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Click here to read NI 355 Only child
I always look forward to the Letter from Lebanon. I must congratulate Reem Haddad for wishing her baby to be a girl (NI 355). My husband and I also wanted to have a girl and were pleased when we got her.

Maybe now she can consider the second step we took: in this overcrowded world could she consider being happy with one child? Only children are stronger, healthier and more self-confident than siblings who have to compete for attention far too early for their own good. Our daughter is now 27 and we never regretted giving her no siblings to fight with.

Siegrun & Athol Macgilchrist
Maybole, Scotland

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Israeli goods
Elias Davidsson (Letters, NI 355) is right to remind readers of the enlightened elements within Israeli Jewish society and the need to support joint Israeli-Palestinian ventures. However, his argument against divestment from Israel is less convincing.

First, purchasing Israeli goods supports the occupation. It is impossible to know which Israeli goods are not tainted with components or ingredients derived from the illegal settlements, and many settlement-produced goods are incorrectly labeled as 'Made in Israel'.

Second, while he is right to draw attention to the paranoia in Israeli society, failure to divest will not cure this malaise. Israel will not seek peace while it feels secure about its place in the world; it will seek peace when it understands that the West, particularly the US, will no longer support its actions. A general boycott will help this necessary process of international isolation.

Richard Bartholomew
London, England

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Fewer obstacles
Re 'Going off the mains' in the Water issue (NI 354) - I am concerned about the assumption that householders have to meet all costs in the installation of water harvesting and conservation devices. In some Australian states (Western Australia being the most recent example) householders are subsidized by the state government.

There are also many local authorities throughout Australia where water re-use systems that conform to guidelines set by the state government are readily approved, eliminating the need to 'negotiate a complex bureaucratic obstacle course'. Some local councils, however, do not actively promote these systems as a priority except in situations where they provide the best option in avoiding local surface- or ground-water pollution. While not attempting to defend water-industry practices, whether this is a result of 'the workings of the water industry' remains debatable.

Robert Hooyberg
Stoneville, Australia

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I was outraged when last year the South African Government tried to bury its head in the sand by suggesting that HIV didn’t cause AIDS

HIV rejoinder
I was very disappointed to see H Nabatu's letter in NI 354, trying to cast doubt on HIV's role in causing AIDS. I am a biochemist and, like the rest of the scientific community, was outraged when last year the South African Government tried to bury its head in the sand (and shirk its responsibilities) by suggesting that HIV didn't cause AIDS. This notion was cooked up in the absence of any scientific advice or evidence, and consequently the Government had to retract its grossly irresponsible claims.

HIV does target and infect immune cells (T helper cells) vital for mounting an immune response - we know the cell surface receptors it usurps to do this. We know that an HIV infection will eventually deplete the T-cell population to such an extent that a person will no longer be able to fight off disease (hence the name AIDS: Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Also drugs designed specifically to combat components of the HIV virus significantly delay the onset of AIDS and are what keeps infected Westerners alive for so long; in fact the real AIDS issue is the unavailability of these drugs to developing nations.

Finally, I would like to inform you that research and funding is still being put towards the prevention and cure of malaria and other such diseases. For example the Wellcome Trust, the US's NIH and others, funded the malaria genome project - the genome sequences are available to researchers worldwide; in fact the complete sequences were given free on a CD-ROM with the science journal Nature in February.

I myself am researching possible vaccine candidates for schistosomiasis, a disease which infects some 200 million people worldwide and kills around 800,000 each year (mostly in Africa) and is rated second in developing-world diseases by the WHO. I am part of a research group some 13 strong, who have been working on this problem since the 1960s. In future I would ask that people remember that just because the media isn't interested in reporting such vital work, it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

Gary Dillon
York, England

[This correspondence is now closed.]

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Click here to read NI 354 Fish ladders
I wish to add one more argument in the case against high dams ('Big dams, big trouble', NI 354). High hydroelectric dams, which occur in water-rich areas such as the northwest of North America, are usually on fish-spawning rivers. To allow fish to pass, 'fish ladders' of many types have been devised. However, as the water passes through the turbines, with ever-present air, it becomes supersaturated with nitrogen. Fish at the bottom of such dams never reach the 'ladders' since they effectively get the 'bends' when they breathe in the water from the turbines and the nitrogen is released in their gills, killing them.

Kenneth Pinder
Vancouver, Canada

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It is only the rate of population growth which is slowing. The world’s population is expected to grow by 50 per cent, reaching nine billion by 2050

Population and hunger
The NI is renowned and almost unique in its ability to see through the stupidities and propaganda of our current economic and political systems. It is therefore disappointing that you should publish without question the claim that high populations are not a cause of world hunger ('Ten myths about world hunger', Peasants' revolt, NI 353).

In countries with high and expanding populations the per-capita area available for crops is shrinking, down from a world average of about 0.25 hectares in 1950 to 0.11 hectares now.

It is only the rate of population growth which is slowing. The world's population is expected to grow by 50 per cent, reaching nine billion by 2050. New agricultural land will have to be sourced from marginal land or ecologically important land. New urban centers tend to be located in regions with moderate climates - ie on the land more suitable for crops.

Don Owers
Dudley, Australia

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Hydrogen drawbacks
Don't expect hydrogen as an energy source to come about without great resistance ( 'Islands of hope in hydrogen', Get it right!, NI 352). After all, even wars and countless dollars are not considered too great a cost to protect or extend oil supplies.

