The risk transition and
Kirk R. Smith
Economic growth through technological development helps meet many basic human needs in developing countries. It is clear, for example, that increased availability of chemicals through importation and local manufacture has improved public health, food production, comfort, and labour efficiency. On the other hand, tragic events (e.g. the Bhopal accident, the Chernobyl disaster) and long-term problems (e.g. chronic excessive exposures to pesticides) have raised questions about the way chemicals and other technologies should be introduced in the development process. In addition, the global impacts of particular chemicals (ozone-damaging greenhouse gases) are commanding growing attention in countries throughout the development spectrum. In some cases, the concern suggests that the benefits of certain classes and uses of chemicals may not sufficiently counterbalance the attendant risks; on the other hand, it is plausible that excessive attention to safety can sometimes inhibit industrial development to the point where no overall benefit is achieved (Kates 1978; Whyte and Burton 1980).
Other classes of health risk follow similar patterns. For example, many poor countries are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters such as those caused by violent cyclones and earthquakes (Hewitt 1997; Mileti 1999; Munich Re 1999; United Nations 1999; USNRC 1987a). Increased attention to disaster forecasting and mitigation would have benefits, but at some investment of financial, managerial, and scientific resources with, perhaps significant, opportunity cost (Mitchell 1988, 1999).