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The Scourge Of DDT: Let There Be No Silent Spring for Mother India

There are better ways to deal with mosquitoes and other pests.

02/01/2017 11:35 AM IST | Updated 02/01/2017 12:23 PM IST
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When I was young, growing up in the jungles of the Himalayas, my mornings were filled with birdsong, as their sweet sonnets rose to the skies to greet the rising sun. Today, those voices are becoming stilled, as the eggs of our earth's angels of the skies become shattered by the over-use of the chemical, DDT, which weakens their shells, destroying the budding life inside.

At the same time, human lives are being shattered by the chemical, which has been linked to cancer, infertility, nerve disorders, premature birth and infant mortality (see here, here, here and here).

A study in the 'Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology' found that even the breast milk of Delhi's mothers now contains this deadly chemical.

People are dying, and so are countless other forms of life, because a dangerous, poisonous and cancer-causing chemical that is banned in most of the world is being sprayed here in India with abandon: saturating our children, bleeding into our drinking water, and leeching into our tissues.

Why are we living under a toxic cloud?

DDT, which is used regularly to control mosquitoes, was first outlawed in the United States nearly 45 years ago—and was banned by 180 countries thereafter—due to evidence that the chemical is a carcinogen that threatens human life, as well as birds, fish and animals. At the time of the US ban, eminent scientist/ecologist Rachel Carson stirred the hearts of the world with her vastly-popular book Silent Spring. In it, she predicts that future historians will someday ask, "How could intelligent beings seek to control a few unwanted species by a method that contaminated the entire environment and brought the threat of disease and death even to their own kind?"

This, I also ask.

Countless families were devastated this year by mosquito-borne illnesses, such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya, meaning drastic matters must be taken in order to ensure we prevent even more suffering in later years. But DDT is not the answer. A study in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology found that even the breast milk of Delhi's mothers now contains this deadly chemical. So, innocent babies are now drinking DDT as part of their first meals, potentially leading to a host of problems that could bring about sickness and death to them and their mothers.

Additionally, due to the over-spraying of DDT that has been done in India, the mosquitoes now are becoming resistant to the poison and are living through the toxic clouds of the chemical to spread disease in more and more instances. So the mosquitoes are becoming resistant and living, and the humans are becoming sick and even dying.

For answers, look to a Swachh Bharat, Mother Nature, and new innovations

Let India not face the same situation that faced 1960s' America, in which said Rachel Carson, "spring now comes unheralded by the return of the birds, and the early mornings are strangely silent where once they were filled with the beauty of bird song." And let us no longer be faced with the epidemic of unnecessary cancers and other diseases due to this toxin. Now is the time for action.

Mosquitoes need water to reproduce, and here in India, our open drains, open sewers and rampant mounds of open trash are providing countless breeding opportunities, leading to their prevalence everywhere.

[A]s alternatives to DDT, we should also look to nature. Neem, for example, has been shown to be an excellent mosquito deterrent...

Even one poly bag or plastic bottle can provide the perfect nursery for an army of young mosquitos, meaning we all carry a great responsibility for keeping our surroundings clean and ensuring the success of the Swachh Bharat Mission. This begins with cleaning our neighbourhoods of all trash, filling in stagnant drains and filthy pools of water, and building and using safely enclosed toilets.

Moreover, to me, God has an answer to every problem, and so, as alternatives to DDT, we should also look to nature. Neem, for example, has been shown to be an excellent mosquito deterrent and pesticide when used properly. Mosquitoes are also repelled by burning camphor. In addition, numerous plants have been found to repel mosquitoes, including tulsi, geranium, marigold, basil, peppermint, citronella, lemon balm, and garlic. We should also work to invite more insect-eating wildlife to our neighbourhoods, including bats, birds, frogs and fish, which feast readily on mosquitoes and their larvae. We can do so by building bird and bat houses and ensuring insect-eating frogs and fish are introduced to stagnant ponds.

In addition, since mosquitoes love coming out at night, it's crucial that insecticide-treated bed nets and window screens be used wherever possible, so that all may safely slumber.

Lastly, science has come up with tremendous innovations, including mosquito baits which use pheromones or other natural chemicals to attract the insects into traps from which they cannot escape. Scientists in London have also created ways to render female mosquitoes sterile, which they say has the potential to forever eradicate malaria within a matter of years. We should seek out these solutions and use them wherever the case fits.

Now comes winter, and with that, the slumber of the mosquitoes that have disrupted countless lives. Let us use this time to plan together, come together, and ensure, together, that our families are kept safe from the double threat of disease-bearing insects and the deadly use of DDT.

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