ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

search
Locust 'is the most destructive migratory pest in the world'

Plague of locusts set to descend upon Middle East in time for Passover

‘Extremely alarming’ desert locust swarms forming in Horn of Africa — but will skip Holy Land

Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan is the host of The Times of Israel's Daily Briefing and What Matters Now podcasts and heads up The Times of Israel's Jewish World and Archaeology coverage.

A locust sitting on a cactus. (Anna Kaplan/ Flash90)
A locust sitting on a cactus. (Anna Kaplan/ Flash90)

A plague of locusts the likes of which have been unseen for over 30 years is about to hit Africa and the Middle East. Adding to the perfect biblical storm, the current coronavirus pandemic is affecting travel of international experts and in-country gatherings for training to combat the locust threat, said Rome-based Senior Locust Forecasting Officer Keith Cressman on Monday.

Cressman works at Locust Watch, a division of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which gives emergency assistance to countries facing desert locust invasions and constantly monitors the status of potential infestations. According to the organization’s most recent forecast report, there are new “extremely alarming” swarms forming in Horn of Africa.

Cressman, who has worked with the organization for over three decades, told The Times of Israel on Monday that the previous time the region has been in such danger was during the plague of 1987-1989.

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) “is the most destructive migratory pest in the world,” according to the Locust Watch website. As depicted in the Book of Exodus, when the highly mobile swarms of Desert Locust form, “they are ravenous eaters who consume their own weight per day, targeting food crops and forage.”

Desert locust couple. (FAO/DLIS)

While one locust may not seem a major fresser (eater, Yiddish), the swarms can grow to millions of individuals, “with the capacity to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.”

The current widespread breeding in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia represents “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” writes the Locust Watch website.

Locust Watch works in collaboration with affected countries to assess field data, information and reports in real time, said Cressman. The information, he said, “is combined with analysis of remote sensing (satellite) imagery, weather data and forecasts, and historical data in our geographic information system and database that go back to the 1930s.”

Swarming desert locusts. (FAO/DLIS)

Institutional memory, as well as Cressman’s experience, points to a very difficult year on the horizon: “Starting in early 2020, the global Desert Locust situation deteriorated, as favorable climatic conditions allowed widespread breeding of the pest in East Africa, Southwest Asia, and the area around the Red Sea,” writes the website.

It appears that the hardest hit countries will include Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan, the last of which will likely be affected later this summer, said Cressman.

“It is always very difficult to find and treat all infestations, and this is the nature and challenge of managing Desert Locust,” he said in an email to The Times of Israel. The inability to travel due to coronavirus restrictions may prevent proper, timely treatment.

Forecast of Desert locust risk. (FAO/DLIS)

Not all regions of the Middle East will be affected, however. Despite the proximity to the Jewish holiday of Passover, according to the useful forecast maps on the site — and confirmed by Cressman — it appears that the swarms will not hit Israel or the country’s crops.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed
image
Register for free
and continue reading
Registering also lets you comment on articles and helps us improve your experience. It takes just a few seconds.
Already registered? Enter your email to sign in.
Please use the following structure: example@domain.com
Or Continue with
By registering you agree to the terms and conditions. Once registered, you’ll receive our Daily Edition email for free.
Register to continue
Or Continue with
Log in to continue
Sign in or Register
Or Continue with
check your email
Check your email
We sent an email to you at .
It has a link that will sign you in.