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Country-club anxieties vs malaria victims

By Paul Driessen
web posted November 1, 2004

Senator and Mrs. John Kerry are big fans of Rachel Carson, whose disingenuous book Silent Spring launched the radical anti-pesticide movement that Terersa Heinz Kerry bankrolls rather handsomely through her family philanthropies.

THK applauds "important gains" like the "banning of DDT and other harmful pesticides" as vital to ending the "devastating triple whammy" that women get from "the chemical soup" they encounter every day from birth control pills, makeup and sunblock, and "daily games of golf" on courses that are "perfectly manicured, thanks to estrogenic pesticides."

"Drift is something we cannot afford when it comes to human rights," she insists. But her notion of human rights often neglects the most basic one: life itself. Her concern about speculative harm from chemicals drifts into intense, misguided opposition to substances vital to preserving life in her native Africa.

Every year, up to 300 million Africans get malaria; up to 2 million die. Millions more perish from typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, malnutrition, AIDS and other serial killers that they would likely survive they didn't also have malaria. Other countries – like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Brazil, Surinam and Peru – also have serious, worsening malaria problems.

Kenya, a country of 31 million, lost 34,000 children in 2002 from malaria, and 170 million working days: people who couldn't work or had to stay home to care for sick family members. Despite spending nearly $350 million in 2002 on the disease, Uganda lost 80,000 citizens. Malaria drives Africa's gross domestic product $12 billion a year below what it would be were the disease not endemic, and drains some $730 million a year from India's economy.

Were the United States hammered by malaria to the extent (per capita) that sub-Saharan Africa is, over 100,000,000 Americans would be infected every year and 500,000 would die – half of them children. Agonizing cycles of 104-degree fevers, body-shaking chills, convulsions, diarrhea and vomiting would leave many unable to work for days or weeks, others with permanent brain damage.

Families would be torn apart, our healthcare system overwhelmed, our economy devastated. We would demand immediate action to end the epidemic – including widespread pesticide spraying – and wouldn't tolerate objections from "the international community."

But we no longer have malaria – thanks in large part to pesticides. We're wealthy, healthy and well-fed. We can afford to have country-club anxieties and feel justified in exporting our newfound environmental idealism.

Through laws, treaties, trade sanctions and aid programs, the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Health Organization, UNICEF, EU, wealthy donors like THK and the environmental activists she supports demand that impoverished, disease-ridden countries never use pesticides – especially DDT. Instead, these countries must entrust their citizens' lives to insecticide-treated bed nets, larvae-eating fish and other politically correct strategies that together may reduce disease and death by 40 percent.

Worse, until mid-2004, the WHO, UNICEF and USAID provided anti-malarial drugs that they knew for years fail as much as 80 per cent of the time.

Rural areas in these countries don't have clinics with electricity and clean water, or even decent roads. They cannot possibly provide nets, drugs or care to hundreds of millions of at-risk people. Vaccines against malaria are still many years away. The simple fact is, without pesticides, millions more will die.

Sprayed on the inside walls of mud-and-thatch homes, DDT keeps 90 per cent of the mosquitoes out for six months or more, kills any that land on the walls, and irritates the rest, so they don't bite. Contrary to popular belief, it is safe for people and planet. DDT's alleged toxicity to wildlife was due to faulty, even fraudulent lab studies, its being mixed with petroleum distillates, and discharges of lead, mercury, PCBs and other chemicals into waterways. No peer-reviewed study ever found it to be carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to humans.

South Africa and other countries have proven beyond doubt that using DDT in conjunction with modern artemisinin drugs slashes malaria disease and death rates by 90 per cent or more. To say poor countries should be content with a 40 per cent reduction is an intolerable human rights violation.

But malaria-free activists and countries bullied dozens of poor nations into signing the Stockholm Treaty, committing them to phasing out pesticides. They've now eviscerated the exemption for pesticides to control disease, by warning of aid cuts and bans on agricultural produce bearing traces of DDT, and emphasizing rich-country concerns about early lactation, aesthetics (DDT leaves a white residue on walls), "detectable" DDT in breast milk, and supposed harm to birds.

"I lost my son, two sisters and two nephews to malaria," says Ugandan businesswoman Fiona Kobusingye. "Don't talk to me about birds. And don't tell me a little DDT in our bodies is worse than the risk of losing more children to this disease. African mothers would be overjoyed if that were their biggest worry."

Novelist, film producer and PhD molecular biologist Michael Crichton says "banning DDT is one of the most disgraceful episodes in the twentieth century history of America. We knew better, and we did it anyway, and we let people around the world die, and we didn't give a damn." Until an alternative is found, said the New York Times, "wealthy nations should be helping poor countries with all available means – including DDT." The Washington Times, Chicago Sun-Times, clergy, doctors, civil rights leaders, Ralph Nader and many others agree.

They recognize that banning pesticides results in millions of needless, unconscionable deaths. However, even the fitful progress that their efforts represent is threatened by renewed pressure from "environmentally sensitive" and "socially responsible" activists, funded by the billionaire doyenne who seeks to be the next First Lady and Presidential-Adviser-in-Chief.

They continue to fret about distant, hypothetical risks from chemicals and non-organic food. Meanwhile, millions of malnourished parents and children in malaria-ridden countries are dying to find out if THK and her husband understand or care about the real, immediate, life-threatening dangers the world's poor confront every day. 

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality, senior fellow with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power · Black Death.

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