Largest Plague Of Locusts In A Quarter Century Hits Africa And Middle East

Jan 3, 2020
Originally published on January 3, 2020 8:31 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For the past year and a half, a plague of locusts has been making its way across the Middle East. And more recently, they've been carried by the wind into Africa. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports on the largest infestation in a quarter century.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The first swarms of locusts crossed the border from Somalia into an area of Kenya that is pretty much under military control.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANGING, SHOUTING)

PERALTA: Local news footage shows men hollering and banging on pots and plastic bottles as tens of thousands of grasshoppers take to the air. And then, heavily-armed Kenyan security forces step in.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

PERALTA: Gunfire doesn't kill many locusts.

KEITH CRESSMAN: This is absolutely useless. It's going to do nothing, in fact.

PERALTA: That is Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer for the United Nations' Agricultural Agency. He worries that a botched response to this infestation could affect this region for years to come.

Locusts are grasshoppers high on serotonin. They eat voraciously and breed just as enthusiastically.

CRESSMAN: So that means after six months, you have 500 times the number of locusts because it's logarithmic.

PERALTA: Cressman says everything that could benefit a plague of locusts has. For example, this infestation kicked off a year and a half ago when two rare cyclones hit the Arabian Peninsula. The swarm drifted with the winds to Iran, which, under sanctions, didn't have the right pesticides. And it ended up on the border between Pakistan and India at a time when the two countries were more concerned about Kashmir than pests.

A longer monsoon season meant more breeding time, and the locusts then migrated to war-torn Yemen, where no one took action. They crossed the Gulf of Aden into Ethiopia and war-torn Somalia.

CRESSMAN: Then, unfortunately, there was another cyclone that came directly inland to where the locusts were.

PERALTA: This third storm meant more breeding in a country with no way to respond. If nothing is done, says Cressman, these creatures could tip an already food-insecure region into serious problems.

CRESSMAN: A locust swarm can come into a farmer's field in the morning. And by midday, the field is gone.

PERALTA: It also doesn't help that East Africa has had a ton of rainfall this season. Tens of thousands have already turned into billions. And without aerial fumigation, Cressman says, the locusts will continue to reproduce, and the infestation will explode.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF OCEAN HOPE'S "DEVOTION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.