President Could Help Tsunami Victims With Stroke of Pen

The Bush administration undertook some of its own disaster recovery last week by increasing U.S. aid to tsunami victims from $15 million to $350 million.

But much more could, and should, be done for the health and economic development of the tsunami victims and of other developing nations' populations.

The President could start the process of providing that much-needed relief with the stroke of his pen — and it wouldn't cost U.S. taxpayers one cent. All President Bush needs to do is to withdraw the U.S. from the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (search) (POPs treaty).

Tentatively agreed to in May 2001 by 90-plus nations, including the United States, the POPs treaty is intended as a means by which the United Nations and other international bureaucrats can control the use of industrial chemicals.

The treaty became effective in May 2004 after France became the 50th nation to ratify it formally. Though the Bush administration has endorsed the treaty, the Senate has not yet ratified it. So the U.S. is not yet bound by its terms — which would impose deadly consequences on much of the developing world.

The POPs treaty bans or restricts the use of 12 targeted chemicals alleged to cause human health effects, including cancer, and to harm wildlife. One of the chemicals targeted by the POPs treaty is the insecticide DDT — which, as discussed in earlier columns — was banned by the U.S. in 1972 based on junk science.

The POPs treaty limits how much DDT nations may store, how they can acquire it, and when and how they can use it. These rules will increase the cost of, and delay access to, the only effective defense against the mosquitoes that transmit malaria.

"The POPs treaty could virtually eliminate the use of DDT, perhaps the most affordable and effective pesticide and repellant in existence, " said Richard Tren of the Africa Fighting Malaria, a nonprofit health advocacy group based in South Africa and the U.S. that focuses on the political economy of diseases and disease control in developing countries.

The World Health Organization (search) estimates that each year, malaria kills millions of people and cuts the GDP of African nations by 1.3 percent and costs them $12 billion in economic losses. The POPs treaty will only guarantee that such health and economic devastation continues. Though none of the 12 chemicals now included in the POPs treaty are manufactured in the U.S. anymore, Congress and the chemical industry favor U.S. participation in the treaty because, they claim, it will give them a say in future additions and modifications to the list of banned chemicals.

President Bush endorsed the POPs treaty in May 2001, after he pulled the U.S. out of the international global warming treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol (search), leading some to suspect that his endorsement was intended to earn him a reprieve on environmental issues with Europeans, Democrats and environmentalists.

Whether or not these reasons are valid, they will nevertheless help doom millions to death and economic hardship. Though U.S. rejection of the treaty won't stop the treaty from taking effect worldwide, as long as the U.S. doesn't participate, hope will remain alive for increased life-saving use of DDT.

The ongoing malaria catastrophe with its death toll in the millions has not, and in all likelihood, will not, likely get even a fraction of the media coverage devoted to the recent tsunamis — even though its costs are orders of magnitude higher.

Fighting malaria by promoting the use of DDT is not nearly as glamorous as publicly pledging millions in tsunami aid or photo-ops in devastated areas — advocating DDT, unfortunately, takes much political courage. But that would be just about the only cost incurred for an effort to save millions of lives and livelihoods.

Environmentalists Dispute Quotes

Last week's column cited quotes from the British branches of two environmental groups, Greenpeace (search) and Friends of the Earth (search), blaming the Indian Ocean tsunami on global warming. I pulled these quotes from interviews group spokesmen gave to the British newspaper, The Independent.

Both groups have disputed the quotes. In a letter to the Independent, a version that was also sent to, Stephen Tindale, executive director of Greenpeace UK, and Tony Juniper, executive director of Friends of the Earth in London, wrote:

"Sir: On 23 December — before the earthquake and tsunami — we were asked by The Independent to comment on the dramatic increase in insurance claims resulting from hurricanes, droughts, floods and other early impacts of climate change. Our quotes appeared in an article on 27 December, as part of your coverage of the tsunami. For the record, we would like to make absolutely clear that earthquakes are not a result of climate change and we have never sought to make any link."

However, it still seems that environmentalists are seeking to exploit the tragedy.

For example, a similar quote from the Indonesian spokesperson for Friends of the Earth has not been disputed. And let's not forget that Greenpeace is not exactly innocent of trying to link tsunami-like disasters with global warming in the minds of the general public. All you need do is visit Greenpeace's own Web site promoting the global-warming disaster movie "The Day After Tomorrow," which features a photo of a giant wave hitting an urban area with the doctored caption, "The Day is Today: What Will You Do?"