Why are swarms of locusts invading the UAE and neighbouring countries?
While everyone was enjoying their long, five-day weekend, the UAE saw an invasion of locust swarms hit the country. A number of videos on social media that appeared to show swarms of the large insects flying over parts of Dubai.
But its not just the UAE that has been affected. Locust swarms have infested 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, and this is the biggest outbreak in 70 years, according to the World Bank.
Locusts are known to be mass breeders. An adult female locust lays about 80-90 eggs thrice in her three-month life cycle. According to the Indian Express, if left uncontrolled, a swarm can grow exponentially to 40-80 million locusts per square kilometre. Once airborne, locust swarms can travel more than 100 miles in a day.
According to the Desert Locusts Situation Update page, in Yemen, widespread breeding is underway and survey and control operations have yet to be undertaken. A substantial increase in locust populations is expected in June that could eventually threaten the Horn of Africa. In Saudi Arabia, control operations are in progress against immature adults groups that formed in the Nafud Desert in the north and mature adult groups in the south near Yemen. Similarly, control operations continue against immature adult groups in northern Oman near UAE.
These locusts were said to have brought to the UAE by high winds. However Dubai Muncipality has the issue well in hand. “Pest control teams are intensifying their efforts to eliminate them permanently… The situation is under control and there’s no need to worry,” the municipality told Arabic daily Emarat Al-Youm.
Beyond the Middle East
India has also been facing a mass locusts infestation and Indian authorities sent out drones and tractors to track desert locusts and spray them with insecticides, in one of the worst locust swarms seen by the country in nearly 30 years. With about 50,000 hectares of cropland destroyed by locusts, India is facing its worst food shortages since 1993.
Heavy rains and cyclones in the Indian Ocean are being cited by experts as reasons for increased breeding of locusts this year. The attack is also spread over a wider geography in India. The FAO has warned that the locust infestation will increase next month, when locusts breeding in East Africa reach India.
In February this year, Pakistan declared a national emergency because of locust attacks in the eastern part of the country. The pests damaged cotton, wheat, maize and other crops.
Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia will also continue to face an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods. New swarms from current breeding will form from mid-June onwards, coinciding with the start of the harvest. There is also a risk that swarms will migrate to the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border as well as to Sudan and perhaps West Africa.
Vox reports that officials in Iran reported that a layer of dead locusts piled up 6 inches high after they sprayed afflicted areas with pesticides.
So why are we seeing locusts swarms now?
In a report,Vox spoke to sceientists who said that 2019 saw torrential rainfall in East Africa, Yemen, and India, some of the heaviest in two decades. Post the rainy season, the mass greenery saw locusts to breed far more than they would when food is scarce, particularly in areas that are normally dry and bare.
More than 20 million people in the East African region already faced severe food insecurity in 10 countries, according to the FAO. Coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, this couldn't have come at a worst time for the farmers in the region.