Dengue threat: Who takes the sting for public ponds?

By Megara Tegal and Amreen Ameen, Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

While the government cracks the whip on home-owners and businesses for ‘hosting’ mosquito-breeding places, as the spectre of dengue becomes bigger with 162 deaths up to July 1, what of public places like parks where children come to play and walkways frequented by joggers?

The complaints from the people are many – check out the ponds at the Vihara Maha Devi Park said some, while others directed the Sunday Times to Independence Square.
Some of the ponds at Independence Square and right a pond at Vihara Maha Devi Park.

“The premier local body in the country, the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), has not taken any measures to prevent the park ponds from becoming breeding places for mosquitoes,” said a person who walks through the park daily, pointing out that he has not seen the water being changed at all.
A jogger at Independence Square, who allows her children to sit on the steps of the famous hall with ‘lion guards’ said the ponds there have clean water. How often the water is changed no one knows.

The Vihara Maha Devi Park ponds are cleaned and the water changed once a week. With the exception of one pond, the aeration devices work twice a day which prevent mosquito breeding, insisted CMC’s Director of Land and Environmental Development, Lalith Wickramaratne, when contacted by the Sunday Times on this matter of public importance.

The park has no signs of dengue mosquitoes breeding, he claimed, adding, “We cannot see the eggs or the larvae in the ponds”.

When asked whether the pond water was chemically tested, he did not confirm whether such checks had been made, pointing out that a private company, Hydromet (Pvt) Ltd. is responsible for cleaning the ponds, adding that chemicals are used in the regular cleaning of the ponds.

However, Hydromet’s Assistant Sales Manager Sukumar Wickremasinghe said that the chemicals used for the regular cleaning are only chlorine and algaecides, adding that the company has not been paid for the past month to carry out its duties at the park.

Not only people who come to the park regularly but even some of the workers at the park said the ponds were not cleaned.

Regarding man-made water bodies in other public-frequented places in Colombo, CMC sources claimed that Independence Square is not their responsibility. Try the Cultural Affairs Ministry or the Home Ministry, they urged.

Cultural Affairs Department Director Dr. E.M Abeyratne said the area around Independence Square is cleaned daily, except on Sundays, by the Welikada prisoners and the water in the ponds changed once in three months.

There is no threat of dengue mosquitoes breeding in the ponds as specific fish that feed on the larvae have been introduced, he said.

But people who frequented the area challenged this, stating that they have seen no fish in the ponds and the Sunday Times saw children even bathing in the ponds at Independence Square.

While the number of dengue-affected men, women and children is close to hitting the 15,000 mark and 162 have died this year already, there is an urgent need for the authorities to look into these matters urgently.

The CMC which is handling the ponds in the park, ironically just opposite its imposing offices and the Cultural Affairs Department must ensure that they do not become the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Otherwise, these ponds may very well toll the death knell from dengue for some hapless man, woman or child.

Changing water alone won’t do

Breeding cannot be ruled out, as the dengue mosquito completes its lifecycle in less than a month, explained the Director of the National Dengue Control Unit, Dr. Nimalka Pannilahetti. The dengue larva takes one to two days to hatch and develops in the water for six to nine days.

She stressed that the dengue mosquitoes’ eggs are not visible to the untrained eye and that simply changing the water is not sufficient to prevent breeding, followed by the spread of dengue.

When cleaning the ponds, the sides need to be brushed out thoroughly ensuring that the mosquito eggs are destroyed, otherwise they can be activated one there is water again, it is learnt.

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