Marikina is asking its residents to turn over rats in exchange for money and it seems like a terrible idea

In a bid to curb the rise of leptospirosis in the city caused by the rainy season, the Marikina government is once again asking its residents to catch and turn over any rats — dead or alive — in exchange for cash.

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Marikina City Mayor Marcy Teodoro launched this year’s edition of the program, aptly dubbed Rat to Cash, at the city’s environment management office today.

Basically, all citizens have to do is show up with any rats they’ve caught and they will be paid PHP200 (US$4) for each rodent.

Sounds like a simple and solid plan, right?

While we understand that the risk of leptospirosis is an important public health issue for the city, history tells us plans such as these tend to backfire.

Although we don’t doubt the program will lead to the roundup of some of the city’s rodents, to understand why it’s likely to make the problem worse, all you need to do is to look at the cobra effect, a phenomenon that happens when a policy intended to solve a problem only makes it worse.

In case you’re wondering why it’s called the cobra effect, it’s based on an anecdote from the era when the British controlled India and tried to control the country’s poisonous snake problem by incentivizing Indians to turn in dead cobras in exchange for money. Entrepreneurial locals quickly began breeding the snakes and killing them in order to redeem the rewards.

There’s also the question of whether those turning over rats actually caught the rodents within the city or elsewhere.

To be fair to the city’s government, this is actually the program’s third year and residents only have between today and September 16 to turn over the pesky rats. When the program was first launched in 2020, many people voiced similar concerns about it backfiring due to the cobra effect but apparently the Mayor Teodoro, who is a doctor, didn’t think those concerns were reason enough to discontinue the program.