Why did the English fill Cyprus with eucalyptus trees? Malaria, the marshes and Lake Paralimni

The fight against Malaria in Cyprus, the draining of Lake Paralimni in history and the "forgotten" Turkish Cypriot doctor who saved Cyprus from Malaria

photo 32 exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni

In 1876, the French Agriculturist and Arborist PG Madon sent by the then Ottoman Administration to Cyprus to draw up a report on the existing forests on the island. In 1880 and 1881 he wrote two reports, "Replantation of Cyprus" and "Preservation of the Forests of Cyprus" respectively. Both PG Madon reports and his publication S.Baker, "Cyprus as I saw it" demonstrated the lack of trees in Cyprus with a focus on Kyrenia where there was total deforestation. In Algeria, where the French arborist lived for a period, eucalypts were widely used to improve health conditions in the fight against malaria and therefore he reported in his report that the species Eucalyptus resinifera, Eucalyptus tereticornis, Eucalyptus resdonii, Eucalyptus maculata, Eucalyptus pendulosa, Eucalyptus sideroxylon, Eucalyptus viminalis, Eucalyptus botroyides, Eucalyptus colossa, Eucalyptus occidentalis, Eucalyptus robusta, Eucalyptus persicifolia were particularly suitable for use in the marshy areas of Cyprus. Therefore, during the Anglo-occupation, eucalyptus saplings were cultivated in the nurseries located in Nicosia and Larnaca and then they were used especially during the plantings in Nicosia, Famagusta and Larnaca with the ultimate goal of draining marshy areas and indirectly combating the conditions that were creating the spread of malaria.

0 exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni
Water control process by the Sanitary Service of the Ministry of Health

The swampy areas

The many marshy areas that existed on the island until the end of the 19th century, created many problems from the overgrowth of mosquitoes that resulted in the appearance of diseases. Such marshy areas were formed by rainwater and rivers, which occasionally flooded lowlands and hollows and had no way out. They thus formed lakes whose stagnant waters ended up causing not only stench and filth but also breeding grounds for mosquitoes and other insects and causing infections and diseases. The cities of Nicosia and Famagusta suffered in particular, because marshes formed in the areas outside their walls, where in both cases there was the extent of the medieval moat. But marshy areas were also found along the lowland course of the rivers, mainly Pidkias and Gialia. Various types of life were found in such marshy lands, apart from insects, such as multitudes of frogs, freshwater crabs, water snakes, eels, freshwater fish, waterfowl.

Marshes were formed by rainwater in lowland areas, such as in the Oroklini region near Larnaca, as well as in areas where even today lakes are still formed by river water, such as in Paralimni (hence its name), and in the area of ​​the district of Agios Loukas near Famagusta. Swampy areas are also formed in the area of ​​Syrianochori, as well as in Fassouri of Limassol, which are also important habitats.

Such marshy areas have been forming since ancient times. However, there are specific references in later texts, especially in texts of foreign visitors from the periods of the Frankish, Venetian and Turkish periods. Such reports speak of rubbish dumps, stagnant water, permanent stench, permanent diseases and major nuisances from flies and mosquitoes. The problem was particularly acute during the long period of Turkish rule (1570 – 1878), due to a complete lack of care and measures taken by the authorities.

The historian Florios Voustronios (16th century) mentions the existence of an extensive marsh near Famagusta, in the area of ​​the mouths of the Pidkia and Gialia rivers, which he characterizes as "very harmful" for the city. The same author also speaks of a large swampy area near Nicosia, as well as swamps where reeds and various herbs grew. Attempts to drain the marshes had been made at least by the Venetians (1489 – 1570). Florios Voustronios writes that the great marsh near Famagusta, which emitted "fumes polluted by the dirty mud" and from where "the bad smell infected the inhabitants", had been relatively treated: "...for some years now", Florios writes, "they have drained it and made an estuary for its waters, and it is now less harmful than it once was..."

Swampy areas also forming in areas near Larnaca and Limassol. However, systematic and ultimately effective efforts to drain the marshes, everywhere in Cyprus, were made by the British as soon as they took the island, from 1878 onwards. Among other things, the English imported into Cyprus thousands of eucalyptus saplings (a tree unknown on the island until then), which were planted in the marshy areas. Eucalyptus is a tree that absorbs large amounts of water. To this day, clumps of eucalyptus trees in various places indicate areas where marshes once existed.

271821306 293840099445824 1029216252780403794 n exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni
Lake Paralimni. Source: Municipality of Paralimni

The drainage of Lake Paralimni in history

The Lake from which Paralimni takes its name, which is located between Paralimni, Deryneia and Sotira, was no exception for the fight against Malaria with the planting of eucalyptus trees as well as its drainage which was applied since the 19th century. In fact, oral tradition states that mainly during the summer months, during the period of the Anglo-occupation and after, the entire Lake Paralimni was cultivated, mainly by cotton plantations. This, in fact, is not unrelated to the fact that the bottom of Lake Paralimni itself is still divided into plots, private pieces of land, which must have been "clogged" after the establishment of the Land Registry of Cyprus in 1858.

Therefore, and while the Government has not yet implemented the Management Plan of Lake Paralimni and while the expropriations are pending, the "privatization" of Lake Paralimni remains an open chapter with all the negative consequences for the degradation of the surrounding water habitat.

IMG 8017 exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni

In his article in 2019 in the newspaper "Simerini", Marinos Pavlikkas records the fact that 89,7% of Lake Paralimni is private land, while only 10,3% of its perimeter on the banks is gravel land. At the same time, as mentioned in the article, the hydrological regime of Lake Paralimni is strongly affected by drainage projects. Although, according to the Preliminary Management Plan (2016), the topography of Lake Paralimni advocates the view that it has always been a shallow lake and marshy area, with a significant seasonal variation of its waters, the drainage works, which were carried out during the Anglo-occupation and subsequently, they played a decisive role in the degradation of its hydrological status.

