Water won't run uphill: the New Deal and malaria control in the American South, 1933-1940.


Journal Article

During the 1930s the United States Government poured significant funds into malaria control, via a variety of New Deal agencies. These projects were largely confined to drainage of mosquito-producing wetlands. Malaria had diminished significantly by the early 1940s, and this paper queries whether that reduction was due to the control projects of the thirties, and, if so, whether such projects should be a model for the current developing world, where malaria is a growing problem today. Malaria statistics from the 1930s and 1940s are unreliable, making this assessment, from the outset, complex. Further, the so-called "malaria projects" from the 1930s were, in fact, poorly planned "make-work" enterprises promoted by the Works Projects Administration and its ilk for the creation of unskilled, ditch-digging jobs. The drainage work lacked the oversight of competent engineers (many of them proving, in fact, that water wont's run uphill), and little of the work had permanent impact as the ditches were not maintained. Further, the work was not necessarily concentrated in malarious areas, since the unemployed's distribution did not overlap that of greatest mosquito density. Of the conflicting goals--unemployment relief and malaria control--the former consistently dominated the latter. The results were predictable. The author suggests that the depopulation of the rural south in the late 1930s had more of an impact (albeit indirect and unintended) on the malaria rates than did the large sums spent allegedly for the purpose of malaria control.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Humphreys, M

Published Date

  • June 1998

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 40 / 1-2

Start / End Page

  • 183 - 191

PubMed ID

  • 9653745

Pubmed Central ID

  • 9653745

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0048-2951


  • eng