While the wealthy West has wiped out malaria, it remains deadly to millions in the developing world, particularly in Africa; the annual global death toll from the disease is 1 million. Now activists working to control malaria have won a partial victory over environmentalists who want to ban DDT, the pesticide that's the cheapest, most efficient means of killing the mosquitoes that spread the disease.
Greens have targeted DDT ever since Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962) testified to its possible role in thinning bird egg shells. DDT was one of 10 chemicals marked for banning in the United Nations Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), signed in May by 93 governments. But because of lobbying on the part of anti-malaria organizations, DDT wasn't banned entirely. Rather, it was put in a "restriction" category, as opposed to being targeted for outright "elimination," as were the other nine substances.
The Convention spells out that "disease vector control"—killing mosquitos, that is—is a permissible use for DDT. Those who wish to continue to produce and use the insecticide can only do so with the express permission of the U.N. secretariat enforcing the agreement, and will become part of a public DDT registry.
This is undoubtedly a victory for anti-malaria forces, who feared the U.N. would completely ban their best weapon. But a recent monograph, Malaria and the DDT Story, by Roger Bate and Richard Tren (published by the Institute for Economic Affairs, a British free-market think tank), argues that the Convention is still an unnecessary burden on malaria-plagued countries. They hold that requiring desperately poor nations to develop new bureaucracies to track and report to the U.N. and the World Health Organization about how, when, where, and why they are using DDT will sap scarce resources that could otherwise be used to fight malaria.