ⓘ 2019–20 locust infestation

2019–20 locust infestation

ⓘ 2019–20 locust infestation

The 2019-20 locust infestation in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia is an outbreak of desert locusts which is threatening the food supply across the region. The outbreak is the worst in 70 years in Kenya and the worst in 25 years in Ethiopia, Somalia and India. The plague began in June 2019 and has continued through 2020.

The current outbreak began with heavy rains in 2018 in the Rub al Khali of the Arabian Peninsula; in Spring 2019, swarms spread from these areas, and by June 2019, the locusts spread north to Iran, Pakistan, and India and south to East Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa. By the end of 2019, there were swarms in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Oman, Iran, India, and Pakistan.

As of April 2020, efforts to control the locusts are being hampered by ongoing restrictions in travel and shipping due to the 2019-20 coronavirus pandemic.


1. Cause

This desert locust crisis traces back to May 2018, when Cyclone Mekunu passed over a vast, unpopulated desert on the southern Arabian Peninsula known as the Rub al Khali, filling the space between sand dunes with ephemeral lakes, which allowed locusts to breed undetected. This was further amplified in October 2018 by Cyclone Luban, which spawned in the central Arabian Sea, marched westward, and rained out over the same region near the border of Yemen and Oman. These unusually heavy rains were tied to fluctuations in the Indian Ocean Dipole, which in turn is affected by climate change. Historically, the Arabian Gulf has very few cyclones. But the past decade has brought a significant increase thanks to the Indian Ocean dipole, a phenomenon linked to flooding in the western Indian Ocean, dry weather in the east and wildfires in Australia.

Locusts grow exponentially in this kind of climate and ultimately, these two 2018 cyclones enabled three generations of wildly successful locust breeding in just nine months, increasing the number of insects buzzing over the Arabian desert roughly 8.000-fold.


2. Affected Countries

Locust swarms have infested 23 countries as of April 2020. East Africa is the epicenter of the locust crisis - with Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda among the affected countries. But the locusts have traveled far. They are also wiping out crops in Pakistan and damaging farms in Yemen, a fragile country already hit hard by years of conflict.


2.1. Affected Countries Africa

By the summer of 2019, swarms had reached over the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden into Ethiopia and Somalia, where they continued breeding and started causing concerns. This might have been as far as the locusts got were it not for the fact that last October, East Africa experienced unusually widespread and intense autumn rains, which were capped in December by a rare late season cyclone Pawan that made landfall in Somalia. These events triggered yet another reproductive spasm.

As of January 2020, the outbreak is affecting Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The infestation "presents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa," according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. Rising sea surface temperatures cf. the Indian Ocean Dipole tip the scales in favor of circulation patterns like the one that set the stage for the desert locust outbreak. Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization said, he thinks, "we can assume there will be more locust outbreaks and upsurges in the Horn of Africa.”

The situation is fueled by unusually heavy rains. This situation causes a big concern in the Horn of Africa, where more than 24 million people are food insecure and 12 million people are internally displaced.


2.2. Affected Countries Somalia

Somalia’s agriculture ministry called the outbreak a national emergency and major threat to the country’s fragile food security, saying the" uncommonly large” locust swarms are consuming huge amounts of crops. Combating the crisis isnt likely to be easy, especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are in the grip of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group. Desert Locust breeding is ongoing in Galmudug Mudug, Puntland and Somaliland. Over the next six months, more than 100 000 hectares of land will require direct control interventions in Somalia.


2.3. Affected Countries Eritrea

In swarms the size of major cities, the locusts also have affected various parts of Eritrea. The military and general public have been deployed to combat the crisis according to Eritreas Agricultural Ministry. In Eritrea, big swarms of immature adults that migrated from Ethiopia, were identified and controlled around Shieb, Gahtielay, Wengebo and Beareze of the Northern Red Sea Coast. Moreover, the swarms of Tree Locust have been detected in Tserona, Mai-seraw, Quatit and Digsa districts of Southern Eritrea.


2.4. Affected Countries Ethiopia

The locusts also are heading towards Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, in that nation’s worst outbreak in 25 years. Some residents were surprised to find the locusts inside their living rooms.

According to the Agriculture Ministry officials, the relatively few locusts reaching Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa are" leftovers” from the" massive invasion” in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Spraying is being conducted around the city to stop the outbreak from spreading elsewhere. Millions of people in this country already cope with the constant risk of drought or flooding,

The Desert Locust infestation in Ethiopia has deteriorated, despite ongoing ground and aerial control operations. Hoppers have fledged, and an increasing number of small immature and mature swarms have continued to devour crop and pasture fields in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and Somali regional states. In Amhara, some farms have registered nearly 100 percent loss of teff, a staple crop in Ethiopia. Moreover, eggs are hatching profusely and forming hopper bands in the Somali region, due to the heavy rainfall.

