Italian divers have now recovered more bodies from the boat carrying African migrants off Lampedusa. The divers “unpacked a wall of people,” with corpses “so entwined, one with the other, they are difficult to pull out”.
Tens of thousands of migrants attempt the perilous crossing from North Africa to Sicily and other Italian islands each year, and accidents are common. What is the cause of this burgeoning human catastrophe?
According to the World Bank, since 1960, the population of Somalia has grown three-fold from 3 million to 9 million, Ethiopia’s population has grown four-fold from 20 million to 80 million and in Kenya a massive five-fold increase has occurred, from 8 million to 40 million.
Such increases in population in the very poorest parts of the world drive famine and strife, which lead to desperate mass migration.
However, major charities have persistently refused to acknowledge the need to accompany their food-aid programmes with family planning initiatives. In taking this politically self-interested position these charities have actually fuelled the scale of the tragedies unfolding in the poorest parts of the world, including Africa.
Alan Stedall, Birmingham
Peter Popham (11 October) asks what is in Europe’s power to do to change the political and economic situation in places like Eritrea and Somalia and prevent another Lampedusa? And the answer is absolutely nothing, because the only thing that would stabilise those situations would be European “boots on the ground” for a very long time – and we no longer have either the boots or the will for that. The rest is just so much useless talk.
R S Foster, Sheffield
Child protection lost in the void
In your report (11 October) about yet another debacle in Haringey children’s services you refer to lack of communication between the various departments.
In December 2008, following the Baby P tragedy, a council meeting of the “Children and Young People’s Strategic Partnership Board” was held at the Wood Green Civic Centre, and a small group of us activists for child protection in our chaotic borough attended as observers.
As we sat to one side, 28 representatives of the over-multiplied Haringey children’s agencies crowded around a huge rectangular structure formed out of 12 long trestle tables arranged in four rows of three. This structure was so wide that notes could not be passed from one side to the other but had to be frisbeed across or passed around in flurries of scattered documents.
It was so long that when the speakers at one end of the table were waffling about improving communication, those at the other end were shouting that they could not hear what was being said. It would have been side-splittingly funny, had the consequences of such anarchy not been so heartbreaking.
It was a long time ago but I found my notes on the meeting with very little difficulty. I just typed “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” into my computer search panel.
L Rivlin, London N10
On BBC radio news I heard a striking Manchester teacher declare: “We [teachers] deliver a quality product to our children.”
I worked as a teacher for 40 years and have recently retired from 10 years as governor of the local comprehensive, and know that the Manchester teacher’s comment was so partially true as to be rubbish. At my former comprehensive the best departments achieved over 60 per cent A-C grades for their GCSE pupils, delivering a quality product, but the worst languished at 30 per cent, letting down their pupils dreadfully.
At every school where I taught the same discrepancies existed. In the last, the best departments achieved 80 per cent A and A*, the worst about 50 per cent. Of course there will be a variety of results and the very best departments will always shine out, but in all schools that I have had experience of the discrepancies are too wide.
Two surgeons at Cornish hospitals have been suspended because the success rate of their operations was below par. It is much easier to measure teachers’ success rates than doctors’ and I suggest that the process of naming and suspending heads of poorly performing departments start forthwith.
Charles Noon, Cadeleigh, Devon
Not sexism, just sex
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown conflates sexism and sexuality (“Women are complicit in misogyny”, 14 October). Sexism, misogyny and misandry are unacceptable, but sexuality is hard-wired, though it may be modified by cultural, political, legal, and philosophical factors.
As soon as you set yourself up as a judge of how consenting adults may express their sexuality you are on the road to repression. Whatever Yasmin might think of Fifty Shades of Grey, the phenomenon it has created has proved that many women refuse to be infantilised by censorship, and will decide for themselves what they want to read. Would she like to return us to the days of the Lady Chatterley case, when Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously said: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
I must stop now, I need to book tickets for the British Museum shunga exhibition. Joan Bakewell spoke very highly of it on Radio 4.
