Tuesday, May 03, 2005

When Caution Goes To Far

The Airbus A380 is the world’s largest commercial airplane ever built. Completed earlier this year, it stretches nearly 240 feet long and almost 80 feet high. It can seat 555 passengers on two decks and carry them up to 8,000 nautical miles. By any measure it is a marvel of engineering.

Imagine filling five of these planes to the brim with children—most four years old or less. Now crash them all. Do it every day: seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. That will give you an idea of the African death toll thanks to malaria.

Today the World Health Organization and UNICEF jointly released a report on the disease, concluding malaria kills a child every thirty seconds and siphons off 1.3% of economic growth from the worst affected countries. To combat the disease, the report suggests a variety of methods, including pesticide spraying which admits is the most effective method.

The report even points out the most controversial chemical in this regard—DDT—was principle in eliminating malaria in the West. According to one graph, the sixties witnessed the some of greatest decline in malaria and was the height of DDT use. The WHO still recommends the insecticide for the worst afflicted countries.

But it does not recommend its widespread use. It’s not even mentioned in methods for improving the situation. DDT—a chemical that is safe enough to eat and cheap enough for the struggling countries to afford—is Africa’s greatest hope. But greens continue to oppose it based on the precautionary principle: it might hurt the environment, though there is no evidence that it would. The concerns are unfounded. The consequences are real. DDT could save more lives than a cancer vaccine and make a big step to pulling an entire continent from gut-wrenching poverty. How can we even pause?

2 comments:

Chris said...

The 21st C. is paralysed by the idea that any risk is a risk too far. Compare the Hatfield train crash in the Uk and the agonising response to a vivid incident. Children being taken to school by car as an attempt to reduce risk is a further example. The more remote the risk and the less understandable it is the more likely it is to be over- reacted to by those who manipulate public opinion and form an quasi- industrial pressure group (Greenpeace & the disposal of oil rigs?) That malaria kills many more than AIDS adds more credibility to this blog. AIDS is possibly a killer of westerners & malaria isn't: AIDS is also a novelty which adds to its charisma.

David said...

Actually, I made a mistake. Malaria kills more than cancer, not AIDS. Still, the logic holds.