Insecticide, raticide, pesticide: unwinnable wars.

Published in Highlights

The concept of exterminating people, for whatever reason, is unacceptable in civilized societies. Using chemical poisons for largescale destruction of plants, animals and insects should also be right up there on the list of banned behaviours.

Pollinator at work Pollinator at work Photo: Vivian Grisogono

On a fine spring day in April 1991, my cousin Mislav and I were walking by the sea from Stari Grad's ferry port towards the town. "Look", he said, pointing to a small bug going about its business in the gravelled path, "Insects will last much longer than us. If the human race is destroyed one day, the insects will survive to continue their evolution."

Leaf-eating bugs. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Mislav spoke with some authority. As a scientific specialist in environmental protection, he had been an adviser on marine protection when the laws and Constitution were being drawn up for the newly independent Republic of Croatia in 1990. A keen diver, he was very aware of how the fish stocks of the Adriatic had been visibly depleted over the previous 20 years. He loved all aspects of Nature with a rare passion.

War damage in Korenica. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

War on the way

Our conversation on that April day was sombre. The central part of Croatia had been blockaded the previous summer by insurgent Serbs protesting against Croatia's declaration of independence. There were ominous signs of trouble ahead. I had come from London to deliver a lecture at a paediatric conference in Split. Travel was disrupted. I found myself deposited by the Yugoslav national airline (JAT) in Belgrade with no obvious means of transport onward. An Englishman in the same predicament suggested we share a hire car to the coast, where he would catch a bus down to Dubrovnik to check on his yacht, while I could continue with the car northwards to Split. Driving through Bosnia and Hercegovina, we passed through delightful villages with newly renovated houses and well-tended gardens, reflecting the efforts of the many guest-workers who had gone to Germany and elsewhere to earn the money for their families to live in modest comfort. Mosques, Orthodox churches and Catholic churches alternated in peaceful tranquillity. But there was a sense of dread hanging over the country's prettiness.

Mislav (right) on the front defence line, not far from Zagreb, 1992

Just a few weeks later, the Serb-led Yugoslav National Army (JNA) moved against Slovenia. It quickly withdrew, to turn its aggression against Croatia. By the end of 1991, much of Croatia was occupied or under heavy attack. Places which were relatively safe, including the Island of Hvar, were filled with displaced people. The hospitals were burdened with a constant flow of casualties. My English travelling companion lost his yacht to the Yugoslav Army's shelling of Dubrovnik - 25,000-worth of a beloved asset gone, with little chance of reparation, as the insurance did not cover war damage. In 1992, Mislav was serving as a volunteer paramedic on the front-line defence near Petrinja, just over half an hour from his home in Zagreb. He died on August 4th 1993.

War damage, Vinkovci, 1992. Photo: R.Morgan

Destruction and genocide

The war, which lasted from 1991 to 1995, was worse than we could have imagined on that quiet April walk in 1991. The JNA-backed Bosnian Serb forces spread the horror to Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1992. Split Hospital was sending nine medical emergency teams over the border to save the wounded, risking their lives to save as many casualties as they could, irrespective of whose side they were fighting on. The hospital's maternity unit was a particularly sad place from 1992, as it accepted women, including very young girls, who had been subjected to rapes in Bosnian Serb prison-camps and released once they were heavily pregnant. This was part of a so-called 'ethnic cleansing' campaign.

Residents expelled when Vukovar fell, 10th November 1991. (TV coverage)

Genocide, the process of eliminating a particular group of people on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, culture or religion, is abhorrent to everyone of sound mind. It is punishable in international law under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić were found guilty of war crimes and genocide by the International Tribunal in The Hague in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Young war victim in Split Hospital, 1992. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Wars between people(s) cause destruction and damage, material, physical and psychological. They do not provide political solutions, as the continuing wars in the Middle East testify. But, tragically, wars are 'nice little earners' (read 'massively profitable') for those countries and individuals who have weapons to sell. They have no vested interests in stopping wars. The more violence the better from their point of view.

Nature: Man's enemy? A 'bioterrorist? Really?

When Nature is seen as an enemy to be subdued and suppressed, and natural resources are treated as commodities to be exploited, it's obvious the world is in very deep trouble. Powerful interests are waging war on Nature. When the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced in December 2017 that a ban on funding experiments which make some pathogens more deadly had been lifted, Samuel Stanley, the chairman of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, and president of Stony Brook University in New York, was quoted as saying: "I believe nature is the ultimate bioterrorist and we need to do all we can to stay one step ahead." No room there for negotiation, peace and ultimate partnership.