Despite major control and prevention operations, substantial crop losses have already occurred in the Amhara and Tigray regions of Ethiopia. The hopper bands young locust populations moving together have covered nearly 430 square kilometres and have consumed about 1.3 million metric tonnes of vegetation over a two-month period. The formation of bands is ongoing in the rangelands of the Ethiopian Somali Region; and massive new swarms will arrive from Yemen and Somalia.A swarm even forced an Ethiopian passenger plane off course in December.


2.5. Affected Countries Uganda

They are now heading toward Uganda and fragile South Sudan, where almost half the country faces hunger as it emerges from civil war. Uganda has not had such an outbreak since the 1960s and is already on alert. Uganda has not had to deal with a locust infestation since the ’60s so there is concern about the ability for experts on the ground to be able to deal with it without external support, This week Uganda’s prime minister told agriculture authorities that" this is an emergency and all agencies must be on the alert,” the government-controlled New Vision newspaper reported.


2.6. Affected Countries South Sudan

They are also now heading towards South Sudan, where almost half the country faces hunger as it emerges from civil war. They have not had such an outbreak since the 1960s and is already on alert. In a country like South Sudan, where already 47% of the population is food insecure this crisis would cause devastating consequences.


2.7. Affected Countries Djibouti

The Government of Djibouti estimates that the damage caused by the Desert Locust infestations on vegetation cover crops and pastures have already caused a loss of around USD 5 million for the six regions of the country. In Djibouti, it is estimated that over 1.700 agropastoral farms across the country and nearly 50.000 hectares of pastureland have been destroyed by the swarms.


2.8. Affected Countries Arabian Peninsula

Cyclones in May and October of 2018 brought heavy rains that gave rise to favourable breeding conditions in the Empty Quarter of the southern Arabian Peninsula for at least nine months since June. Some countries like UAE and Iraq have seen small hopper groups but the situation is control in these regions.


2.9. Affected Countries Yemen

In January 2019 one of the first swarms reached Yemen and it became one of the first breeding grounds for the desert locusts and caused them to spread more.


2.10. Affected Countries Saudi Arabia

From January to June 2019 the locusts started to enter Saudi Arabia. They have so far tried a lot to control the locusts.

Since June 2019, the locust outbreak has been impacting eastern Pakistan. In November 2019, Karachi saw the first locust attack in the city since 1961.

On 29 January 2020, the provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government declared emergency in nine southern districts of the province to control spread of locust. The emergency was declared in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Karak, Kohat, Hangu, North and South Waziristan districts.

On 1 February 2020, the Pakistani government declared a national emergency to protect crops and help farmers.


2.11. Affected Countries South and South-West Asia

After June 2019 swarms invade the Indo-Pakistan border from Iran and up to three generations occur due to longer than normal monsoon, giving rise to large numbers of swarms.


2.12. Affected Countries Pakistan

Since June 2019, the locust outbreak has been impacting eastern Pakistan. In November 2019, Karachi saw the first locust attack in the city since 1961.

On 29 January 2020, the provincial Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government declared emergency in nine southern districts of the province to control spread of locust. The emergency was declared in Dera Ismail Khan, Tank, Lakki Marwat, Bannu, Karak, Kohat, Hangu, North and South Waziristan districts.

On 1 February 2020, the Pakistani government declared a national emergency to protect crops and help farmers.


2.13. Affected Countries Iran

In Iran with the rest of the Asian countries the locust started arriving in the first six months of 2019. Also heavy rains in the southwest Iran worsened the situation. The control operations have been less successful in Yemen and Iran.


2.14. Affected Countries India

The swarms in India came from Iran and Pakistan, but the situation has been brought under control with the help of pesticides and specialist equipment. Although extent of damage is to be assessed but there’s no major loss. A number of timely measures and a change in wind direction have prevented a spread and large-scale damage to the rapeseed and cumin seed crops, the officials said. The outbreak began late last year in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Three villages in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district, which shares a border with Pakistan’s desert areas, came under fresh locust attacks in January. In Gujarat, locust attacks in December damaged crops, mainly rapeseed and cumin seed, planted on about 17.000 hectares. Parts of western Rajasthan have destroyed crops spread over at least 3.50.000 hectares of land. The districts adversely affected by the large scale coordinated attacks by locusts include Sri Ganganagar, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Jodhpur, Churu and Nagaur. India has been able to bring swarms of desert locusts under control in two key oilseed producing states.


