Letters: Water for the world

Britain must sign up to international water agreement
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Sir: Tensions over international waters continue to rise as changes mount in climate and political alliances. Competition for water between cities, farms, industry and nature is intensifying, and the severity of drought and floods is increasing. The impact is already being felt by some of the poorest communities and on ecosystems around the planet.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that countries sharing trans-boundary waters do so under an agreed international framework. Yet the UK government appears reluctant to support international water law that would provide exactly that.

The 1997 UN Watercourses Convention establishes the rules for nations to use and protect the freshwater they share in an equitable and sustainable manner. In addition, states are obliged to notify each other of planned water development projects that may have a significant adverse impact, and agree to certain peaceful dispute-settlement mechanisms.

The 1997 Labour government co-sponsored the convention at its inception stage, recognising then that it was in the global interest that it be adopted, but it has not itself accepted its own counsel more than a decade later. Accession would provide the UK with a reservoir of international respect for its commitment to weaker states, global governance, poverty reduction and environmental stewardship. Following in the footsteps of the German government, UK accession to the convention would help establish support across the European Union.

We call on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to explain the Government's hesitation to the people, or to take a lead and act now to accede to the convention as a matter of urgency.

Dr Mark Zeitoun, Centre for Environmental Policy and Governance, LSE; Melvin Woodhouse, Consultant & Research Associate, UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, Dundee University; Dr Lyla Mehta, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex;

Dr Alan Nicol, Director, Water Policy Programme, Overseas Development Institute; Professor Malgosia Fitzmaurice,School of Law, Queen Mary University of London; Professor Erik Swyngedouw,School of Environment and Development, Manchester University

Dr Alistair Rieu-Clarke, UNESCO Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science, Dundee University, And 11 others

We're borrowing our way to disaster

Sir: Hamish McRae misses the real issue in discussing the plight of sterling ("After a decade of riding high, the pound may have a long way to fall" , 20 March). While he boasts that the pound has been the most stable currency in the world over the past 10 years he avoids saying a significant reason for this is that sterling remained a safe haven for investors during the early years of the euro "experiment". Now the situation is different.

The euro, despite the predictions of disaster emanating from Britain, has proved to be a powerful world currency and has appreciated markedly against the dollar. It will probably continue to do so, especially if oil is, at least in part, traded in euros. The pound suffers from the UK's predilection, like the US, for high borrowing, easy credit and now the resultant banking instability. With the economy increasingly indebted, sterling is returning to its historical position as a weak currency. For 40 years before the birth of the euro, the pound lost value against almost all other major currencies, and especially against the German mark.

Where does all this leave us? Unfortunately, it leaves us floating around in the mid-Atlantic between a strong euro and a weak dollar.

Blair and Brown, in the full Atlanticist traditions of old Labour, continued to pander to the Little Englander/Great Britannia europhobes, and we have drifted further and further to the margins of the European Union on account of our self-imposed exile from the Eurozone.

How long will this last? I fear interminably, because while we are wallowing in debt and enduring insufferably bad transport infrastructure and public services, including the scandal of massive rises in utility charges, the last thing we could ever do is look to the Continent to see how currencies, banking, home ownership and rent, investment, manufacturing (at least in the case of Germany), schools, transport, health and public space can be managed more effectively. Keep on borrowing, and watch the pound sink further.

Simon Sweeney

Sheriff Hutton, North Yorkshire

Sir: Hamish McRae's point "Given where we are, having the US Federal Reserve drive down interest rates won't do much harm. But it will need to push them back up as soon as practicable" (Comment, 19 March) deserves to be underlined.

It was, of course, precisely the Fed's failure, under the former chairman Alan Greenspan, to take that essential step after mopping up the mess left by the bursting of the previous US financial ("dot.com") bubble in 2000 that sowed the seeds of the more recently burst US credit/ housing bubble, whose damaging consequences the Fed has been striving to minimise ever since.

It's the old story of "A stitch in time ..."

Walter Grey

London N3

Google gives Tibet away to China

Sir: What with Tibet's tensions and street protests in the news, and having a poor grasp of geography, I switched on my computer and called up Google maps to remind myself just where Tibet was. At first I couldn't find it, although the borders of its neighbours – Nepal and Bhutan – were clearly outlined.

Then I spotted Lhasa and realised that as far as Google is concerned, Tibet is part of China, with no separate identity. When and how did Google come to that decision, and did commercial decisions influence its judgement?

Patrick Powell

St Breward, North Cornwall

Sir: China's proposal to take the Olympic torch up Everest, a mountain on the other side of Tibet from China, must be seen for what it is; a bare-faced attempt to acquire back-door international recognition of its presence in Tibet. China has no right to be in Tibet, a sovereign country which it illegally annexed. It behoves the international community to resist any attempt by China to validate its continuing and oppressive occupation of a peaceful country.

But, since the "international community" is historically blind to political atrocities when it comes to sport, one can only hope that Chomolungma (The Goddess Mother) intervenes to rain or snow on this shabby parade.

Andrew Morris

London NW1

Bring on the warmth of catastrophe

Sir: Just as I am beginning to enjoy the first sunshine of spring, and the first stirrings of vegetation and animal life, I am informed by The Independent front page (20 March) that what I am witnessing is a catastrophe. I'm told that natural phenomena are occurring too early and, nice as this may seem, disaster looms.

I live in South Devon, which must be one of the mildest areas of the country. Over this winter, my grass has not needed cutting, daisies have not been growing right and left, I haven't seen any Red Admirals, primroses have only recently appeared, the frogs have just this week produced their spawn and I've seen only one bumblebee all winter and that was yesterday.

I'm not sure if the thrushes have been singing the whole time. In other words, things seem pretty much the same as they were in my childhood 40-odd years ago.

