NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Quandary: Malaria Or DDT?

July 26, 2001

Malaria is making a dramatic comeback in parts of Africa. And that is raising a painful choice for Western governments and international relief agencies. Should bans on the use of the chemical DDT -- which was spectacularly successful in destroying malaria-bearing mosquitoes -- be lifted, even though DDT carries its own environmental risks?

  • Malaria -- one of the world's deadliest diseases -- is now striking more than 300 million people a year, and is killing about 1 million of them.
  • Although South Africa had used DDT for 50 years and had all but wiped out the malarial mosquito, it bowed to international pressure in 1996 and prohibited its further use -- substituting far less effective and more expensive sprays.
  • But two years ago, South Africa's malaria rates suddenly skyrocketed to 50,000 cases a year from just a few thousand.
  • Even as the developed world has proposed to ban 12 chemicals as pollutants, including DDT, South Africa has gone back to using DDT once again -- in a so far successful effort to control malaria.

The whole exercise has raised the question of how far rich nations should go in imposing their own values and risk standards on the scourges of poor ones.

Only China and India still produce DDT -- mostly for domestic use. A secretive network of brokers fills most of the rest of the world's demand for it.

When government officials from around the world met in Stockholm in May, they compromised on DDT -- allowing some countries, including South Africa, an exemption from the otherwise global ban.

Source: Roger Thurow, "As a Tropical Scourge Makes a Comeback, So, Too, Does DDT," Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2001.


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