DDT ban saves mosquitoes but imperils the poor

As if the tsunami was not devastating enough, citizens in underdeveloped countries must face an even greater threat to human life: malaria, which kills 2 to 3 million people per year. But the most effective solution, the pesticide DDT, is stigmatised due to environmental politics and incompetent bureaucracies, notes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

Several decades ago, DDT severely reduced and even eliminated malaria in many areas of the world until the pesticide was associated with environmental harm and the extinction of the bald eagle.

However, DDT is still the most effective control for malaria, notes Kristof:

  • Countries not using DDT have experienced significant surges in malaria cases, with the disease killing twenty times more people annually than the recent tsunami.

  • After a temporary ban on DDT, South Africa resumed its use in 2000, and malaria cases declined dramatically; other countries, such as Mexico and Ecuador have continued its use over the years, keeping malaria under control.

  • Only small amounts of DDT are needed; an annual application equivalent to the amount sprayed on a 1,000-acre cotton farm in the United States can protect a village of 450,000 people.

    Even environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund approve its use when necessary to combat the disease, but the United Nations and donor agencies refuse to finance DDT programs, says Kristof. As a result, people die needlessly.

    Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, It's Time to Spray DDT, New York Times, January 8, 2005.

    For text (subscription required): http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/08/opinion/8kristof.html

    For more on Environment: Pesticides http://eteam.ncpa.org/policy/Agriculture/Pesticides/

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 18 January 2005
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