway, but few seem to grasp that equal opportunities in work must go hand in hand with equal parenting opportunities.



Heinous aspect of Standards Code

Sir: David Nettleton (letters, 28 February) refers to the "creeping menace" of the Standards Board of England but does not mention the most heinous aspect of their Code. Councillors are told they must report any other councillor they suspect has breached the code.

Even the law of the land does not require us to report every perceived lawbreaker to the authorities, but under the Code, if we fail to report someone we too are guilty of breaking the rules. What a nonsense.



Sir: Ken Livingstone's suspension by the Standards Board is ridiculous. The whole incident has been blown up out of proportion. Journalists should not be in their jobs unless they have reasonably thick skins.

Ken has done a marvellous job for London and, as with other elected representatives, any verdict should come from the electorate. I guess the outcome will be that the voters will reward their cheeky hero with an even bigger majority.



Sir: Ken Livingstone seems to have claimed that people who behave unpleasantly and cite the requirements of their job as an excuse ought to be ashamed of themselves because this is the argument used by Hitler's functionaries. What rule can there be against saying this? It does not even begin to be anti-Semitic.

It does not say mere bad behaviour is equivalent to murder, though it does imply it is the beginning of a slippery slope. This may not be a correct argument, but it is not indefensible. Demands that someone apologise, or use the excuse of drunkenness, for making a debatable moral point are totalitarian.



A deadly sport, joyfully pursued

Sir: You quote an Afghan commenting on the British troops in Afghanistan, "We like the British because they have lots of guns". (25 February).

When the hippie trail was open through the Khyber Pass from Afghanistan to Pakistan, I travelled there and was struck by the fetish young men there have with guns. There was a street in Peshawar near the border where you could buy working reproductions of most makes, forged in bazaar machine-shops.

For Pathans, Afridis and Afghans, fighting with guns needs no cause; it is a deadly sport joyfully pursued, perhaps because there is nothing much else to occupy yourself with in such an inhospitable landscape.



English defeat

Sir: Despite Scotland's victory over England in the rugby, both articles on the match (27 February) were written from an English perspective. I got fed up reading how "disturbed" we were by England's game-plan and execution. You do have Celtic readers, none of whom will have been in the least bit disturbed by England's display.



Breast option

Sir: It is rarely mentioned that breastfeeding offers protection for babies (and into adulthood) against obesity (report, 28 February). As Great Britain has the worst breastfeeding rate in Europe, the Government's campaign to fight childhood obesity ought to include a huge promotion on the benefits of breastfeeding and delayed weaning on to solids.



Fake ID cards

Sir: The fallacy of improved security for the individual from ID cards has been discredited. It has been reported that criminals used fake police credentials when abducting the Tonbridge Securitas manager Colin Dixon, his family, and Andrew Ramsay, the missing Glasgow witness. If fake police warrant cards are available, fake ID cards will also circulate from the day they are produced. The argument that these biometric cards will be not be easily forged is weak, because the individual will not have access to the equipment to verify a card.



State terrorism

Sir: If terrorism is defined as John Fraser says (letters, 27 February), "the calculated use of violence or the threat of violence to attain goals that are political, religious or ideological in nature ... through intimidation, coercion or instilling fear", then surely all government that is coercive is terrorist?



The Estonian gambit

Sir: Carol Tarr's daughter (letter, 28 February) can resolve her problems in practising Dutch with unhelpful natives very readily. Learn the the Dutch for, "I'm sorry, I don't understand, I am from Estonia". This stops the, "My English is better than your feeble attempt at my language" battle, and works almost everywhere.