Published: Sunday 31 October 1999

It is known for its ability to render birds sterile, enter the food chain, persist in its original form without degrading for a long period of time, disrupt the reproductive system and is suspected to have carcinogenic properties. But it seems that dichloro diphenyl trichloroethane (DDT) will not be banned. Recently, at the third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, 115 nations convened to negotiate on the use of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), as such substances are called. But they failed to put in place a moratorium on its use. The reason given was that the substance is needed to combat malaria ( Down To Earth , Vol 8, No 10).
Bearing in mind the adverse effects of DDT exposure on any life form, the World Health Organisation has argued for a balanced position on the substance. It presented its "Action Plan for the Reduction of Reliance on DDT for Public Health Purposes" to the negotiating committee. "Its main goal is to enable our member states to arrive at a balanced and informed position, with the participation of all stakeholders. A balanced position would reflect concern over the often insidious health impacts of DDT's ecotoxity and the important, sometimes vital, role DDT continues to play in malaria control in a number of countries," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general, WHO.
The action plan cover five areas: country needs assessment; safe disposal of DDT stockpiles; international research network; monitoring; and advocacy. WHO also presented an update on its efforts to form the action plan, as mandated by the World Health Assembly in 1997. "Securing the promotion and protection of human health will be at the heart of WHO's action plan," said Brundtland. WHO has already started mobilising support for immediate action needed for organising regional consultations for member states.

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