Monday, April 22

Urban warfare!

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The enemy in your bedroom!

BEFORE the war against rabies from infected dogs or cats in parts of Sarawak is finally over, another fight is likely to start, this time against Aedes mosquitoes. There has been a considerable increase of cases of dengue fever in Sarawak. According to Dr Jamilah Hashim, health director (The Borneo Post – April 10), there were 447 cases of dengue in the first three months of this year compared to 144 incidents for the corresponding period last year. This is an increase of 210.4 per cent!

In a war, it is important to know where your enemy is encamped, and his movements.

Top-secret strategic information: the enemy is holed up in parts of Kuching, Miri, Betong, Sibu, Serian, Kapit, Sarikei, Samarahan, Bintulu, Limbang, and Mukah. How did the Health Department discover the lairs of these mosquitoes? According to Dr Jamilah, it’s from inspections made by its officials of 30,329 premises across Sarawak this year.

The Aedes mosquito can breed in ‘residential houses, vacant lots, building sites, schools, and other places’. Add to the list: abandoned buildings.

Drive around in Kuching during the day and you will not miss noticing those buildings, their compounds are overgrown with tall grass and enveloped by creepers. I have never driven around Sibu or Miri and therefore cannot comment on the situation in those places.

The problem of abandoned buildings is not new. Why has it taken so long for the authorities to act – demolish such buildings or clear the undergrowth – is hard to fathom. According to the Assistant Minister of Local Government Datu Dr Pengguang Panggil, the law (Building Ordinance and Local Authorities Ordinance) is there awaiting application by the local councils.

So why no action? It is very difficult for councils to contact owners of an abandoned building when its officials want to collect rates, for instance.

There are any number of reasons why nobody comes forward to own up: the owner may have passed away, or the property is subject of mortgage which has not been redeemed, or the house is built on land of which the ‘owner’ is not a registered proprietor, etc. However, that does not mean that the building is allowed to become a wildlife camp.

If legal authority is required by which this problem may be handled, the old Local Authority Ordinance – Sarawak Cap. 117 (incorporating all amendments and modifications up to July 31, 1967) may be of help.

Section 37 says, “If, in the opinion of a local authority, any building or part thereof, or anything affixed thereon –

(a) is in a ruinous state, or likely to fall, or is in any way dangerous to the occupiers thereof, or to a neighbouring building, or to the public;

(b) is unfit for human habitation by reason of defective structure, ventilation or sanitation;

(c) is in such a state as to be a nuisance or injurious or dangerous to health; or

(d) unduly obstructs light or air from any other building, the local authority may, by notice in writing, order, within a time to be stated in the notice, the owner or occupier of such building to DEMOLISH AND REMOVE such building, or such part thereof as may be specified in the notice.”

If the existing by-laws are not good enough, then it is the job of the council concerned to acquire more legal teeth for itself, but a solution to the problem must be found, sooner rather than later.

Perhaps, a piece of legislation to protect officials of a local authority demolishing an abandoned building from being sued by the property owner/mortgagee may be enacted, if the existing regulations are inadequate.

The Federal Constitution is clear on this. Article 13 (1) of the Federal Constitution states, “No one shall be deprived of property save in accordance with law.”

I don’t quite understand why it is impossible to find the owner(s) of an abandoned building in a city. A diligent search at the land registry office will reveal the proprietor(s) of that abandoned building, easily and cheaply.

As a last resort, demolish the building and clean up the site and wait for a reaction. The owner or ‘owner’, will scream soon enough!

But if there is a legislation to protect you or give immunity from suits, then you would be doing a good service to the neighbours and the community as a whole.

Cooperation

Cooperation between a local authority and the Health Department is imperative in the fight against the Aedes mosquitoes. The department’s data would be complete if information on the whereabouts of Aedes carriers was shared between the two agencies.

We have seen the important role of the Health Department in this war against the dengue carriers; so everybody’s help is contributory to the success of a campaign to reduce incidents of dengue in Sarawak.

And now, guerrillas!

The secret weapon in this war is called Wolbachia. Last week, Bernama quoted Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah as saying that millions of mosquitoes infected with the Wolbachia bacteria would be released in 10 localities in July this year. In the world of mosquitoes, this would be state-sponsored guerrillas.

Apparently, the pioneer programme, started in 2017 in five localities (in Peninsular Malaysia?) was a success. Four million mosquitoes infected with Wolbachia had been released in the locations somewhere suspected as the breeding grounds for the carriers of Aedes. And this, so they tell us, will put an end to dengue. Well, we all hope so!

How exactly this programme is to be implemented in Sarawak, and how effective it will be, let the experts demonstrate to the locals before or by July this year.

Fight for a dengue-free country!

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