Israel mobilizes as millions of locust descend

Agriculture Ministry workers armed with pesticide spray area; swarm arrived Tuesday from Sinai after plaguing much of Egypt.

Locusts Negev 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Locusts Negev 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Agriculture Ministry workers armed with pesticides went into action at first light Wednesday morning, distributing both aerial and ground sprays in the area where millions of locusts descended upon southern Israel from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula the day before. 
The ministry said that it would also continue to monitor the situation in Egypt
With Passover only a few weeks away, the eighth of the 10 plagues struck Israel on Tuesday after already overtaking much of Egypt.
Around mid-afternoon, the Agriculture Ministry reported that a large swarm containing millions of locusts had arrived  in Kadesh Barnea. Ministry workers immediately embarked on an observational aircraft mission to map the location of the band of bugs, after which they sprayed the entire area from the air, the office said.
A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is maintaining a close watch on the situation, said there was a risk that a smaller number of locusts would continue up to the Negev through the end of Tuesday, with a chance of reaching adjacent Arava Valley areas in Jordan.
By Wednesday and onward, however, the FAO said the possibility of additional swarms hitting Israel and Jordan would decline greatly, as winds would likely shift.
The tens of millions of locusts – possibly even more – that swept into Egypt over the weekend prompted the Agriculture Ministry to issue a “locust alert” on Monday.
Egyptian media outlets described the bugs as attacking the El-Obour Market in Cairo on Sunday and discussed frightened Suez farmers who had been greeted by the insects. One local source on the ground told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that experts were estimating anywhere between 30 million and 120 million locusts swarming around Egypt.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian Agriculture Ministry had warned against the practice of burning tires to ward off the bugs, due to fear of spreading wildfires, the source said.
While swarms of locusts had not yet entered Shuk Hacarmel in Tel Aviv as they had the Cairo market, a few stray locusts did manage to make their way to various points across the country as of Tuesday evening.
One Ramat Gan resident, Ofir Auslander, told the Post that he and his wife, Roni Mokhir Auslander, had discovered a locust on Monday night on their apartment terrace.
“I discovered it after I stepped on it, when I went to move my tulip plants from the living room window into the kitchen,” he said. “[I was] following an ‘inner voice’ that told me to protect them in case the locusts arrived at Ramat Gan at night when I was sleeping or when I was at work the next day. I did not want to abandon the tulips.”
Auslander and his wife had already sprayed insecticide that morning inside the apartment, so the locust had not ended up flying all over their home.
Prof. Amir Ayali, an expert on locusts at Tel Aviv University’s Zoology Department, said he had heard reports of people seeing single or small groups of locusts as far north as the Carmel region. While Ayali had originally thought, based on weather and wind forecasts, that the locusts would not enter the country and would head eastward to Saudi Arabia instead, he acknowledged that these forecasts had been wrong.
“Even though this swarm did enter Israel, it is still a mini-swarm in a way,” he told the Post. “We need to wait and see what happens.”
Ayali predicted that the locusts would mostly die after being “sprayed like crazy” on Wednesday morning, and those that did not die would fly away. For his part, he is sending his students – and he may join them – on a locust observation expedition at 4 a.m. on Wednesday, he said.
Meanwhile, the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council reported residents encountering thousands of the bugs throughout the day on Tuesday, from Nitzana to Sde Boker, and sealing their homes against the creatures.
Thus far, no serious crop damage has occurred within the regional council.
As the locust saga continues, the Agriculture Ministry urged the public to report any locust swarm sightings to the ministry immediately, and be particularly on the lookout for bugs in the western Negev.