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Why mosquitoes?

June 19, 2010 - 12:58 -- William Jobin

Some of us are Seekers who ask “How? We are called Scientists. Some of us are Seekers who ask “Why?” We are called Believers. Some of us are both.

The boy and the old man sat in the shade of their favorite Neem tree during the oppressive heat of the afternoon. “Uncle, why did the Creator make mosquitoes that swarm around our heads and spread fevers?” asked the boy.

“I will have to think a while about that question son - it is a hard one,” replied Uncle with the gray beard. “I think it might have to do with the harmony in Creation.”

“What on Earth is that?” exclaimed the boy in consternation.

"Well," said the uncle, "The Harmony is maybe something like what scientists call the process of creation and evolution. A good explanation might also be something like cosmic ecology," he continued.

“I think perhaps the Harmony in Creation is part of its Beauty, and thus fundamental. So the dangerous mosquito is also unavoidable, because it is part of the harmony in the Creator’s plan.”

“But how can we get rid of these awful mosquitoes?” the boy persisted. “Can’t I just spray our house with that red can of insecticide? Aren’t the mosquitoes evil?”

His Uncle mused, “I think that to finally overcome the mosquito and her fevers, we should do things that are also in harmony with Creation, but not to poison Creation with toxic chemicals, for they will harm us too. And yes, there are evil things in Creation, like murderers and dictators, but I think the mosquito is not evil, just natural.”

Bill, wondering about it all


Ingeborg van Schayk's picture
Submitted by Ingeborg van Schayk on

Hi Bill, flooding in France, flooding in China - 1 million people had to leave their homes. Deforestation & increased malaria incidence in Brazil. Just some developments of the past week.

Inga, worrying about it all

William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

That’s a very important point, Inga. Where do humanly created disasters fit into the grand cosmic plan?

The flooding, and the malaria epidemics due to deforestation, and the BP oil spill are caused by human error and stupidity, and maybe by greed in the case of BP.

The point the old man is trying to make to his grandson is that when we try to remedy disasters, natural or human, we should do so in harmony with Creation and with reverence for the beauty in its fabric. And when you become a grandparent, you will look for ways to pass this reverence on.

In a historic milestone for malaria control, development of the Tennessee River valley in the US during the 1940’s is a good example of the reverent approach to overcoming the natural tragedies you refer to, of flooding, soil erosion, poverty and malaria. I have used their book, “Malaria control on impounded waters – US gov’t printing office, 1947 ” as the guide for my consulting engineering practice in Africa, ever since I first read it in 1966. Also I tried to expand on their concepts in my own book on “Dams and Disease” which I published with Taylor and Francis of London in 1999.

Similar to many current development projects in Africa, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was created to reduce flooding, generate hydroelectricity, and provide water for drinking and irrigation, in one of the poorest regions of the US. But from experience, the local health authorities knew that impounded waters would create anopheline mosquito habitats and provoke outbursts of malaria in the summer months.

So, in fairly good harmony with Creation, they modified the perimeters of the reservoirs to reduce larval habitats, and then they operated the dams and generated hydropower in a manner that caused water levels in the reservoirs to fluctuate regularly, stranding the larvae and also flushing them out into deep water where fish would eat them. They did use some biocides however, but sparingly, protecting the fish.

I think this was what the old man was trying to tell the boy.

In my consulting practice I am often asked to advise on the design of large water and energy projects (oil) in Africa. These projects are usually necessary to raise the standard of living for these folks, although sometime the projects are driven by greed as well. I think the deforestation you mention in Brazil (which is also rampant in Indonesia and Malaysia) are development projects driven by natural needs and by human greed. The BP oil disaster in our Gulf of Mexico is another example, where greedy calculations led to a disregard for the need to adequately and reverently protect the harmony of Creation.

In summary, before we embark on grand plans for attacking our world’s problems, we do need to philosophize and then be guided by our inner principles, which for me include a reverence for Creation and its inherent beauty and harmony. And we need to apply these principles as we guide our development, and try to reduce death and disease. Perhaps that is why the Creator increased our brain size after we rose up on our hind legs a few million years ago.

Bill, with my grandchildren again

William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates