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January 8, 2005
Does Nicholas Kristof Read Captain's Quarters?

Earlier this week, Nicholas Kristof wrote a column on Western -- and particularly American -- stinginess when it comes to helping poor nations and their struggles. He gave full marks to the US when responding to emergent tragedies like the tsunami and its victims, but claimed that on more chronic and devastating issues like the rampant malaria that claims as many victims monthly as the tsunami did (so far), we pitch in little money for assistance:

The 150,000 or so fatalities from the tsunami are well within the margin of error for estimates of the number of deaths every year from malaria. Probably two million people die annually of malaria, most of them children and most in Africa, or maybe it's three million - we don't even know.

But the bottom line is that this month and every month, more people will die of malaria (165,000 or more) and AIDS (240,000) than died in the tsunamis, and almost as many will die because of diarrhea (140,000).

And that's where we're stingy.

I wrote in response:

[T]he answer to malaria isn't treating the symptoms as much as it is eliminating the disease altogether. The best proven method for this is DDT. Everywhere it has been introduced it has produced radical decreases in malaria. It's cheap, and the vast drop in malaria cases would allow the more expensive medicine to be prescribed more often. However, environmentalists insist on blocking the use of DDT anywhere in the world, claiming that its effect on the environment outweighs the human lives it saves. That's all well and good in the US, where malaria doesn't exist and other pesticides can replace DDT, but in poorer nations, the other pesticides aren't effective against the mosquitoes that carry malaria.

There are many kinds of stinginess. There are many kinds of aid. Before the Europeans start pointing fingers at our development aid, perhaps they should take a look at how much they spend on their own defense, and how much we've paid for it since World War II. And if the Left thinks that malaria is a good issue on which to discuss American stinginess, then let them take the wraps off of DDT and eliminate malaria in Africa for good.

Well, kudos to Nicholas Kristof, because in his very next column, he answers my challenge. Kristof writes that the time has come to quit allowing environmental squeamishness to get in the way of using the best tool to combat the malaria plague in Third World nations:

In the 1950's, 60's and early 70's, DDT was used to reduce malaria around the world, even eliminating it in places like Taiwan. But then the growing recognition of the harm DDT can cause in the environment - threatening the extinction of the bald eagle, for example - led DDT to be banned in the West and stigmatized worldwide. Ever since, malaria has been on the rise.

The poor countries that were able to keep malaria in check tend to be the same few that continued to use DDT, like Ecuador. Similarly, in Mexico, malaria rose and fell with the use of DDT. South Africa brought back DDT in 2000, after a switch to other pesticides had led to a surge in malaria, and now the disease is under control again. The evidence is overwhelming: DDT saves lives.

But most Western aid agencies will not pay for anti-malarial programs that use DDT, and that pretty much ensures that DDT won't be used. Instead, the U.N. and Western donors encourage use of insecticide-treated bed nets and medicine to cure malaria.

The resistance to DDT costs lives, usually just to enable do-gooders to believe they're protecting other species at the expense of humans. However, DDT does not pose nearly any danger when used properly. No one disputes that the US used DDT in far too large quantities during its legal run here, which led to environmental damage. But the dosages needed to combat malaria -- indeed, to wipe it out -- are much smaller and environmentally sound. Even Greenpeace, as Kristof notes, warns against dogmatism on DDT. But Western aid agencies haven't listened.

Hopefully, Kristof's answer will open some eyes and allow the most potent weapon against the slaughter of the young in Africa and elsewhere to be unleashed, finally. And if Mr. Kristof has become a regular CQ reader, I say -- welcome aboard, sir. (Hat tip: Michelle Malkin.)

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 8, 2005 10:13 AM

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