With another dengue epidemic raging and this year’s number of victims being the highest ever, the Government needs to act immediately on some practical and concrete proposals made by a leading chartered architect and town planner to curb the dengue menace where the victims are mainly children.
The chartered architect Elmo J. De Silva points out that one of the favourite areas for dengue mosquitoes to breed are roof gutters. He says roof gutters need to be cleaned and maintained regularly but this is not often possible due to the height of the building and the inaccessibility of the roof gutters. The dengue mosquito breeds in clean water. Due to the inaccessibility of the roofs, the gutters are rarely cleaned and may not be checked by officials who visit houses regularly during apparently unsuccessful dengue prevention weeks.
Traditional Sri Lankan architecture had no roof gutters, but had projecting gable ends and wide roof eaves and therefore this was not an area of concern. However most buildings recently designed have gutters which have become fertile grounds for dengue mosquitoes to breed.
Some years ago Sri Lanka imported large stocks of BTI bacteria from Cuba with high hopes of eradicating the dengue epidemic as Cuba has done. But it did not work obviously because Sri Lanka did not take another step that Cuba did—the banning of gutters. The dengue task force officials have asked residents to clean the gutters regularly but residents say it is not possible to find labourers to do this regularly and it is dangerous for residents to try to do this. It is also risky to climb onto the roofs of many storied, old or dilapidated buildings.
According to the chartered architect, during a recent visit to Singapore he noted that buildings are designed without gutters. In 2005, a circular banning roof gutters was sent to the authorities and architectural firms by the National Environmental Agency of Singapore. In Thailand also, roof gutters are banned.
He says he noted that architects have successfully taken up the task of designing buildings without gutters. Furthermore, many buildings in Singapore have won international awards and recognition while rain water disposal has been successfully tackled. Architects in Singapore have obeyed this decision as their civic and social responsibility. He says architects in Sri Lanka also need to do this and be patriotic in a time of crisis.
The architect says Sri Lanka’s powerful Urban Development Authority—headed by Defence Secertary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and playing a major role in modern development--should implement a law banning gutters. The law should insist that when state or private institutions and house builders apply for permits they should be issued only if there are no gutters. The architects must be asked to use creative methods of disposing rain water, instead of gutters.
Going from top to bottom, another major problem in dengue prevention or eradication is the clogging of public drains in many parts of the city, suburbs and even in villages. Drains are clogged for various reasons, one main reason being the irresponsible disposal of “sili sili bags” which are not bio degradable and block the drains for years. Dengue mosquitoes breed in these drains also.
Many residents say that when they complain to their local councils they are told to go to the Road Development Authority (RDA) which in turn send them elsewhere till they end up in the drain or the dengue ward.
Such irresponsibility must be stopped and it would be necessary for the UDA to act effectively in such cases also.