Motahar Hossain and his Dubai Municipality colleagues at his farewell party in Dubai. The highlight of his career was the UAE being granted malaria-free status by the WHO in 2006. He also helped regulate private pest control businesses in Dubai. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

Dubai: A.K.M. Motahar Hossain has spent his entire professional life fighting pests in Dubai. Dubbed “the founder of pest control in the emirate” by his colleagues, the 65-year-old man is leaving for his home country, Bangladesh, after 40 years of service with Dubai Municipality.

When he first landed in Dubai in 1977, the pest control services here were in a rudimentary state. An expert in entomology, Motahar joined the civic body as a public health officer in charge of pest control.

“There were not many people with high qualifications in pest control at that time. When I came, they were using traditional pest control methods, mainly mixing diesel with some chemicals,” Motahar told Gulf News in an interview.

Interestingly, the peskiest pests in Dubai those days were mosquitoes.

“Those days there was no sewerage system and homes had septic tanks. Most of the tanks were breeding sites of mosquitoes. And we had a lot of malaria cases. The health ministry used to distribute free tablets for malaria control in labour accommodations, homes and offices.”

The initial challenge for Motahar and his team was to wipe out the mosquitoes in different parts of Dubai. “We started fogging operations in different areas,” he said.

The municipality then started ULV [Ultra-Low Volume] treatment using vehicle-mounted machine to spray the insecticides in different communities.

“The misty insecticide was used to be sprayed in the residential areas as the vehicle moved.”

Slowly, the septic tanks gave way for sewage lines. However, the pest control section continued to fight against the vectors by adopting various techniques that came up later.

Malaria-free mission

“I am proud to say that we played a major role in achieving the malaria-free status for the UAE from the World Health Organisation in 2006. Since mid-90s, there hasn’t been any positive case of locally transmitted malaria. Personally, that is one of my greatest achievements. Now we have to work harder than before to maintain the malaria-free status.”

In 1990, the pest control services in Dubai saw some major changes. A WHO expert, who was deputed to help revamp the services, brought changes in area-wise offices handling the units for eliminating the crawling and flying insects.

“He introduced a new programme which we are running even now. He formed technical and preventive units in the municipality for pest control.”

Motahar was then made the head of technical unit, a designation he held till his retirement.

“As we didn’t have a lab, I established one for identification of specimens, pesticide formulations and for giving training to our staff. When there were samples that we couldn’t identity, we used to send them to the Natural History Museum in London.”

In January 1995, the municipality’s pest control section was moved from Deira to Al Barsha.

Gradually, Motahar said, the officials came to know that the private sector involved in pest control business had unqualified staff like cleaners to carry out the job and they were using chemicals inside residences, hotels and other buildings, which was a dangerous thing.

Motahar helped develop a system to regulate the private sector involved in the pest control business in Dubai. “We issued guidelines and started training them. Now 140 pest control companies are operating in Dubai. We are monitoring their services, providing them technical know-how, auditing their performance, receiving public complaints, and taking action if they are doing anything against the law.”

Pivotal roles

Motahar has also played a pivotal role in establishing a high standard pest control system in Dubai’s iconic projects like Burj Khalifa.

When the emirate witnessed a spate of pesticide poisoning deaths due to the use of aluminium phosphide to control bed bugs, he also helped conduct a rigorous public awareness campaign and catch the culprits illegally selling the highly toxic chemical allowed only for controlled use in agricultural sector.

“Now, things are under control. We don’t have major issues with pests or major diseases caused by them like earlier. I just want my colleagues to work hard and keep Dubai free of pests and diseases.”

“I will be very upset if I get to know there is some problem here in the future. With the efficient leadership of my colleagues, I am sure they won’t let me down and make me feel that I did not train them properly,” said Motahar, who continued some of his training sessions even after a farewell party given by his colleagues.

At the farewell party, Motahar’s colleagues expressed their gratitude to the founder and guardian of the pest control in Dubai.

“His story is the history of pest control in Dubai,” said Hisham Abdul Rahman Al Yahya, the head of Pest Control Section at Dubai Municipality.

Al Yahya said Motahar’s life was like an open book and he played an important role in training people in pest control in both government and private sectors. "As he is bidding bye to Dubai, we as colleagues thank him for his great contribution to this country and promise him that we will continue to maintain high standard in our pest control services.”

Veteran official’s top tips to fight pesky pests in Dubai

  1. Implement rigorous pest control services in labour accommodations and mosques where bed bugs have been found to thrive
  2. If you have a bed bug problem in your house, you have to treat it a minimum of three times.
  3. You can go for chemical, heat or hot water treatments for bed bugs.
  4. Never opt for aluminium phosphide, the highly toxic chemicals meant to control pests in stored grains in warehouses.
  5. Be aware that cockroaches can infest kitchens not maintaining high hygiene
  6. Discard kitchen trash every night.
  7. Do not let cockroaches feed on your kitchen trash and food items.
  8. Do not keep boxes or bags in which you bought fruits and vegetables in your kitchen.
  9. Do not leave leftover food and fruits in open which could attract flies.
  10. Do not let water to remain stagnant on your premises.
  11. Building management should ask pest control contactors to monitor the garbage chutes
  12. They should fix monitoring traps to assess the cockroach infestation.
  13. Garbage chutes need proper pest control, not just disinfectants.
  14. Seek the services of only the companies and professionals approved by the municipality.
  15. You can check the list of approved pest control companies through the municipality’s call centre 800900