Dengue outbreak in Singapore threatens tropical trees

SINGAPORE, Sept. 16 Kyodo

A dengue scare is posing a threat to the traveler’s palm, a species of tree that has added to the charm of Singapore’s tropical garden city image.

Easily identified by its short palm-like trunk crowned with broad leaves arranged in a fan shape, the trees are often seen on postcards depicting Singapore, gracing the front of the famous Raffles Hotel and waterfronts.

But now, they have been accused by some of helping to spread dengue.

Pest control experts have said that when the leaves of the tree, known scientifically as Ravenala madagascariensis, wither and droop, the part of the leaves attached to the trunk could potentially trap rainwater and attract mosquitoes to breed there.

Singapore is currently grappling with a dengue epidemic, with the number of infections soaring to more than 9,500 so far this year, surpassing the record high of 9,459 cases for the whole of last year, according to Health Ministry data. Dengue fever has claimed 8 lives so far this year.

Earlier this week, the government announced it was ramping up its war against dengue by launching a ”combing operation” this weekend to scour and destroy dengue breeding grounds throughout the island.

It has also formed a panel of experts, which includes international experts, to advise Singapore on how to tackle the upsurge of dengue.

Channel NewsAsia reported Thursday that the National Parks Board, which manages much of the luxuriant greenery that Singapore enjoys today, is considering cutting down broad-leafed plants like the traveler’s palm that may help mosquitoes breed.

”But some residents actually like it, so we will consider it carefully before cutting it down,” Simon John Longman, an official of the agency, was quoted by the state-run TV channel as saying.

Attention began to focus on these trees after a Cabinet minister remarked this week that some palm trees could trap rainwater and have the potential to act as breeding sites for mosquitoes.

Some traveler’s palms here have already been chopped down in the wake of the dengue scare, much to the chagrin of nature lovers, the television report said.

It said the National Parks Board has asked its contractors to trim the trees every month instead of every two to three months, and has also engaged 16 pest companies to make sure mosquito larvae are not breeding within its parks. Some schools are reportedly canceling excursions to parks amid the dengue outbreak.

Singapore’s reputation as a garden city has been nurtured over several decades, with millions of dollars having been spent on planting and maintaining trees.

The country’s founding father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, made the greening of Singapore one of his top priorities after its independence in 1963.

Deciding the island should have a canopy of trees not only to beautify the landscape but also as a key competitive factor in attracting foreign investments, he launched the first tree planting campaign in 1963, which was followed in 1967 by the Garden City program.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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