The fact that DDT saves lives might account for part of the hostility toward it.
by Walter Williams
Jewish World Review
Ever since Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” environmental extremists have sought to ban all DDT use. Using phony studies from the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the environmental activist-controlled Environmental Protection Agency banned DDT in 1972. The extremists convinced the nation that DDT was not only unsafe for humans but unsafe to birds and other creatures as well. Their arguments have since been scientifically refuted.
While DDT saved crops, forests and livestock, it also saved humans. In 1970, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences estimated that DDT saved more than 500 million lives during the time it was widely used. A scientific review board of the EPA showed that DDT is not harmful to the environment and showed it to be a beneficial substance that “should not be banned.” According to the World Health Organization, worldwide malaria infects 300 million people. About 1 million die of malaria each year. Most of the victims are in Africa, and most are children.
In Sri Lanka, in 1948, there were 2.8 million malaria cases and 7,300 malaria deaths. With widespread DDT use, malaria cases fell to 17 and no deaths in 1963. After DDT use was discontinued, Sri Lankan malaria cases rose to 2.5 million in the years 1968 and 1969, and the disease remains a killer in Sri Lanka today. More than 100,000 people died during malaria epidemics in Swaziland and Madagascar in the mid-1980s, following the suspension of DDT house spraying. After South Africa stopped using DDT in 1996, the number of malaria cases in KwaZulu-Natal province skyrocketed from 8,000 to 42,000. By 2000, there had been an approximate 400 percent increase in malaria deaths. Now that DDT is being used again, the number of deaths from malaria in the region has dropped from 340 in 2000 to none at the last reporting in February 2003.
In South America, where malaria is endemic, malaria rates soared in countries that halted house spraying with DDT after 1993 — Guyana, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. In Ecuador, DDT spraying was increased after 1993, and the malaria rate of infection was reduced by 60 percent. In a 2001 study published by the London-based Institute for Economic Affairs, “Malaria and the DDT Story,” Richard Tren and Roger Bate say that “Malaria is a human tragedy,” adding, “Over 1 million people, mostly children, die from the disease each year, and over 300 million fall sick.”
The fact that DDT saves lives might account for part of the hostility toward it. Alexander King, founder of the Malthusian Club of Rome, wrote in a biographical essay in 1990:
“My own doubts came when DDT was introduced. In Guyana, within two years, it had almost eliminated malaria. So my chief quarrel with DDT, in hindsight, is that it has greatly added to the population problem.”
Dr. Charles Wurster, one of the major opponents of DDT, is reported to have said,
“People are the cause of all the problems. We have too many of them. We need to get rid of some of them, and this (referring to malaria deaths) is as good a way as any.”
Spraying a house with small amounts of DDT costs $1.44 per year; alternatives are five to 10 times more, making them unaffordable in poor countries. Rich countries that used DDT themselves threaten reprisals against poor countries if they use DDT.
One really wonders about religious groups, the Congressional Black Caucus, government and non-government organizations, politicians and others who profess concern over the plight of poor people around the world while at the same time accepting or promoting DDT bans and the needless suffering and death that follow. Mosquito-borne malaria not only has devastating health effects but stifles economic growth as well.
About the Author: Born in Philadelphia in 1936, Walter E. Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from California State University (1965) and a master’s degree (1967) and doctorate (1972) in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles. He teaches economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.