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The silver leaf whitefly, seen in Tehran, is harmless to humans.
The silver leaf whitefly, seen in Tehran, is harmless to humans.

Tehran’s Pest Problem Unresolved

The onslaught of whiteflies over the past several weeks on virtually every sidewalk in the capital is akin to nothing experienced by Tehranis in recent years
Entomologists agree that the solution likely to deliver quick results is to grow and release the pests’ biological predators

Tehran’s Pest Problem Unresolved

It didn’t seem like a big problem in the beginning of summer.
Whiteflies, which had for years besieged Tehran, were nowhere around and residents of the sprawling capital were beginning to think that for the first time in years they wouldn’t have to put up with this nuisance.
That simply turned out to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
The onslaught of whiteflies over the past several weeks on virtually every sidewalk in the capital is akin to nothing experienced by Tehranis in recent years.
City officials, as usual, are quick to claim that the problem is “being studied by experts” and emphasize that all necessary measures have been taken. Apparently not “all” measures have been considered, Salamat News reported.
Whiteflies are soft-bodied, winged insects. They can be found in almost any region but are so tiny that they are usually camouflaged. They can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. The silver leaf whitefly, seen in Tehran, is one of several whitefly species infamous for their devastating impact on farmlands and plants. They are harmless to humans.
Climate change and dwindling water resources have rendered trees and plant life dry on the outskirts of the metropolis, forcing the whiteflies to migrate to the city where trees are still green, becoming a bane for its denizens.
To make matters worse, for whatever reason, their natural predators—collectively known as parasitoid wasps—are nowhere to be found, giving the irritating insects free rein.
Controlling this problem is the job of the Tehran Municipality, although they had refused to accept responsibility until two years ago. Nevertheless, the TM has taken steps to reduce the whiteflies’ numbers, but to no avail.
Measures include spraying trees by water trucks, but that only works on streets wide enough to allow the vehicle through. In some cases, trees are pruned and branches burned to exterminate the pests, but that too failed. Yellow sticky papers were put around tree trunks recently, but that also did nothing to keep the pests away.
Some have suggested using pesticides to eradicate whiteflies, but experts point to two compelling reasons why that cannot work: First, pesticides run the risk of harming humans, particularly in a densely populated city like Tehran; and second, the chemicals will no doubt also kill the whiteflies natural predators—if there are any left.
Entomologists agree that the solution likely to deliver quick results is to grow and release the pests’ biological predators. How long that will take to work is uncertain, but it is a tried-and-true method of dealing with invasive species.
Mohammad Ali Najafi, the new mayor of Tehran who will take office later this month, has his work cut out for him. Aside from sorting out TM’s finances (official reports say the municipality is sinking in red ink) and addressing air pollution, the former head of the Management and Planning Organization will have to draw on all resources available to end Tehran’s persistent pest problem.

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