Sunday, May 22, 2011

Uganda Weighs Costs of DDT in Insecticide’s Return -

... Bosco Acope was a self-made man...At 19, he became a small-time farmer, with one acre of land. ...

When the American government ... began an organic-farming program to help rural economies here, Mr. Acope expanded, selling a wide variety of commodities at good rates.  His one acre became seven. ...

Faced with unrelenting malaria, which threatened both lives and livelihoods, Uganda’s government teamed up with the United States to use chemical insecticide sprays — including DDT — to try to eliminate the disease. Mr. Acope’s home district, Apac, which has some of the highest malaria rates in the world was chosen for spraying in early 2008.

Mr. Acope said an official from the organic-farming company he sold to, which was also supported by the United States, warned that the sprays were dangerous. Mr. Acope’s produce would no longer be guaranteed to be organic — especially since many crops were stored indoors, where the spraying occurred — nor would it be bought at a lucrative price. “I was told to protect my market, to try to stop the spraying,” Mr. Acope said. “But the whole village was sprayed.”

One morning, he recalled, he watched a group of men in gas masks who were carrying metal canisters pass through the village, and just like that, Mr. Acope’s organic-food market was gone....The chemicals in the insecticide lasted so long that the organic-farming companies said they would not be back for 15 years.

So Mr. Acope is helping to take his government to court.

Once condemned as poisonous and inhumane, DDT has staged a recent comeback. In 2006, the World Health Organization strongly endorsed the chemical’s use on indoor walls as a cheap and long-lasting weapon in the fight against malaria. ...

The United States sprayed DDT to eliminate the last remnants of malaria across North America. The disease’s eradication was a milestone in public health and development. Malaria almost thwarted construction of the Panama Canal and “influenced to a great extent human populations and human history,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

But the United States banned the use of DDT in 1972 over the chemical’s hazardous environmental impact. Studies have also linked DDT to diabetes and breast cancer. One examination of the consequences of using DDT to fight malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said the chemical might have increased infant deaths.

Still, the risks of not spraying are clear as well. In Africa, malaria kills 2,000 children each day, according to Unicef, and costs approximately $12.5 billion in lost incomes each year, the Malaria Consortium says.
“It really affects the whole fabric of the economic system in Africa,” said Dr. Patrick Lukulay, a consultant to a United States Agency for International Development initiative to treat malaria. “It prevents people from being productive citizens.”
Now Uganda’s constitutional court is expected to hear a case brought by a Ugandan environmental organization against the government that asserts that officials failed to meet W.H.O. standards for using DDT, including failure to properly prepare the local population.
An American-owned company, Dunavant, had 50,000 certified organic farmers in areas affected by the spraying, according to the Uganda Network on Toxic Free Malaria Control, the organization taking the government to court. Shares, another farming company, said at least 16,000 of its suppliers were affected.
“At a certain point bendiocarb will fail,” said Richard Onen, a field coordinator for Abt Associates, a business contracted by U.S.A.I.D. to carry out its indoor spraying program. “I cannot rule out the possibility of using DDT. It is cheap.”

But there are questions as to how well DDT worked in Uganda in the first place. “Mosquitoes had become resistant to the DDT,” said Kale Dickinson, a nursing officer at a local health center. “DDT was not effective.”

For Lillian Etime, Mr. Acope’s neighbor and a mother of six, the death of her chickens during the first round of spraying set off alarm bells. “

by Josh Kron
The New York Times
May 18, 2011

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