Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fighting Malaria Without DDT

There's been a lot of talk over the last few years about the need to use DDT to fight malaria. The argument goes like this--"First world environmentalists are putting birds ahead of people. DDT kills mosquitoes that kill people. We need to use DDT to save people's lives."

The problem with this calculation is that buys whole-hog into the technology fetish of American (and Western) culture that has been prominent for the last 200 years. We constantly believe technology can solve all our problems. If there are mosquitoes giving people malaria, let's use powerful pesticides to kill them, regardless of the consequences. If we need more water, let's build a bigger dam. If it's too hard to fry an egg, let's get one of those microwave egg cooker deals.

Not only do these technologies have unintended consequences (such, as say, sending birds to extinction), but they are often unnecessary. The World Health Organization has announced that they can fight malaria without DDT. A pilot project in Mexico and Central America has led to a drastic reduction in malaria over the past few years through a variety of methods that do not require poisons.

Not only is this a great thing because it saves lives, but it's also great because it challenges the technology fetish. This is a great piece of evidence in support of creative thinking and policy planning and against a reflexive reliance on chemical technologies.