ILOILO, city and province, has lost its defenses against dengue and continues to lose more. It fails to enlist nature in the fight, its first line of defense in fact.
Let’s retreat to yonder years when Iloilo City’s natural waterways were wide and hosts to vast mangrove forests, when most of its ditches were earthen, neither laid or covered by concrete.
Hobbyists then went to these ditches to catch mosquito larvae to feed their aquarium fishes. “Pitik-pitik” was hard to find because, mudfish, tilapia, gurami, and frogs, among others, also preyed on them. The uncovered ditches had their own vegetative covers that attracted dragon flies and spiders that further drive mosquito population down.
Mangrove canopies were home to birds and insect predators, while the mudflats and stream below them, harboured different sorts of fishes, crustaceans and shells.
If you searched for mosquito larvae along mangroves in Iloilo City in those years, you would be disappointed because natural predators, either winged or finned, got them ahead of you.
So were communities inland which engaged in farming. In those years before government acted as sales agent for multinational agri-chem companies, Iloilo’s (both city and province) rice paddies in the rainy months teemed with fishes, dragon flies and frogs that ate mosquitoes in all stages of their life cycle.
“Dengue” was not yet a notorious entry in the Ilonggo lexicon.
Today, officialdom of the city have laid beds of ditches with concrete and covered these roadside waterways with concrete lids in the name of hygiene and beautification. (That bug also bit the butts of municipalities, including those of our town Igbaras. They turned earthen ditches into concrete thus, preventing rain water to seep down and replenish the aquifer.)
Ditches flowing with water and popping with fishes are rare now. So are dragon flies dubbed “perfect hunters” that eat flies and mosquitoes while on flight. The concreted ditches are now home to “pitik-pitik” mosquito larvae that become adults, multiplying exponentially.
Some of these mosquitoes belong to the species Aedis albopictus and Aedes aegyptii, carriers of the dengue virus that already afflicted more than 900 persons and killed 9 children in Iloilo province alone since January. Iloilo City is yet to release its dengue morbidity and mortality data.
So far, government response to dengue is to tell people to clean up surroundings every day, specifically, gathering and burning garbage which consist of dried leaves and plastics. (The Ecological Solid Waste Management Act penalizes burning of plastics while allows slight burning of dried leaves for “smudging” purposes, that is, to drive mosquitoes away.)
Iloilo Province has done a step farther than the city: the former makes it a policy to treat dengue patients for free (to include free medicines and IV fluids) in all its 12 provincial hospitals, while the latter just contents itself counting its sick and dead from the ailment, and spewing slogans like “My City My Pride!.”
Government invests resources against dengue but forgets a doable measure of enlisting nature in controlling it.
We will never win this war so long as we continue our destructive practices specifically, of polluting waterways that wiped out their flora and fauna.
Controlling dengue remains an uphill climb so long as farms are doused with chemical sprays that kill predators like spiders, dragon flies and frogs and fishes like mudfish that prey on insects that include mosquitoes.
As “beautification” continues to destroys its thinning mangrove stands or “green belt”, Iloilo City is assured of losing the war against dengue.