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. 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.In the biblical book of Exodus, locusts are one of 10 plagues imposed upon Egypt, also located in Africa, when Pharaoh refuses to let the Jewish people go.
"And the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand over Egypt so that locusts will swarm over the land and devour everything growing in the fields, everything left by the hail.' So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again" (Exodus 13-14).
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.
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.
"Its taste is delicious. If you eat one locust, you will end up wanting to eat five," said Sanaa resident Wadai al-Nawdah to the Middle East Eye in June. "I walk every day after breakfast to find locusts for dinner. I have become addicted."
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.
Iran has also begun preparing for the swarms currently located south of the country. Mohammad Reza Mir, the agricultural expert in the Plant Protection Organization of Iran, told Xinhua that the locusts could invade Iran's central regions as well.
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.
Swarms of desert locusts are devastating crops and pastures in East Africa. This is the situation as of 10th February. Experts fear it could grow 400 times by June if left untreated. Learn more https://t.co/Hn9o1CjpW6 via @CNN #DesertLocust #Locusts pic.twitter.com/o4cqXsu9Dw— FAO (@FAO) February 19, 2020
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.