In the Philippines, the Royal Navy’s HMS Daring has joined US naval forces led by the aircraft carrier George Washington to deliver urgent aid following the recent cyclone.
Last week, a fierce cyclone devastated the Puntland region of Somalia. Roads have been washed away, livestock drowned, coastal villages isolated and, with hundreds dead, tens of thousands are at risk. So why is the giant naval armada stationed close by doing nothing to assist them?
The European Naval Force, Nato’s Ocean Shield and Combined Task Force 151 have between them ships from more than a dozen nations, all carrying helicopters. They include the RFA Lyme Bay, equipped for “crisis-response operations, natural disasters and evacuations”.
Which of these forces will take leadership in this much-needed humanitarian initiative? And who can fail to see how goodwill thus generated can help in the fight against al-Shabaab?
David Wardrop, Chairman, United Nations Association, Westminster Branch, London SW6
I find it disturbing that charities waste so much money in their efforts to raise funds for good causes. Yesterday, I received through the post three requests for donations to the Philippines disaster funds from well-known charities. Two were from the same charity, but differently presented. Both charities are members of the Disasters Emergency Committee. Surely the DEC exists to prevent wastage of effort and money, so why is there separate fund-raising by its members?
Anne Burrows, Ashton under Hill, Worcestershire
I take great pride in the fact that we British must be among the most, if not the most compassionate people in the world. Our response to tragedies such as that in the Philippines is always out of all proportion to our size and economy.
The British Government has pledged £50m, in addition to which the British people have already donated in excess of £30m – and that in the same week that we also set a record by raising £31m for Children in Need.
Britain comes in for a lot of stick over its colonial past – but it sets an example to the rest of the world when it comes to lending a hand wherever tragedy strikes.
Robert Readman, Bournemouth
Am I the only one who views the alleged fact that the British public have been generous in response to the disaster with disbelief? Last week, around £30m had been raised, which is less than £1 per head of population. I know it has risen since. But the money so far would only just buy a house in The Bishops Avenue, north London. Useful, eh?
Purely as a matter of fact, I gave £50 and will probably find a bit more. If there are 20 million adults who could give that amount, that would make £1bn. I also know a lot of poor people who are struggling, yet I know they have given money.
Could it be that this £30m is made up of a lot of the “widow’s mites” commended by Christ, some rather modest donations from the middle classes, and a whopping, hideous great absence of money from the really rich?
It has already become plain that the more money people have, the more painful they find it to pay tax, so I don’t think I am being unduly sceptical.
Mary Nolze, Rusthall, Kent
I was out collecting for ShelterBox last Wednesday and Saturday. I live in a market town in Devon and was expecting a parochial response, as described by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (18 November). I had rehearsed good arguments why the Philippines needed our help. I didn’t have to use one.
All of us out collecting were staggered by the generosity of those who gave. They felt great sympathy for those people who now have nothing. I have never seen so much paper money before when out collecting.
Many people who gave were clearly not well off, but I frequently heard the comment that it is never the rich who suffer, and they wanted to help, however small the donation. This included a number of young people and children who gave what they had in their pockets.
Yes, there is selfishness, narcissism and horrendous indulgence of children, but there are many compassionate, unselfish children who give to or volunteer for all kinds of charitable work. They are our future too.
Kerry Larbalestier, Newton Abbot, Devon
One of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s charges against the “youth of today” is that while some do give to overseas causes, others are concerned about the levels of corruption associated with overseas aid and prefer to support ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen at home.
Is Ms Alibhai-Brown sure that her distaste for them is not simply because they are more patriotic and less left-wing and internationalist than her generation of university Trotskyites and Maoists was?
R S Foster, Sheffield
In health and social care, the use of evidence-informed knowledge in decisions and choices is widely accepted. We need something similar in disasters and other humanitarian emergencies. People need access to reliable information on what works, what doesn’t work, and what is of unproven benefit or harm.
