By Pet Melliza/ The Beekeeper
The government enlisted religion in the anti-dengue campaign which kicks off today (March 24) with bells pealing in all churches of Iloilo province and city.
Well, bells and prayers can’t drive away dengue hemorrhagic fever and its carrier the Aedes albopictus and Aedes aegyptii mosquitoes or any pest or disease for that matter. The campaign to keep Iloilo’s children safe from the ailment misses one key element: it fails to enlist mother nature.
I borrowed the phrase from colleague Larry Locara who comments in his web page that the “four o’clock habit” campaign of the government is only a short term fix that nary touches the heart of the problem.
The “four o-clock habit” mobilizes communities to clean up surroundings every 4 pm to deprive mosquitoes of breeding grounds and hiding places. It includes draining stagnant pools, turning upside down receptacles and burning dried leaves to drive away mosquitoes.
However, Locara notes that it leaves out the “long term solution” of changing practices that destroy the ecology. Restoring nature’s health will also benefit communities, he writes.
That may sound too theoretical but we don’t have to look far to see its substance. Dengue used to strike Iloilo only during the rainy months. Today, with climate change or global warming advancing, dengue is a year-round problem.
The virus has mutated into four more virulent species, which means, once you have been afflicted by dengue, you are still likely to fall ill again unlike two decades ago when, with only one strain, a victim became immune after recovery.
Iloilo City is competing with other dengue topnotchers in Iloilo Province – the towns of Sara, Concepcion, Pototan, Tigbauan, Ajuy, San Dionisio.
The Iloilo City of my childhood was criss-crossed with living ditches abound with tilapia, mudfish and crawling fish (puyu), toads and frogs. Its rice fields teemed with dragon flies. Mosquitoes also thrived in those days but the aforementioned natural predators effectively controlled their population.
You are lucky to find tilapia or puyu in the streams of Iloilo City nowadays.
The towns mentioned above are blessed with industrious farmers who boast of bountiful rice harvests in three cropping cycles per year. On second thought, the same grace also pushes residents of those towns closer to death.
Rice farming in Iloilo depends on heavy chemical use. Farmers use poison that they mistakenly call “bulong” (medicine), to kill pests, fungus and weeds which also wipe out organisms helpful to farmers and humanity in general.
In my boyhood days, the planting period was a season of bounties. Rice paddies and creeks teemed with tilapia, pantat, puyu, mudfish, frogs, tanga-sa-tubig, and snails, among others which supplied farmers the protein and minerals they needed. These predators ate the larvae of pests in water. That included pitik-pitik (mosquito larvae).
Chemical-dependent rice farming wiped those delicacies out. Planting season today is now a period of want which farmers aptly captured in the term “tigkiriwi,” the grimace in one’s face indicating pain, from planting time up to harvest.
It’s not only tigkiriwi but also a morbid season. With natural predators having been wiped out, pest population, including mosquitoes, exploded beyond control. A dragonfly can eat as much as 200 mosquitoes a day; a frog can consume that many times over. A puyu can consume a school of pitik-pitik.
Compounding the dependence on chemicals for farming, other practices threaten natural predators. The use of electric rods to catch fish in streams stun or kill fish, frogs and, larvae of dragon flies.
Further, even at the peak of the dengue scare, harvesting of spiders in the wild have become a matter of course for all. Before, only kids did that. Today, spider fights have become a popular gambling event that afflicts the old and the young. Interestingly, not a single public school or local government unit dared pass a measure or ordinance banning the hunting of spiders and spider fights.
The farmer is caught in the vicious cycle of increasing dosages of chemicals only to double it the next season as pests develop resistance.
Dengue will continue to claim lives; it will continue to rage despite the clanging of church bells so long as the campaign ignores mother nature.