Systemic issues of India Urban Planning Vector borne diseases

Open letter to municipal commissioner

As this looks to be a season of open letters!!

Dear Municipal Commissioner,

I hope you are well. I have to ask you this because being well in Ahmedabad is no longer something that one can take for granted.

I am sure that you are earnestly embattling the malaises that have gripped the city; but, as a citizen with access to only superficial information about your efforts, I am forced to judge your actions only from the random pouring of strange white powder near puddles by cleaners and mysterious visits of fogging machines. So, very frankly, I am worried about how are you planning to defeat the bunny-maths of mosquito population.

Just like the rabbits in the proverbial mathematical problem, population growth of mosquitoes follows exponential progression over each generation. And, in this dreadful maths, what you start with matters the most. So, the real dealmaker in mosquito-borne diseases is the end-of-the-season mosquito number, as it serves as the seed population for next wave.

Historically, the number of mosquitoes surviving after each cycle depended on the availability of water and temperature. Unfortunately, both these factors are getting adversely hit by our irrational obsession for water and the now-apparent global warming.

While ancient times did see intense increase in mosquito-borne diseases post-monsoon, city never suffered with such a great intensity in past because, after natural evaporation of free-standing rainwater mosquito-breeding declined, reducing the seed population for next year down to a small number; but, with water-retaining structures built all over the city, we have disturbed this traditional cycle of population dynamics of mosquitoes.

What you are facing is a new and unprecedented situation. We have built a city that is hospitable to mosquito-breeding round the year (with global warming helping mosquito’s cause). So, the seed population is becoming bigger and bigger in each season. We are now heading for a situation where, during next post-monsoon peak season, we can expect mosquito clouds to descend over the city!

If this looks like a speculative sci-fi story, I assure you that we will not be the first place on earth to witness the phenomenon. Mosquitoes are such efficient breeders that, even in extremely cold Arctic region, where warm season is of just couple of weeks, mosquitoes use this minuscule window to breed into astronomical numbers, and are known to kill reindeer just by sucking its blood. So, in Ahmedabad, with its lovely hot weather, there is a near certain possibility of this nightmare turning into reality in next couple of seasons.

So, if you wish to win the war instead of small battles, you must focus on the seed population more than anything else. Please consider attacking the mosquito population with focused intensity when the weather gets colder and hostile to mosquitoes, as it will hit the seed population. One mosquito killed during this period may mean a million less after six months.

One more technological tool available for your consideration is remote sensing. As mosquitoes require warmer water to breed, one great way to make life difficult for them is to watch water temperature (easily done using modern infra-red imagery tools) and take proactive steps when condition is conducive for this pest.

In addition to this, Ahmedabad also needs to get real about its obsession for water-retaining structures. As a rule-maker, you should evaluate possibility of preventing rampant use of water for beautification, as this beauty comes with a very big price-tag.

The war you are fighting is an ancient one. Sitting comfortably in our technology-cocoon, we have developed an illusion about our supremacy over forces of nature; but let us not forget that mosquito has a history of destroying cities.

So, all the best for the war you must fight for all of us!

I am happy to admit that I have managed surviving till now with minimum effort as all my intellect has be used to avoid doing anything meaningful. As I needed to while all the free time I generated in course of being lazy, science has been my favorite muse that I have enjoyed company of. As an effort to kill time (in a way, to get even with it) one fine day I decided to write a science column, more for my personal amusement than to attract readers. After getting educated about the attention span of modern readers from my editor, it became more like a challenge to tackle esoteric subjects in 600 words that I have managed to remain interested in for more than a year now. I do not want to add my worldly profile here as these are ideas that need to be considered only on the merits they carry and not as an opinion of a certain human being.

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