It’s difficult for governments, humanitarian agencies, charity workers, doctors and nurses to discover this amid the chaos and urgency of a crisis. They are faced with an overwhelming amount of information, scattered among tens of thousands of reports, spread across thousands of scientific journals, books, reports and websites.
Responders often do not have the time or skills to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information.
Routine care is solving this by drawing on the findings of systematic reviews, which bring relevant information together in a single place. The same could happen in disasters. These reviews avoid undue emphasis on single studies or opinions, and help clarify whether a treatment or procedure is likely to be beneficial or harmful.
At this time of desperation in the Philippines, using reliable and robust evidence should lead to more good than harm. Since the tsunami of 2004, Evidence Aid has been working with national and international agencies and responders to help, putting information in a single place at www.EvidenceAid.org.
Mike Clarke, Founder and Director, Evidence Aid, Queen’s University Belfast
Just look at the facts on Kennedy
In response to Tim Walker’s piece (“In Dealey Plaza, it’s forever 1963”, 18 November), why is it only those who question the official verdict on the Kennedy assassination who merit the epithet “theorist”?
Have we lost sight of the fact that what happened in Dallas was a crime for which there is an enormous amount of factual evidence in the public domain?
The overwhelming weight of evidence supports the proposition that Lee Oswald (or whoever) had an accomplice or accomplices. More than 50 of the closest witnesses thought so; the police outrider splattered by Kennedy’s brains thought so; the man who picked up a piece of his skull (30ft behind the limousine) thought so; as did doctors, nurses and pall-bearers at Parkland Hospital and all the independent witnesses at the autopsy. And surely anyone who has seen the Zapruder film and observed Mrs Kennedy climb on to the boot of the limousine to retrieve part of her husband’s skull must know that the fatal shot could not have been fired by Oswald.
The real fantasists are those who insist that Oswald was solely guilty. He was never brought to trial (he was bumped off by a mobster under suspicious circumstances), so his guilt or innocence becomes almost academic. Those who peddle the idea that we can only choose between a lone mad gunman and a labyrinthine conspiracy are the ones dealing in “theories”.
Chris Forse, Snitterfield, Warwickshire
Don't send 'coals to Newcastle'
Why suggest moving the Royal Opera House to the North when we have an excellent opera company, Opera North, providing us with wonderful operas? What we need is more Arts Council money going to opera, ballet and theatre in the North. We have plenty of talent here which only obtains a tiny proportion of Arts Council funding.
Jill Osman, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire
We see a growing UK economy with most of the growth in the South-east, supported by a property-price boom. And interest-rate increases are not far away, with the potential to strangle growth in the rest of the UK before it has begun.
What is the answer – a hike in interest rates in the South-east and no increase for the rest of us? If only it were so simple.
Jim Stanley, Dunfermline
How UK could have real democracy
People will not vote when they know that their vote will not have any effect. We all know that the decision to vote in the next prime minister will be taken by the floating voters in the 50 or so marginal seats.
Mr Cameron is right to claim that austerity for some is here to stay; the cost of reversing the measures will be too great for any parliament to contemplate in our divided society.
Our society will remain divided while the two dominant parties recognise it is in the best interests of their leaders to propound policies that best serve the faction they support.
Is it inevitable that our country remains divided? No. There are unified democracies, but they share a more democratic form of election. Can it be achieved here? It can but it will need a sustained campaign – which will be opposed by all three major parties. Would it be worth the effort? Of course. Compare the success of Germany with the relative failure of the UK. The only change that would achieve this result is the adoption of an alternative vote (AV) method of voting. Other forms of voting reform would only give perpetual balance of power to the Lib Dems, and they have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted.
This change could only be achieved if a sufficient body of independent candidates would stand with this change being the only commitment on their manifesto. Will it happen? Yes, but not in my lifetime. Not before the divisions, widened by this Coalition, become so great that there is risk of a breakdown in the structure of society.
Clive Georgeson, Dronfield, Derbyshire