Iran afflicted by large swarms of desert locusts, amid coronavirus woes

'The density of locusts in the swarms is so high that a 10 to 15-centimeter layer of dead locusts forms on the ground after spraying pesticides.'

Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Kenya, 2020 (photo credit: NJERI MWANGI/REUTERS)
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Kenya, 2020
(photo credit: NJERI MWANGI/REUTERS)
The large swarms of desert locusts that have invaded much of east Africa and the Arabian peninsula have now entered southern Iran, leading government officials to state that they can only handle the swarms with the use of pesticides, according to Radio Farda. The swarms come as the Islamic Republic also battles with a severe coronavirus outbreak in which over 90 people have died.
The swarms have entered the provinces of Hormozgan, Sistan and Baluchestan, Bushehr, Fars and Khuzestan, according to Reza Mir, Spokesman of the Plant Protection Organization.
"The density of locusts in the swarms is so high that a 10 to 15-centimeter layer of dead locusts forms on the ground after spraying pesticides," said Mir, according to Radio Farda.
Biological methods to handle the swarms are ineffective due to the size of the swarms and time constraints involved. "Allowing the pests to [recreate] is much more damaging than the side-effects of using chemical pesticides," explained Mir.
Over one million hectares of agricultural lands may be sprayed this year. The number of locusts is predicted to be seven-fold compared with the swarms last year, according to Keykhosrow Changalvai, Head of the Agricultural Jihad Organization of the south-western province of Khuzestan.
"Last year the swarms were between one to one and a half kilometer long but this year they measure between seven to 10 kilometers," said Changalvai, according to Radio Farda.
Changalvai warned that "the danger of these locusts is not less than coronavirus." The new swarms are immature and more damaging than last years swarms as they will eat everything in their path.
Swarms of desert locusts are plaguing several countries worldwide, including China, Jordan, Pakistan, Kenya and Sudan.
East Africa is being hit particularly hard by the swarms, with the United Nations warning of an unprecedented threat to food security in the region, according to Bloomberg News. The outbreak is being caused by an increased number of cyclones and could become worse if weather trends continue.
The swarms have reached Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania, among other countries.
UN Sec.-Gen. Antonio Guterres warned that "there is a link between climate change and the unprecedented locust crisis plaguing Ethiopia and East Africa. Warmer seas mean more cyclones generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Today the swarms are as big as major cities and it is getting worse by the day," according to Bloomberg News.
The infestation originated on the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, with Saudi Arabia being impacted by the swarms as well. In June, Yemen saw an outbreak of desert locusts for the first time in three years. Yemenis took advantage of the infestation as an alternative food source.
In Jordan, the Ministry of Agriculture announced an "utmost state of emergency" as swarms descended on Saudi Arabia via Yemen. Minister of Agriculture, Ibrahim Shahadeh said that an emergency room had been set up with the cooperation of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, the Royal Badia Forces and the Jordan Customs Department, the Civil Defense Directorate (CDD), and Aqaba Region Authority to coordinate their response, Roya News reported. The Ministry is also closely monitoring regular reports issued by the Locust Forecast Center, situated within the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Syria, which also borders Israel, is reportedly preparing for an outbreak as well.
Israel is also preparing for the possibility of the first desert locust infestation in seven years, according to Channel 12 news. The infestation in 2013 caused hundreds of thousands of shekels in damage to Israel's agriculture industry. In a recent situation evaluation, Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that there is currently only a low chance that the locusts will come to Israel, but stressed that the forecast could change and preparations should be made in advance.
In Asia, Pakistan has declared a national emergency to combat the locust infestation. The swarms there have reached northwest India and are approaching China as well.
A one sq. km. swarm of locusts can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, according to the FAO. UN Food & Agriculture Organization locust forecasting expert Keith Cressman explained that a locust swarm that enters a field in the morning can eat the entire field by midday.
Cressman warned that, "we have a very short window of time to act." FAO Dir.-Gen. QU Dongyu urged greater and faster action in order to prevent a humanitarian crisis in East Africa.
One swarm in Kenya was three times the size of New York City, according to CNN. The number of locusts could grow 400 times by June if not treated.