The WHO has just said it now wants DDT to be used to combat the disease in Africa. What can we make of this?
Firstly, that there are no alternatives to DDT. Secondly, that DDT is effective still. Thirdly, that chemicals are the critical factor behind malaria eradication. Fourthly, that there is something new in the science that allows for this change.
None of these are strong arguments. There are alternatives to DDT and many countries have used these to get rid of mosquitoes. The Pesticide Action Network of North America tells us the success stories of Vietnam and Mexico. In most parts of India where malaria is rampant, poverty and the lack of access to a clean environment or basic resources is shocking. If anything, it indicates the government has not delivered. How can anyone then deal with malaria or any other severe illness? Obviously, poverty, being disenfranchised and being where the governance is a critical factor in determining the impact of malaria. This is precisely what is happening even in Africa, the war zone of the world.
Science progresses and that our understanding and the resultant policy making should be responsive to that progress. But science is saying more of the same: DDT is dangerous for the present and the future generation. It's the same science that has got the Stockholm Convention to put DDT on its list of priority phase-outs.
One can appreciate that the alarm bells are ringing. AIDs has already devastated the present in Africa. Will Malaria ruin the future too? The problem is that DDT, once used, is bound to present to the next generation a host of its toxic characteristics that will deeply impact them.
Two steps back
This week, Hamid Karzai ushered Afghanistan's inclusion into modernity by inaugurating a Coke factory. No, he does not have to blindly believe the unfortunate Indian experience next door, but he could have taken a moment off to think. For one, he might have asked why American Universities have banned the brand on campus. He may have then wondered about the company's mining of water and wringing dry the area around its factory in India. He may have recalled the fact of pesticides found twice in the drink. He may have recalled the human rights violation in Columbia. Can Afghanistan, its processes still being put together, ever have dealt with these insults?
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