A hydrogen-fueled car's engine is said to generate only harmless water vapour. But unless pure oxygen is also carried, nasty nitrogen oxides will be also generated. This comes about because combustion temperatures are high enough to separate the oxygen and nitrogen molecules into atoms, and these are expelled so rapidly that many form into nitrogen oxides rather than go back to harmless oxygen and nitrogen molecules.

You also have the danger of fire from leakage or rupture when transporting a tank of compressed hydrogen. Unlike gasoline or diesel fuel, hydrogen will ignite over a huge range of fuel-to-air ratios. In addition a hydrogen fire, unlike gasoline fires, is almost invisible. This is the time to identify solutions to these disadvantages.

Jim Jedlicka
Freeland, Washington, US

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The other side of the coin
Your Country Profile (NI 352) presented Mauritius as prosperous, having a strong economy, with an average growth rate of over five per cent. Actually Mauritius is paradise for the capitalist and hell for working people.

The African Growth & Opportunity Act mentioned in the article supports US imperialism by attacking the sovereignty of the country and is also creating delocalization of textiles industries into other African countries, resulting in the laying off of workers without any compensation.

The sugar industry, which was once the main employer, is now downsizing its labour force - during the last two years 8,000 workers (about 25 per cent) were called to take retirement. Some were given jobs again in the same sector but with worse conditions.

It is also far-fetched to say that the Creole language is spoken by only 22 per cent of the population. The official year 2000 census puts the figure at 80 per cent.

Rada Kistnasamy

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War in Iraq
Our sincere thanks to the numerous readers who wrote in voicing their protest while the war was still looming. Events have since overtaken us. Whilst we have chosen not to publish these letters, the NI supports the validity of your arguments against this unjust and illegal war.

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Letter from Lebanon

A girl called Raafat
Reem Haddad meets the family hidden behind a grim US statistic.

I could swear I sensed her presence in the room. Maybe it was the many drawings she'd done, hanging on the wall of the family living room. They looked so alive. She'd been good, very good. Her photograph was on the shelf nearby - a pretty girl, about 18, she looked happy. I felt that any time now, she was going to walk in and greet me.

But Raafat was dead and I had never known her. I felt that were she alive, we would have probably been friends. She would have been just a few years older than me and the kind of person I would have been friends with. She believed in Middle East peace, was determined to succeed in life and adored her family. She probably would have taken a strong stand against the war with Iraq.

I felt I had to write her story and tell the world that once there was a girl called Raafat. For until now, she has simply been known as 'collateral damage'.

That, at least, is the term the US Government used when it bombed Libya in 1986, killing 55 people.

I leafed through her school yearbook which lay neatly on the coffee table. There she was again - a smiling girl in her school uniform, looking straight ahead. The caption beneath the photograph read 'most proven willpower'.

Another photograph showed Raafat's mother, father and sister. On the edge, Raafat had scribbled: 'You are the best three things in the world. I luv u.'

I looked up to see the tearful eyes of her mother watching me. Slowly she recounted the events on that fateful night 17 years ago.

Raafat, better known as Fafo, was on holiday. Her parents, Bassam and Saniya El Ghussein, had moved to Tripoli during the Lebanese civil war and Bassam worked there as a petroleum engineer. Wanting Raafat to get a better education than was available in Libya, her parents had sent her off to a boarding school for girls in Britain. More than anything, Raafat loved art and had been accepted at the Heatherly School of Arts in London. She had just begun her first term when she came to spend three weeks with her parents and seven-year-old sister Kinda in Libya. That night, 15 April 1986, Raafat's allergies flared up and she decided to sleep in the living room near the humidifier. With a warmth that her mother still cannot forget, Raafat said how grateful she was to her parents for insisting on sending her to Britain for her studies. That was the last conversation Saniya would have with her daughter.

Illustration: Sarah John On that night 18 US F-111 fighter planes left a military air base in England and flew to Libya. Operation Eldorado Canyon was under way. Their aim was to hit 'terrorist' targets in Tripoli. Believing that Libya was the mastermind behind several attacks, mainly the discotheque bombing in West Berlin that had happened 10 days before, then US President Ronald Reagan ordered the bombing of military sites in Libya.

The last thing Saniya remembered was pulling the covers over herself. She came around to the sound of her husband's voice yelling out to the family. Surrounded by dust, she tried to reach Raafat but was unable to cross over the rubble. She called out to her daughter but there was no answer. She heard Kinda screaming nearby. But nothing from Raafat. It was hours before they pulled Raafat's body from beneath the rubble.

'Where are the terrorists that the US Government came to kill?' said Bassam angrily. 'Well, here is your terrorist. You killed her.'

The Pentagon described the civilian casualties - which included a daughter of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi - as 'collateral damage'.

In 1989 the former Attorney General for the Carter administration, Ramsey Clark, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the families of the 55 civilian victims. The suit was against President Reagan and also named Britain and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for allowing US bombers to use British air bases. A US federal court, however, threw out the case and ordered Clark be fined for filing a 'frivolous' lawsuit.

For the Ghusseins giving up is not an option. They are adamant that the US Government must acknowledge the death of their daughter.

'Just a simple admission that they killed her,' says Bassam. 'Or is it that the US Government has a licence to kill?'

I have visited them several times since and stood mesmerized in front of Raafat's drawings. I wondered how many Afghanis were dismissed as 'collateral damage' and, in the war on Iraq, I wonder how many young girls - talented girls with bright futures - will be killed.

We will probably never know how many, nor their names.

Reem Haddad works for the Daily Star in Beirut.
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