NEWS

Getting rid of a yearly nuisance

When a pilot program began in 1996 to wipe out mosquitoes in rice fields near Thessaloniki, there were some who thought it was a waste of money. Now the mosquito has become a genuine affair of state. Over half of the funds spend annually on fighting this irritating and potentially harmful insect come from state coffers, and the rest from prefectures, municipalities and the residents of prefectures where the pest is rife. In the eight years since a systematic nationwide eradication program began, the battle lines have moved out from Thessaloniki to include neighboring prefectures as far as the Evros River, the beaches of Halkidiki, Pieria and Larissa. Residents of Serres are paying a «mosquito stamp duty,» while farmers in Lamia are up in arms. The battle site shifted last year to the Schinias Olympic rowing center and the Markopoulo equestrian center in Attica, relieving millions of tourists and residents of hundreds of towns and villages. This year the campaign is being extended across the border in an accord between the prefectures of Serres and Blagoevgrad in Bulgaria. Since 1997, 23,000 of the country’s 25,000 hectares of rice fields have been systematically mapped and monitored, as well as 9,363 of a total 24,300 hectares of wetlands using the ecological mapping method, with about 4,000 control sites. Due to last summer’s Olympic Games, the largest ecological mapping-eradication system in an extensive eco-system was carried out at Schinias. Ecological mapping correlates the types of vegetation in individual wetland systems with their potential for the development of mosquito larvae. This method, which uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS), is the only way to ensure effective precision applications that are environmentally compatible with these sensitive eco-systems, according to biologist Spyros Mourelatos, representing a private firm that carries out insect eradication programs. In the past it had been used on a smaller scale in Halkidiki. The largest mosquito eradication programs ever to be put into place in Greece are to begin shortly, with the inclusion of the islands of the Cyclades. This follows a very high success rate of previous eradication programs in tourist areas, which have reduced the prevalence of the insect in some areas by as much as 90 percent. Two weeks ago the Serres Prefectural Mosquito Eradication Center announced that in the framework of the Interreg II program, the prefecture would be working with its counterpart in Blagoevgrad in Bulgaria in eradicating mosquitoes. Cooperation between the Greek-Bulgarian-Turkish prefectural network was discussed at a conference in early April in Serres. The largest eradication project in Europe is still under way in the prefecture of Thessaloniki due to the wide expanses of rice fields, while most funds go to the prefecture of Serres. Of the 1,280,000 euros spent last year by the Central Macedonia Region, 460,000 euros went to the Thessaloniki prefecture, 500,000 euros to Serres and the rest was split between five other prefectures. This year the cost of eradication in the three prefectures of Thrace, in Kavala, the seven prefectures of Central Macedonia and the prefectures of Larissa, Fthiotida, Attica and the Cyclades is likely to reach some 6 mln euros.