3. Locust ecology

The kind of desert locust currently plaguing East Africa is Schistocerca gregaria known for its tendency to socialize. Locusts are actually special kinds of grasshoppers known for their gregariousness, and not in a good way. Around 20 species of the 7.000 known grasshopper varieties transform into what’s known as a gregarious phenotype, which means their bodies actually change as they socialize into swarms. Normally solitarious they change color and grow bigger muscles as they gather into massive clouds, rolling across landscapes and devastating crops.

These desert locusts are gregarious, while the vast majority of grasshopper species is solitarious. It might have something to do with the dry environments which is home to this species. Desert locusts only lay eggs in moist soil, to keep them from drying out. When heavy rains come in to saturate the desert, locusts breed like mad and fill the soil with their eggs, perhaps 1.000 per square meter of soil. When those eggs hatch, they’ll have plenty of vegetation to eat, until things dry up once again. And as soon as they start increasing they migrate in search of more food.

An individual locust might travel over 90 miles in a day, consuming its own weight in plant matter. A single swarm can cover up to 1200 square kilometers and can contain between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometer. The locust can live between three and six months, and there is a ten to 16-fold increase in locust numbers from one generation to the next.


4. Effects

Around 2.25m ha land has already been affected as of April 2020. About 70.000 hectares 172.973 acres of land in Kenya alone are already infested. 20.2 million people facing severe acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. If left unchecked, the number of locusts could grow by 500 times by June 2020, when drier weather will help bring the outbreak under control. 1 million ha of land has been targeted for rapid locust surveillance and control in the eight East African countries. 110 000 households have been targeted for rapid livelihoods protection in seven of the eight countries" Effective control is estimated to be around $60m £47m but, if an upsurge occurs, the cost will soar to $500m.”

WFP estimates that long-term response and recovery costs could top US$1billion if swarm growth is not controlled. The World Bank estimates that in Africa alone, more than 90 million hectares of cropland and pasture are at risk and damages and losses could amount to as much as US$9 billion in coming years


5. Preventive Measures

FAO said containing the plague will cost at least $138 million. So far, donors have pledged $52 million as of April 2020, $10m of which has come from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Failure means more hunger in a region already battered by conflict and climate shocks. Aerial and ground spraying combined with constant tracking of the swarms are viewed as the most effective strategies. But the travel restrictions during the corona virus pandemic have hindered the preventive measures

In the winter breeding areas, control operations started in December 2018 in Eritrea and, to a lesser extent, in Sudan. They extended to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in January where they continued for several months before a further extension to spring breeding areas in Saudi Arabia February–June, Iran February–July and Pakistan March–July. Control operations were then undertaken in the summer breeding areas along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border May–February, Ethiopia August onwards and Yemen July onwards. During the winter of 2019/2020, control was carried out along both sides of the Red Sea November–March, the Horn of Africa December–present and southern Iran November onwards. About 2.25m ha has been treated till Feb 2020

As of April 2020 Ethiopia was using five planes and Kenya six planes for spraying and four planes for surveying. But the Kenyan government says it needs 20 planes for spraying - and a continuous supply of the pesticide Fenitrothion. Kenya has trained more than 240 personnel from affected counties in monitoring of locust swarms. To help prevent and control outbreaks, authorities analyze satellite images, stockpile pesticides and conduct aerial spraying. The U.N. has allocated $10 million for aerial spraying.

At the Intergovernmental Authority on Development climate prediction and applications centre, based in Nairobi, researchers have been running a supercomputer model to predict breeding areas that may have been missed by ground monitoring. These areas could become sources of new swarms if not sprayed and create an upsurge. So if hoppers are stopped from adults this wouldnt lead to another cycle of infestation. The supercomputer, funded by £35m of UK aid as part of its Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa programme, has successfully forecast the movement of locusts using data such as wind speed and direction, temperature, and humidity. The model has achieved 90% accuracy in forecasting the future locations of the swarms.

Researchers are now inputting data on soil moisture and vegetation cover to help predict where eggs have been laid and are likely to hatch and thrive. This will then provide data on where African governments can direct their spraying efforts, helping to control the hoppers before they swarm. The Kenyan government is on high alert and effective control measures have been put in place.”

The Chinese government announced in February it was sending a team of experts to neighbouring Pakistan to develop "targeted programmes" against the locusts and deploy 100.000 ducks.

Users also searched: