Locust swarms pose new threat to Middle East and Africa’s food security

Locusts swarm the sky over the Houthi rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, as a UN expert warns millions face food insecurity due to the insects. (AFP/File Photo)
Locusts swarm the sky over the Houthi rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, as a UN expert warns millions face food insecurity due to the insects. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 06 February 2021

Locust swarms pose new threat to Middle East and Africa’s food security

Locusts swarm the sky over the Houthi rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa, as a UN expert warns millions face food insecurity due to the insects. (AFP/File Photo)
  • UN expert warns millions face food insecurity as wet weather drives explosion in insect population
  • Climate change making drought and floods more common, contributing to growth of desert-locust swarms

DUBAI: Despite its best efforts throughout 2020 to bring the scourge of desert locusts under control, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that swarms of the crop-eating insects now pose an even greater threat to agricultural and pastoral livelihoods and the food security of millions from the Horn of Africa to Yemen.

Last month, FAO said favorable weather conditions and widespread seasonal rains had led to an explosion in locust breeding in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia — made worse by Cyclone Gati. Infestations are forecast to increase in the coming months alongside a new cycle of breeding on the Red Sea coast.

“As the region is already extremely vulnerable, given three years of drought followed by last year’s heavy rains and floods, compounded by COVID-19 and insecurity, desert locust swarms represent an additional shock that can have severe consequences for food security and livelihoods,” Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS), told Arab News.

“A one square kilometer-swarm can consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.”




A one square kilometer-swarm can consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, Keith Cressman told Arab News. (AFP/File Photo)

Although Saudi Arabia has fought to contain desert locusts for decades, FAO says the impending swarms pose a far greater threat to the Kingdom, Eritrea, Sudan and Yemen than those seen previously.

The Saudi government is taking precautions thanks to a well-established national program and the work of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture’s Locusts and Migratory Pests Control Center, based in Jeddah.

“Well-trained national experts, in collaboration with agriculture offices throughout the country, constantly monitor the situation by carrying out ground surveys and apply control measures by ground and air when required,” Cressman said.

“Desert locusts are omnivorous — they eat everything, starting with the natural vegetation in the desert that becomes green after rain, followed by rain-fed agriculture on the fringes of the desert, then irrigated agriculture. They can also attack date palms.”




Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS). (Supplied/File Photo)

Locust swarms form when their population increases and they become crowded together. They then switch from a solitary to a social phase, quickly multiplying 20-fold in a span of just three months, when they can reach densities of 80 million per square kilometer.

When they affect several countries simultaneously in large numbers, they are classified as a plague.

Last summer, the Saudi government deployed 40 field teams to fight desert locusts in high-risk areas south of Riyadh, in the southeast of Asir, the hinterlands of Najran, the eastern desert, and the eastern Taif highlands of the Makkah region.

Their mission was to prevent a swarm spreading out from Yemen, Oman and the Empty Quarter through adoption of measures to reduce breeding.

That summer, abnormally heavy rainfall in the southern Arabian Peninsula coincided with the summer migration of locust swarms from East Africa toward southwest Asia, India and Pakistan.




A boy holds desert locusts caught while swarming the sky over the Huthi rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on July 28, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“The locust hatching and swarming cycle has been happening with disastrous effect since before biblical times,” Jeffrey Culpepper, chairman of UAE-based Agrisecura, which provides sustainable solutions for food security purposes, told Arab News.

“Some swarms are worse than others due to the level of rain prior to the hatch. This cycle will be bad. Very bad.”

Culpepper says outdoor regional crop production is already suffering due to climate change — and the locust swarms are making matters worse. He expects the GCC countries will come off lightly due to their minimal external crop production. But others will not be so lucky.

“The public green spaces, especially gardens and golf courses, will be hit hard because the locusts will eat everything in sight overnight,” Culpepper said. “Poorer regional neighbors like Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia and Turkey, who have access to river irrigation for external crops, mainly grains, will be hit hard, and countries like Yemen, Somalia and Eritrea, already suffering from internal strife, will suffer even more.”

THENUMBERS

Locusts

* A swarm of desert locusts 1sq km in size can contain 40-80 million insects.

* Desert locusts regularly cross the Red Sea — a distance of 300km.

* A Paris-sized swarm can eat the same amount of food in 1 day as half the French population.

Due to Saudi Arabia’s relative dryness, Culpepper says the Kingdom is not usually badly affected. “Locusts prefer softer green matter, but when hungry will eat anything, including young date palm plants,” he said.

“The external wheat circles and silage (a type of fodder) projects that still exist will be harmed. Due to water constraints, wheat and silage projects have been declining in the last few years, so we can expect to see some brown football pitches and public planted spaces.”

FAO is assisting governments and its partners with surveillance and coordination, technical advice and the procurement of supplies and equipment to fight the swarms. At the same time, it has said operations must be scaled up to safeguard food production and prevent further food insecurity in the affected countries.

To date, almost $200 million has been spent on control efforts, allowing the FAO and governments to rapidly expand their locust-response capacity.




Climate change is impacting locust breeding, migration and invasion. COVID-19’s disruption to supply chains has also made it difficult for some countries to obtain pesticides. (AFP/File Photo)

“Over 1,500 ground survey and control personnel have been trained and 110 vehicle-mounted ground sprayers and 20 aircraft are now in action,” the UN agency said.

