The dengue fever epidemic in Kaohsiung continues to worsen: as of Wednesday, 45 cases of the viral disease have been confirmed in the municipality. Last week, Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu, together with officials from Kaohsiung City Government Department of Health, carried out a “hands-on” review of the city’s epidemic prevention measures. Han’s inspection tour included examining guttering on the roofs of buildings but also took in tree hollows, which can turn into a vector source for mosquitoes carrying the disease if water accumulates inside.
Han, who has a short and stocky physique, scaled a tree by himself to inspect a tree hollow. Han told the assembled press pack that workers should use expanding insulation foam and prune trees to prevent the spread of dengue fever, sparking controversy online.
Kaohsiung City Councilor Huang Jie posted on Facebook that it would have been better if Han had used the opportunity to demonstrate to the public the importance of removing containers of stagnant water and tidying up within residential areas. Huang said this would be a far more effective method of epidemic prevention and added a more pragmatic course of action would be for the mayor to assume overall command back at Kaohsiung City Hall from where he could supervise the allocation of manpower and resources. Huang expressed concern that filling up tree hollows with expanding insulation foam could pose an existential threat to the city’s woodpecker population.
Responding to the news last Thursday, Kaohsiung Love Trees Society director Chuang Chieh-jen said a far more significant vector source of dengue fever is ditches and drains within the city where water has been allowed to accumulate over the long term. Chuang said using expanding insulation foam will simply damage the trees’ trunks and cause rot and decay. Chuang suggested using sand to fill hollows or alternatively drilling small holes to allow accumulated water to naturally drain away.
Chuang added that the primary cause of tree hollows is the pruning of branches of a 5cm diameter thickness or greater, which causes ulceration to the tree trunk. Chuang called on Han to review his administration’s policy on tree pruning and ban the pruning of branches between 5-10cm in diameter.
Responding to criticism, the director of the Public Works Bureau’s Maintenance Office, Wang Miao-chen, said that the expanding insulation foam used was non-absorbent and said tree hollows often form naturally as a way to protect the bark of the trunk and are not created by pruning. Wang said foam will not cause the trunk to rot and added that using foam is a feasible, effective and long-lasting solution. Kaohsiung’s frequent thunder and rain storms means that using expanding foam can save manpower and resources, said Wang.
Answering questions last week, Han said that climbing a tree shows he attaches great importance to tackling the epidemic, adding he trusts that officials and contractors will be able to see that he is taking the problem seriously and has the resolve to get a grip of the situation.
“If experts believe this will damage the trees, I will take their views on board,” but for the time being we will continue to employ this method.
Han added he climbed the tree for the good of the city’s residents, that he feels no shame and that any criticism or parodies of him are water off a duck’s back.
(Translated by Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
Photo: Taipei Times
1. Was Han Kuo-yu’s tree climb a political stunt, or a serious attempt to promote awareness in the fight against dengue fever?
2. What else could be done by government officials to combat the spread of dengue fever and other mosquito-borne diseases?
3. Are there any habits or practices in Taiwan that encourage mosquito breeding?
4. To encourage homeowners to clear away stagnant water and keep their homes tidy, since Feb. 2016 the Singaporean government has issued a S$200 (NT$4,500/US$146) fine to any home found to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Would a similar policy work in Taiwan?
(Edward Jones, Taipei Times)
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