By Emil van der Poorten –
The fact that the dengue pandemic has reached the proportions it has, leading, among other responses, to the German government issuing a travel advisory for Sri Lanka does not appear to have “fizzed” on the current bunch of self-seeking politicians posing as those providing us with governance of some description.
Many years ago, after the use of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as “DDT,” as an insecticide was banned, I recall that chemical being used as a last resort in combating a pest that threatened Sri Lanka’s entire coconut industry.
Going back to the “sixties,” a leaf miner was accidentally brought in to the country with, presumably, orchid material from the Far East. It got into the coconut plantations in and around Colombo and proceeded to wreak havoc, spreading farther south and north from where it started.
The Coconut Research Institute headed by Dr. W. R. N. Nathanael and the Board of whose Chair was the much-respected Reg. De Mel took swift action to deal with what promised to be a huge problem. Pending a more permanent solution and buying much-needed time, they took the drastic step of de-foliating the trees by the simple expedient of cutting off their branches and spraying the affected trees with DDT.
Of course, in short order, the wheels were set in motion for a more permanent solution when a parasite which confined itself entirely to the coconut leaf miner was introduced, bred in vitro, and released into the affected areas. I distinctly remember how different the entire manner of “doing business” was in those days. To begin with, two obviously very qualified, scientists were brought down from India. They were lodged in part of a house off Havelock Road in Colombo which doubled as their “laboratory” and proceeded to breed the coconut leaf miner’s parasite in that space. They did so efficiently enough that, without a great deal of fanfare, the pest was completely controlled and life in the coconut-growing areas began to return to normal, with DDT returning to its “banned” slot.
Since the parasite which was introduced to control it couldn’t exist without the coconut leaf miner to feed on, it died out as well once the immediate problem was solved.
An interesting photograph was published on the front page of probably Sri Lanka’s most-read English Sunday newspaper recently. It showed a Thai expert examining a small Bromeliad plant which is an ornamental version of the common pineapple as a probable dengue-mosquito breeding place. In fact, Bromeliads have been identified as a prime breeding environment for the dengue mosquito (Aedes aegeptyi). The implications of this fact, given the extensive pineapple cultivation in the Western and North Western provinces, should be obvious. A footnote here could well be the fact that the Negombo hospital which serves a significant part of the pineapple growing area of Sri Lanka is unbelievably over-burdened with dengue patients, even more so that other similar facilities.
The fatalities resulting from dengue, not to mention, the enormous economic cost to the country in terms of (over-)utilized medical services and massive loss of productivity obviously calls for a drastic solution. Is it time that we began to fog the dengue mosquito areas with insecticides that have been found unacceptable in normal circumstances?
I would be failing in any effort at accuracy and objectivity if I did not refer to another factor that is seriously impeding efforts to deal with this scourge.
The “governance” of which we are now victims, little better than its predecessor and only distinguished from that scourge by the absence of white vans, continues to bedevil any efforts of dealing with day-to-day issues, leave alone something like the dengue pandemic.
If even a part of the effort that goes into to fattening their purses is expended in dealing with an issue such as dengue, some real progress may be made by our rulers. However, what we have is the disgusting spectacle of gallery-fetching initiatives to better publicise all kinds of hare-brained schemes such as that to tunnel under the Kandy lake to “avoid traffic congestion in Kandy town” when the preponderance of vehicles on the streets of Kandy are not passing through but carry people having business in that town. I would not accuse those propounding these ill-conceived schemes of the typical idiocy of people who have lost touch with the realities that the rest of us face on a day-to-day basis. I believe that the simple truth lies in the realm of rip-offs, commissions and other criminality that feasts off this kind of nonsense.
God knows we have enough matters of urgency such as the garbage disposal crisis and that of dengue not to be tolerant of the behaviour of politicians whose primary (only?) interest seem to be in fattening their bank balances either here or off-shore.
The matter of totally unprincipled and venal behaviour on the part of those controlling every resource in this country cannot and must not go unchallenged. These crooks and charlatans must be brought to book and not simply paraded through the national barbecue, “grilled” by this or that inquiring committee and then set free to continue their depredations (with the aid of their successors).
This country does not belong to the Prime Minister or the President, as it did not to the Rajapaksa Horde. It belongs to every one of us inhabiting Sri Lanka and it is up to us to insist on that fact being recognized.