Bumble bee. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Chemical pesticides: weapons of massive destruction

The major weapons for 'conquering' Nature are chemical poisons, which are big business. Some of them are also conveniently handy for use in wars against people, making them doubly profitable. Just as armaments often masquerade as 'preventive', the destructive power of pesticides is camouflaged by benign-sounding reassurances that they are 'plant protectors', and 'illness preventers'. The principle of exterminating unwanted creatures and plants by poison doesn't work. You can't kill every member of any given target species. Poisonous pesticides create more problems than they solve. Target species become resistant, the inevitable collateral damage has untold consequences. Vested interests claim that the answer to 'pest' resistance is stronger poison combinations. The truth is that using chemical poisons against natural 'pests' is counter-productive.

Pollinator at work, fulfilling a vital role. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Nature and nurture

We need insects. They fulfil vital roles in our ecosystem, including helping plants to propagate through pollination and seed dispersal; providing food for the many insect-eating birds, mammals, reptiles and fish; nutrient recycling through leaf litter and wood degradation, dispersing fungi, disposing of dung, and helping the turnover of soil*. Do we need rats and mice? Not in the same way as insects. But they can be very useful to humans, especially the type of rat which can be trained to flush out landmines and identify diseases in people. Efforts to exterminate rats and mice by poisons have succeeded in producing so-called 'super' destructive rats, frightening in strength and size.

Every plant and creature has a part in the natural chain. The chain can be modified, and we can exert control over our environment to a certain extent. But if parts of the chain are disrupted, there is a knock-on effect which ultimately threatens everything we need from Nature, especially our supply of nutritious food and clean drinking water.

Thistle with pollinator. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

How to survive and thrive

Humans cannot win a war with Nature. Waging chemical warfare against Nature is the ultimate folly. Unwanted plants and creatures can be controlled in other ways apart from chemical poisons. The future of our civilization is rooted in Nature. 'Live and let live': understanding Nature's processes and using them to the full through peaceful cooperation is the best, maybe the only way to provide security for future generations.

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon), 2017

* An invaluable comprehensive guide: 'The Insects. An Outline of Entomology', by P.J.Gullan & P.S. Cranston. Blackwell Publishing, 2005 3rd Edition.

For more details of the problems relating to the pest control programme in Croatia, please see our other articles:

Insect Spraying Pros and Cons

Eco Hvar's overview of the practice and problems of the insect suppression programme, first published in 2014, updated in 2016 and 2017.

Insect Spraying Calls for Change

Eco Hvar's letter to the Director of the Teaching Public Health Office for Split-Dalmatian County, dated 16th November 2017, in response to the Director's letter of 18th October addressed to the Mayor of Jelsa.

Insect Spraying: the Campaign

Eco Hvar's Letter to the Minister of Health dated 23rd August 2017, explaining our concerns

Insect Spraying: Save the Bees!

The Croatian Laws and Directives which govern the insect suppression programme, balanced with the problems they give rise to, as identified by Eco Hvar, backed by scientific references. (2017)

Insect Spraying: Rethink Needed

Eco Hvar's call for change, based on the practice of insect suppression measures on Hvar,with supporting scientific references. Of particular concern is the use of a cocktail of poisons, all of which inevitably cause collateral damage, some of which are not included in the EU list of permitted pesticides. (2017)

Insect Spraying: the 'fogging' practice

What the 'fogging' (spraying the streets with a poison mist) means in practice to residents, visitors and the environment. (2017)

Bobi, the Dog Who Didn't Need to Die

Bobi, a local dog beloved to many in Jelsa, died in July 2017, very probably as a result of the 'fogging' action.

Mosquitoes - holiday planning

Letter dated 25th August 2017 from a parent worried about possible problems due to the prevalence of mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes and More

Virulent mosquito activity reported by a family holidaying in Vitarnja in August 2017, despite the 'fogging' which took place right outside their apartment during their stay.

Mosquitoes, worst ever

Letters dated August 2014 complaining of intolerable mosquito activity despite the poison spraying in Pitve and Vitarnja on Hvar.

Insecticides in the Air

Eco Hvar expressed concern about the spraying of public highways with inappropriate poisons. (2016)

Rat Poison: Time to Think Again

The ineffective programme to control rats and mice by poisoning on Hvar. (2016)

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