There used to be a TV commercial in which a husband was reprimanded by his wife for not even being able to kill a mosquito that was sitting on her cheek. It was the stupidest work the husband had not done, and the mockery confirms the fact that while male mosquitoes are useless, they only bite female mosquitoes. Jokes aside, the ad would likely hurt the male ego of our city fathers and their predecessors before them. You know all too well that killing mosquitoes is not an easy task. As I type under my mosquito net and stare at the dozen of the tiniest blood-seeking creatures crawling over me, I am visited by the frustrated outburst of a former mayor who notoriously said at the outbreak of Chikungunya that he couldn’t walk in people’s mosquito nets to get them to kill. I share a similar helplessness against this primitive enemy, even at a time when men are sending drones to Mars. My frustration is deepened by knowing that we have not yet modernized our mosquito control strategies.
People have been waging war against mosquitoes for centuries. The war reached military proportions as the British military affiliated epidemiologist Sir Ronald Ross proved the role of Anopheles (translated as “useless”) in malaria and the major in the US Army, Walter Reed, made a similar discovery about Aedes (translated as ” uncomfortable “). ) and yellow fever.
Growing up, we saw planes that were used to spray from the air to kill mosquitoes. Back then, the low-flying airplane specially converted for spray insecticide was a source of immense joy and excitement. It created an atmosphere of total war against the smallest insects. The airstrike was followed by foot soldiers in khaki clothes, who carried heavy brass cylinders on their backs and made targeted attacks in drains and bushes. They even came to people’s homes to spray in areas where mosquitoes were hiding. We didn’t care that such chemicals harm other animals and that the toxins were permanently damaging the environment. However, it felt good to see that something spectacular was being done to solve the mosquito problem. Then there were attempts to introduce larval-eating guppies into the sewers, which turned out to be a project of pouring money down the sewer system. Then fog devices were introduced into the arsenal of mosquito control devices, which previously only included hand-held spray devices.
Most city utility equipment is inoperable, if not out of order, according to an old published report. Then there is the problem of not having enough people to operate the equipment. The effectiveness and price of imported medicines have repeatedly led to complaints and controversy. Millions of taka are spent without success. An employee of the city company explained the inadequacy of their anti-mosquito protection and said that the noisy smoke machines could alert mosquitoes from a distance. While these machines might do well for the adulticide (combating mosquitoes at the adult stage), they weren’t as effective against larvae. The moment the streets are littered with insecticide mist, the insects seek shelter in the plants on our terraces or roof gardens. I think regular warfare has turned into guerrilla warfare.
This is especially true as mosquitoes are known for their uncanny ability to mutate and become resistant to pathogens (chemicals). Recently, the latest in molecular biology is using nuclear technology to sterilize male mosquitoes or to rewrite their DNAs. In China they have already used such techniques with considerable success. Humans are now faced with the question: should they intentionally cause the extinction of an entire species? Many birds, beasts, flowers, and fruits have disappeared due to our neglect, overconsumption, or invasion. Do mosquitoes deserve our ethical concern?
Humans and mosquitoes evolved together. And we share the same desire to chase after the other. Every year more than a million people die from diseases caused by mosquitoes. Our enemies are very subtle compared to the claps we are armed with. They have the sense organs to decide who among us has the right nutrients for them. They have the drill to penetrate our skin and find the blood vessels. And they have the resilience to constantly mutate and survive. But do you have the right to live?
When the European invaders annihilated almost all of America’s indigenous people, they attempted to colonize the area by pointing out that only the civilized had the right to live. They used to bill a poster to offer bounties to dead locals saying, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Of course, they referred to the misunderstanding of Indians that Columbus had landed in India, where the inhabitants were “red”. Shall we now say in a contact zone between species that the only good mosquito is a dead mosquito?
I don’t think anyone in our part of the world will disapprove of this. With dengue fever, zika, chikungunya and malaria still playing a major role, there is hardly anyone who would object to the complete extermination of mosquitoes. In addition to being a nuisance, you are also a threat. They have a mythical reputation for subjugating the most powerful earthly lords. Nimrod, the Mesopotamian king mentioned in the Bible, was killed by a mosquito that invaded his brain. His entire army was also killed by the swarming insects sent by God to avenge Nimrod’s boastful attempt to be equal to the Creator.
After people finally acquire the technology to eradicate mosquito species, the western world is thinking about ethical and environmental issues. They want to make sure that eradicating all 3,500 species of mosquitoes from the world doesn’t harm the ecosystem. Research continues to focus on public health as one of its main sponsors is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which wants Africa to be free from mosquito-borne diseases.
Stories about the resilience of African mosquitoes can be found in African folklore. In Things Fall Apart, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe tells one such story in which a mosquito asks a human ear to marry him. The ear breaks out in laughter: “How long do you think you will live?” asks the ear. “You are already a skeleton.” Since then, whenever the mosquito approaches the ear, it misses the opportunity to remind the ear that it is alive.
This is the reason why mosquitoes always attack the ears. This is the same reason I sing this old song to have the ear of someone in power who will end the threat.
Shamsad Mortuza is Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Humanities in Bangladesh (ULAB) and Professor of English at Dhaka University (on leave).