KOCHI:Around two years ago 57-year-old Murugan and his wife arrived in Kochi from Erode in search of a livelihood. Since they didn’t have enough money to rent a room, the couple took shelter in front of a shop near Kaloor bus stand. Many other migrant labourers too had occupied available spaces in front of the shops. Within a few days, Murugan and his wife began working as daily wage labourers. But even after getting work they were not able to rent an accommodation because wages were meagre. Hence, they continued to sleep in front of the shops.
But of late their hardships seem to have increased. Reason: Mosquitoes! Murugan and his wife have to get up early in the morning to hunt for the day’s job. So they try to sleep early.However, for the past two months, they have been unable to get a good night’s sleep. “We have to get up early and take our positions at Kaloor junction in order to be picked up by the contractors for the day’s job. Also, we have to clear the shop front before the owner arrives. But for the past two months, we have been spending nearly a good portion of the night fending off the mosquitoes. Mosquito repellant coils too have failed to deter these tiny menaces,” said Murugan while getting his bedding ready for the night. Earlier they used to get seven hours of sleep, but today the migrant labourers consider themselves lucky if they get to shut their eyes for four to five hours at a stretch.
A break in their sleep pattern has affected their efficiency too. Fed up with the mosquito menace Murugan and his wife are thinking of going back to Erode.Murugan and the migrant labourers are not the only ones who are facing the plague of the mosquitoes. Residents from all over the city are complaining of spending their nights batting away at the buzzing menaces. It has become difficult to venture out especially to the parks, bus and railway stations.
The blood-thirsty insects begin their hunt from 6 pm. According to Nazar Kunjumuhammed, a Mattanchery resident, mosquito frenzy which begins from 6 in the evening continues till 10:30 pm. “After 10:30 pm there is a lull, but the attack resumes at around 3:30 am and continues till 7:30 in the morning,” he said.
The residents are all blaming the Kochi Corporation for failing to take steps to curb the menace. The Corporation allegedly failed to initiate the cleaning and fogging initiatives on time. Though the civic body spends nearly Rs 7.5 crore every year to clean up the canals along with other mitigation measures, mosquito menace continues to haunt Kochi.
Once the sun sets, the one sound that frightens Kochiites is the steady buzzing of over a thousand mosquitoes. Sandeep Kumar, an auto driver, who operates near Kaloor bus stand said, “After six in the evening it becomes impossible to stand near the bus station. The Corporation carries out cleaning drives just for the sake of it. They don’t bother to do the cleaning regularly. Carcasses of animals and other wastes are left rotting in the open in the area.” Sandeep points out the rotting carcass of a crow near the electric post at Kaloor junction.
It seems the only people who are happy about the situation are those selling mosquito nets and repellants. “Mosquito repellents are going off our shelves in large numbers. The demand for them is going up every year. People are trying all available means to tackle the situation, said the supervisor of a hypermarket. People are also buying up nets for their windows and doors to keep the tiny insects out.
As per the data available with the state government, 420 died and over 22 lakh were down with various types of fevers last year. Health Minister K K Shylaja had informed the state Assembly that of the total deaths due to fever, 74 died due to H1N1 and 24 succumbed to dengue, which is spread by mosquitoes.
“If Kochi Corporation had cleaned the canals and carried out fogging across the divisions by December, mosquitoes would not have bred uncontrollably. There are areas in the city where the Corporation is yet to carry out fogging. The lackadaisical attitude of the civic body has led to this situation,” said V P Chandran, Opposition councillor. According to him, salt water should have been discharged into the small drains but the civic body failed to do even that.
Health Standing Committee chairperson V K Minimol was on the defensive even though she admitted there has been an increase in the population of mosquitoes. She said, “We are taking steps to tackle the menace. The lack of sufficient staff is hindering the effective implementation of the steps to fight the menace. There is an audit objection towards appointing workers on contract for the purpose.
The Corporation has allotted Rs 50,000 to each division for mosquito eradication. The councillors can utilise the fund to carry out spraying, fogging and other cleaning activities,” Minimol said.
She said the problem can be solved only through a joint effort, both from the part of the citizens and also the civic body. “Unless the residents understand and act against the source of the problem, this menace will continue,” Minimol added.
(Inputs from Lakshmi G Reghunath and Albert Antony)