Today, the Lake when full has a water depth of about 0,9m and a capacity of 2.000.000 cubic meters. Due to its large area, limited water depth, combined with high evaporation and water outflows from it, the Lake is dry in the summer months.

To the west and south-west of the lake there are ponds that were constructed by digging and in which a quantity of water is maintained almost throughout the year and are the main habitat of the water snake. A few years ago, the Department of the Environment carried out additional excavations with the aim of enhancing this habitat by creating a larger surface of water and naturally enhancing the vegetation.

With the aim of exploiting the lake's water resources, the Government constructed in 1963 an open channel 11.260m long with a slope of about 0,1% and a drainage capacity of 1000m3/h, from the edge of the burrow (a tunnel built in 1893 for the purpose of emptying the lake) to the location of Panagia, with the purpose of transporting water for artificial enrichment of the aquifer located in the coastal zone south of the Municipality of Paralimni through 32 small enrichment dams.

Today, large amounts of water flow out of the lake through the tunnel, due to the fact that the outflow of water is regulated by placing earth masses within the outflow channel. This is the main reason why the lake's hydroperiod is short.

118572151 56e8eb4b 7f19 4687 9f05 b0eece44fcc0.jpg exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni

The "forgotten" Turkish Cypriot doctor who saved Cyprus from Malaria

They called him "Great Liberator". His name was Mehmet Aziz and was behind one of the most important achievements of Cyprus of the last century. And yet no one except a handful of Cypriots has heard of him.

Aziz was a Turkish Cypriot health official who ensured that Cyprus would become the first country with malaria in the world to completely eradicate the disease.

Known to his countrymen as "the man of the fly", he had studied under the Nobel Prize-winning malaria expert Sir Ronald Ross, who had found the type of mosquito that transmitted the disease. Tabitha Morgan recorded for the BBC Aziz's story while researching a book on British colonial Cyprus.

By 1936, Cyprus - then a British colony - was known as one of the countries with the highest incidence of malaria in the world, with around 18.000 cases each year.

The disease was especially devastating for children. An old man, recalling his childhood, explained that "many young people never made it, others were not able to do a day's work after the disease struck."

Military campaign against malaria

Ten years later, Aziz, in his capacity as chief health inspector, secured a grant from the Colonial Development Fund to eradicate the malaria-carrying mosquito from Cyprus.

He planned his campaign on military lines, dividing the entire island into 500 grids, each of which could be covered by one man for 12 days.

His team systematically worked through the plan, bombarding all sources of standing water (including drinking water wells) with DDT.

118572149 f035172d 0a40 4a6e 9b64 591b1b410e32.jpg exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni
This map shows how the extermination campaign progressed in 1946 and 1947

Aziz's team pioneered a technique by dropping a thin film of oil on water surfaces to prevent mosquito larvae from hatching.

According to the Cyprus Inspection of June 1948, "every pool and stream and area of ​​clogged ground" was sprayed with insecticide. Even animal hoof prints were treated. Aziz's men entered the marshes by descending into caves with ropes.

Controlled areas were checked weekly for signs of mosquito larvae and, if necessary, sprayed again. During the campaign, the entire area moving from "unclean" to "clean" areas had to be sprayed.

118601169 mosquito.jpg exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni

What is malaria?

Malaria is a preventable, curable disease caused by Plasmodium parasites, which is transmitted to humans by the bites of female mosquitoes.

Once infected, people become very ill: the parasites infect liver cells and red blood cells. Eventually the disease affects the whole body, including the brain, and can be fatal.

In 2019 there were 229 million cases worldwide and an estimated 409.000 deaths, two-thirds of them children.

Source: World Health Organization.

A three-year search for mosquito colonies

Aziz's daughter Turkan recalled her father's formal uniform, a military-style health care inspector, replete with epaulettes and chevrons. She also remembered childhood picnics spent chasing him along dried-up rivers as he tirelessly searched for sources of leaking water.

A visiting American malariologist met Aziz on a visit to a Cypriot village where 72% of the children showed signs of malaria infection.

Aziz, he noted, "was adept at finding stairs and searching the high ceilings" as he looked for mosquito colonies, eventually discovering "a good batch on the damp walls of the village bath."

It took more than three years. Until February 1950, Cyprus was the first country in the world without malaria.

Aziz himself was described by the London News Chronicle as "The Great Liberator", while his Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot colleagues were described as "frontline fighters in the battle against malaria". He was awarded the MBE and received a commendation from the Secretary of State for the Colonies for winning "fame among doctors and scientists throughout the world".

Once his mission to eradicate malaria was completed, Aziz continued his duties as chief health inspector, conducting numerous health education campaigns on infectious diseases such as typhoid and tuberculosis and lecturing at universities throughout the Eastern Mediterranean.

But his success did not ensure him lasting fame. What makes his story particularly interesting is not so much his remarkable achievement, but the way in which he has been completely removed from the history of a nation.

The reason lies in the events that followed after the Second World War and during the Turkish invasion which separated the two communities.

The hero who led the campaign against malaria in Cyprus died aged 98 in 1991 in the occupied part of Nicosia, having spent his retirement living quietly. He was buried without formal ceremony.

118572150 55fa0e0e bd46 46ea a26e 4dda45a1e25f.jpg exclusive, Mehmet Aziz, Malaria, Eucalyptus, Lake Paralimni
Aziz after his retirement with his wife Hifsiye. Source: Konstantinos Emmanuel

Research/Editing: Famagusta.News

Sources: "Simerini" Newspaper, "Polygnosi" Online Encyclopedia, "Filokypros" Encyclopedia, BBC