Nigel Scott, London N22
Will GM rice save lives, or money?
Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, chooses his comments carefully in his support for genetically modified crops (interview, 14 October). He must know that the chief argument is not over whether they are safe to eat but whether they are safe to grow.
He stresses the potential value of golden rice, without drawing attention to the fact that this is apparently the only example of a GM crop which is designed for the benefit of the consumer. The bulk of GM developments are for the benefit of the producers, under the guise of agricultural “efficiency”.
There is a huge body of evidence to show that the safest, most efficient and sustainable approach to feeding the world is to encourage local independent farmers with disinterested scientific support to develop their own seed varieties.
Sarah Thursfield, Llanymynech, Powys
I looked in vain in John Sauven’s article on GM rice (Voices, 15 October) for any evidence of risks to health, food security or wildlife. Mr Sauven makes light of the risks of vitamin A deficiency, which affects children’s immune systems and kills around two million every year in developing countries. It is also a major cause of blindness and diarrhoea. Boosting levels of vitamin A in rice appears to provide an obvious way of helping to combat this problem.
Two studies, both published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, dismissed the claim that the amount of vitamin A in golden rice was too small to be of benefit. The second was published last year. It found that a bowl of cooked golden rice, between 100g and 150g, could provide 60 per cent of the recommended intake of vitamin A for young people.
Of course GM is not the only solution, and of course varied and adequate diets are needed. But this has not happened in many parts of the world. So why rule out another avenue for nutrition?
David Simmonds, Epping, Essex
The World Health Organisation had a plan to end vitamin A deficiency by 2000, well before the advent of genetically modified “golden rice”. The programme of fortification and dietary diversification failed to reach its goal solely because of a lack of political will to supply the resources.
Owen Paterson’s belated hand-wringing over the fate of poor children with vitamin A deficiency conceals the complicity of governments in their fate. This failure is outrageous indeed, but it has a political cause and is not due to a lack of GM food.
The diets of poor children are also likely to be deficient in other micronutrients such as iron, and to be low in protein. Must they wait and suffer until rice has been genetically engineered to improve these traits before they can have an adequate diet? That does sound wicked to me.
Dr Sue Mayer, Litton, Derbyshire
Cashing in on Royal Mail
Courtesy of the government sell-off, Royal Mail shares are now being sold on the open market with investors making more than £300 profit each. Would Messrs Cameron, Osborne, Duncan Smith et al care to remind us how strongly they object to the “something for nothing” culture?
Peter Cave, London W1
Assuming the Queen continues to adorn UK postage stamps, will she be paid for display of her image? Or will she be treated as an advertiser? In either case we, the taxpayers, should be informed.
Lory R Rice, Milton Keynes
With Royal Mail privatisation, whose inspiring iconic visage might one day appear on our postage stamps: that of George Osborne? Rupert Murdoch? Mickey Mouse?
R A Soar, London N1
Professor Hamilton (report, 9 October) is right that there is no “market” in the sense of different prices for different qualities of education. A market based on cost would simply exclude almost everybody – including the average Conservative voter’s family – from being able to afford his prices. A flooded market should force prices down, but of course Oxford isn’t part of a market with other, newer universities. It is in a market with Cambridge, which means he could charge what he liked and still fill the place with the undeserving rich.
Clive Tiney, York
Ian Herbert (15 October) notes that the Wales football team had a crowd of only 11,250 for their match against Macedonia last Friday. But let’s put that in perspective. If you allow for the relative populations of the two countries, Wales’s crowd was bigger than was England’s for their match at Wembley the same night.
Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury
All in it together
Alex Taylor’s letter (15 October) was right in every respect. However, it was aimed at too narrow a target. If, as he rightly says, the middle classes are suffering, and their offspring destined to suffer even more, what hope is there for those who are at the bottom of our class system?
Bill Fletcher, Cirencester, Gloucestershire
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