(pron: lep'to spirosis)
The following article is by my good friend Dave Jardine and is too good to remain unpublished. It remains his copyright, so please contact him if you wish to reproduce it.
Of all the miseries that the Jakarta floods have inflicted none perhaps is more sinister than the threat of leptospirosis or, to give it its other name, Weil's Disease. Also known as canicola fever, haemorraghic jaundice and canefield fever, this is generally associated with rats. Spread by the bacterium leptospirosa interrogans
, it makes an inevitable appearance in cities with large populations of the unfriendly rodents and can be relied upon to attack in the wake of acute flooding.
It will be obvious to any observer at a level of consciousness above the semi-comatose that Jakarta has a large, not to say massive, rat population and that absolutely nothing has been done to seriously reduce it. Complete elimination may be out of the question but this should not preclude containment.
The alert observer will note the freedom with which 'Ratty' moves about the city, popping his head up at all hours from drains and running complacently across open spaces and lanes. So confident is the fellow of his non-aggression pact with Jakarta's cat population that it would be little surprise to see them doff hats to one another or exchange pleasantries. He does tend to move out of the way of the humans he encounters but not exactly as if he is registering real fear.
'Ratty' has good reason to be so complacent. For the most part he can go about his business undisturbed. Nobody has declared war on him.
Why does this insouciant attitude prevail towards this four-footed freight carrier of a potentially deadly disease, which is transmitted in the animal's excreta and especially dangerous when fast-moving water facilitates its transmission?
It is not as if the relevant authorities are unaware of the existence of large, not to say massive, populations of the rodents. It cannot be that these same relevant power-holders are unaware of the cause and effect link between the rodents and leptospirosis. Or can it? Sometimes, it appears that the authorities are simply either dumb or criminally negligent.
Five years ago when Jakarta last flooded in a seriously bad way rat-induced deaths were given prominent publicity. Since then nothing has been done. No public health campaign has been mounted by the city government. This is surely criminally negligent.
A number of other solutions offer themselves, amongst them what I will call the Pied Piper effect. This is the most fanciful. The Pied Piper of Hamelin
was a musician who had magical powers.
But it is not fanciful to suggest that the Jakarta city government could offer a bounty on rats that would be a very welcome little income earner for poor families. Simply by paying a small fee of, say, Rp.400 for every rat's tail brought in (as proof that the rat has indeed been killed) the DKI would be actively encouraging ordinary people to tackle the problem. This, as I insist, is neither fanciful or impracticable.
With such a scheme in place it would be easy to visualise teams of resourceful youths and boys scouring the city, especially its bleaker parts, with catapults targeting the disease-bearing rodents. The bodies of the dead animals could be quite easily disposed by either burning or covering in lime.
Governor Sutiyoso in the fullness of his self-serving myopia wants us to believe that the floods are "a natural phenomenon" and that the only man-made aspect to them is the building of villas in the Puncak (not his own, of course). I beg to differ. If it is a consequence of criminal negligence that an easily foreseeable outbreak of potentially deadly disease occurs then this outbreak is indeed man-made.
When will they ever learn? By going to the internet perhaps and simply googling 'Leptospirosis Information Center' where they will find this, "The LIC is politically independent and offers data without prejudice to geographical boundaries. We never charge for the data on our site." What excuse will they offer next time around at DKI when they have still done nothing about it?