The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was probably the one who carried out the most bombastic and perhaps successful program to eradicate the mosquito from the face of the Earth. At least during the interwar years in the Pontine lagoons .
By draining these lagoons, one of his highest priorities, he wanted to end malaria once.
The Pontinas Lagoons is an ancient marsh area in the Lazio region of central Italy, southeast of Rome. It is a plain of variable width between the first Apennine reliefs of the Lepino and Ausonian mountains and the sea from 16 to 26 kilometers, and extending from northwest to southeast from Velletri to Terracina along the Tyrrhenian Sea, from which they are separated by dunes of sand.
The National Fascist Party’s Comprehensive Recovery Program began in 1929, when the life expectancy of a farmer in the malaria-affected regions of Italy was 22.5 years . It had also been reported that 80% of people who spent a single day in the Pontine lagoons ended up contracting malaria.
As Timothy Winegard explains in his book The Mosquito :
In the first of the three stages, the lagoons and estuaries were drained or dammed. The "battle of the lagoons," as the Fascist Party called it, required forced labor, which in 1933 peaked at 125,000 men, most of whom were Italians considered "racially inferior." More than 2,000 people were also subjected to medical experiments with malaria. In the second stage, stone farmhouses and public facilities were built and the land was distributed among the colonists who had relocated there by force. In the third stage, measures were adopted against mosquitoes, such as installing mosquito nets on the windows, making sanitary improvements and implementing health services, as well as against malaria, through the distribution of quinine from strategically located and well-supplied dispensaries.
The list of pharaonic initiatives did not cease: more than a million pine trees were planted, hydraulic pumping stations were built along the canals and dikes along 16,500 kilometers in length . Between 1932 and 1939, five architecturally distinct model cities, such as Latina, Aprilia and Pomezia, were built along with 18 rural villages, satellites of these cities.
Propaganda aside, Mussolini’s recovery and eradication program, one of the first of its kind, was a resounding success. The incidence of malaria in the former lagoons, and throughout Italy, plummeted by 99.8 percent between 1932 and 1939. Yet in 1944, in a brazen biological warfare operation, the Nazis deliberately undid in a few weeks several years of progress in the fight against malaria.