John Hade

Totnes, Devon

Sir: Despite attempts to frighten people with your perceived unpleasant consequences of climate change, most seem to be hoping it will come quickly and are doing their best to hurry the movement north of Mediterranean conditions so they can enjoy them without the hassle of travelling.

The ways in which you show how weather can be affected are helpful. The more they follow a comfortable lifestyle, the more they are told they can hasten arrival of this sought-after bliss.

Unfortunately, the present cold and wet weather, so soon after the vernal equinox, raises doubts as to the effectiveness of their actions. Do you have scientific explanations for this (obviously temporary) blip in the arrival of your impending catastrophe?

G D Morris

Port Talbot, South Wales

Digital madness on a grand scale

Sir: I read with dismay the article on the digital advertising revolution at Heathrow's Terminal 5 ("Now ad campaigns can take off", 17 March), where we are to be bombarded with digital messages from 200 strategically placed screens that take account of the "arousal levels" of passengers, and that JC Decaux plans more than 600 at other airports around the UK.

This is brain-washing on a massive scale, promoting yet more unsustainable levels of over-consumption at a time when the planet is running out of resources. What is going to happen to this digital revolution in an era of energy shortage? This is madness on a grand scale.

Terminal 5 is the dinosaur that sums up all the environmental issues mankind urgently needs to address if we are to have any meaningful future. If we must have brain-washing on this scale, it needs to be used to promote a sustainable lifestyle where we all live within our means and the earth's capacity to sustain life, and not "spend, spend, spend".

A Davies

Burton on Trent, Staffordshire

Egg packaging is not over-egged

Sir: Your article, "Easter egg makers fail to cut packaging" (20 March), drawing heavily on a report by Jo Swinson MP, criticises Nestlé, and other manufacturers of Easter eggs, for our supposed "failure" to reduce the amount of packaging in our products. We have actually made substantial reductions in packaging. For example, the packaging weight for our small eggs has been reduced by 30 per cent; for mug eggs by 14 per cent; and in some adult £4.99 eggs by 24 per cent.

We have also linked with Sainsbury's to launch a pilot recycling scheme, placing special Easter egg packaging bins, for plastic and cardboard, outside key stores for the next three weeks.

David Rennie

Marketing Director, Nestlé Rowntree, York

Sir: Your report on Easter egg packaging suggested Cadbury has "made no changes" to wrapping. I'm very happy to assure readers that this is far from the case.

This year, Cadbury reduced packaging across our Easter egg range. Most of the reduction isn't entirely visible to consumers, but behind the scenes we've saved more than 1,000 tonnes of packaging. We've also introduced a new range of eco-friendly eggs to encourage nearly two million consumers to switch to a format with no cardboard box at all, saving the equivalent of more than 2,000 trees.

We were the first food company to commit to an absolute reduction in carbon emissions by 2020, as well as setting targets for packaging and water-use reduction.

Alex Cole

Corporate Affairs Director, Cadbury, London, W1

Taking a flier into old age

Sir: I don't know what those in the Foreign Office do in their spare time, but I would advise them to get off their backsides and get out in the real world ("Over-55s 'taking too many holiday risks'," 20 March).

Since I retired at 58, I have been a paragliding instructor, have flown my paraglider in the mountains of Spain, Crete and France, and this June intend to fly in Bulgaria. I am now 73, have never had an accident while abroad and fly in the Yorkshire Dales all year.

I am certainly not unique. Since people of my age have generally better judgement (although slower reactions) than our juniors, we probably represent a lower accident risk, a fact that the insurance companies have also failed to grasp. Though I would like to buy sensibly priced cover for my sport while abroad, I now find I am uninsurable.

Pete Parkins

Bentham, Lancaster

Better believe it

Sir: One tiny victory for truth has emerged from the present chaos in the City. Commentators who once used such weasel words as "dealing", "trading" or "investing" now sometimes openly and accurately speak of "betting" on the stock market.

Ann Duncombe

Tullibody, Clackmannanshire

Honour Scofield

Sir: Recently, your arts editor, David Lister, suggested that it was time to rethink the names of the Lyttelton and Cottesloe auditoria at the National Theatre, on the grounds that, honourable though both names are in the history of that building, they no longer mean much to the theatre-going public. The problem was thinking of suitable alternatives. With the death of Paul Scofield, part of the problem is resolved: the Scofield at the National Theatre sounds most appropriate.

Barry Sheppard


Two-way bias

Sir: Joan Smith ("Bullies love a weakling – and Heather fits the bill", 20 March) accuses Mr Justice Bennett's judgment of bias in favour of Sir Paul McCartney. But is Ms Smith in a better position to judge the case than a judge who devoted several days to the matter in the presence of both parties? If so, she should tell us how she came to have this advantage. Her assertion that Sir Paul exhibited "solipsism and sentimentality" immediately after the death of his first wife suggests Ms Smith is not free of bias herself.


Cranleigh, Surrey

HM the Witness

Sir: The coroner at the Princess Diana inquest decided it was "not expedient to call the Duke of Edinburgh and the Queen to answer questions". And Lord Justice Scott Baker rejected Mohamed Al Fayed's attempt to invite the in-laws of the deceased to attend. May I ask why such personages appear to be outside the law of the land? Surely the action of normal in-laws would be to show some modicum of interest by being present, however brief such an appearance might be.

F G Page

KINGTON, Herefordshire

Spring into action

Sir: Your Science Editor, Steve Connor, tells us the hormone that triggers the distinctive joyous birdsong marking spring's onset is also found in humans, although scientists are unsure "what effect this has, if any, on people's springtime behaviour". Er, it makes them head for the DIY superstore and the garden centre.

Chris Moorhouse