“FAO is now seeking a further $40 million to increase surveillance and control activities in the most affected countries — Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — in 2021. More than 35 million people are already acutely food insecure in these five countries and FAO estimates this number could increase by another 3.5 million if nothing is done to control the latest outbreak.”

Although Saudi Arabia has dedicated funds to the effort, more is needed from other donors to avoid a slowdown in locust-control efforts.

Going forward, the challenges are many. Climate change is impacting locust breeding, migration and invasion. COVID-19’s disruption to supply chains has also made it difficult for some countries to obtain pesticides.




A picture dated 12 August 2007 shows locusts in a pot, which were gathered by Yemenis in the capital Sanaa. (AFP/File Photo)

The irregularity of the outbreaks, together with the costs and logistical hurdles associated with regular monitoring in remote areas like eastern Saudi Arabia’ Empty Quarter, makes it hard for governments to prepare and respond.

“Another issue is staff that often change jobs. Training is a constant requirement,” Cressman said. “There are also budgetary constraints when governments may have other priorities, especially in years when the desert locusts are calm.”

This is where new technologies can step in to ensure timely reporting of high-quality and accurate field data, used for analyzing and forecasting, as well as during control campaigns.

“Since its establishment in the 1950s, FAO’s DLIS has been providing early warning and forecasts of swarm invasions to all countries, which are key to preventing their plagues,” Cressman said.

“FAO works with countries at risk to strengthen their capacity to monitor and control locusts. During emergencies such as now, FAO has mobilized financial resources with international donors and provided technical expertise in coordinating and implementing control campaigns.”




Swarms of locusts fly in a residential area in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on June 26, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Culpepper has witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of locust swarms while working in western and central Africa. “There is an old saying that ‘famine is the handmaiden of locusts,’” he said.

“For years, groups like the UN have been experimenting with various locust-control projects with minimal results due to the magnitude of the problem. Yet it’s getting less attention because it is predominantly a Third World problem. Extensive pesticide spraying and crop rotations have not worked.”

However, with climate change making droughts and floods more frequent, widespread and extreme, experts predict locusts will soon become a First World problem too.

“Increased wind events like cyclones, hurricanes and more dramatic monsoons will spread breeding locusts further afield,” Culpepper said.

“The science is simple: The more they eat, the more they breed. And the more they breed, the further they have to swarm to find food.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
Updated 16 min 4 sec ago

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
  • The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem

CAIRO: The League of Arab States held an urgent session of the League Council among Arab foreign ministers on Monday, at the request of Palestine, which was supported by a number of Arab countries.

The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem, the Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, and plans to force Palestinian families out of their homes, particularly in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, said that it was decided to upgrade the meeting to the ministerial level from that of the permanent delegates level.

Diab Al-Louh, Palestinian ambassador to Cairo and Palestine’s permanent representative to the Arab League, said that the urgent meeting was to discuss the seriousness of the brutal attacks on worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Louh said a request for an urgent meeting was submitted based on the directives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the directives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki.


Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
Updated 41 min 56 sec ago

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
  • Doctors and private hospitals refuse to receive patients due to court ruling in favor of a child who had her limbs amputated
  • Parent Hassan Tannous praises ‘honest judiciary’

BEIRUT: All Lebanese doctors have stopped working from Monday until the end of the week in protest against a court verdict.

The medical profession in Lebanon is protesting against the judicial decision to pay high compensation to Ella Tannous, who had her limbs amputated due to a medical error six years ago.

The protesting doctors have been joined by private hospitals, which have stopped receiving patients, except in emergency cases.

The girl’s father Hassan Tannous, however, praised the “honest judiciary.”

Many doctors, including the head of Lebanese Order of Physicians, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, and the head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, staged a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut, calling the ruling “unfair.”

The Tannous case goes back to February 2015, when she was admitted to Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil due to her high temperature.​

Ella was diagnosed with a cold at the time, but her condition deteriorated and the child suffered septic shock, which led to gangrene that caused the amputation of her limbs.

The girl’s father had taken her to the Hotel Dieu Hospital, which refused to receive her.

He transferred her to the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where doctors decided to save her life by amputating her four limbs.

The tragedy led her parents to file a complaint in March 2015 before the Lebanese Order of Physicians against the doctor who examined her and Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil, on charges of neglecting the child’s health and not providing her with the necessary care.

More than one doctor was arrested and released on bail.

Those involved in the case exchanged accusations for years. The girl’s family objected to a medical report issued by the medical committee of the Lebanese Order of Physicians two months after the incident, calling it a “distortion of the facts.”

The final ruling, issued unanimously at the end of last week, by the Beirut Appeals Court, headed by Tarek Bitar, gave the girl’s family a positive surprise, while the Lebanese medical profession reacted to the ruling in a state of amazement and condemnation.

The ruling obligated the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil and the two doctors — Essam M. and Rana Sh. — “to pay in joint and several liabilities to the child Tannous an amount of LBP 9 billion ($5.9 million) for damages, in addition to a monthly income for life estimated at four times the minimum wage.”

The ruling also stipulated “obliging the convicts to pay in joint and several liabilities an amount of LBP 500 million to the father of the child and LBP 500 million to her mother in exchange for damages.”

Medical errors committed against patients have often resulted in settlements. Some cases are still pending in the courts.

The head of the National Health Authority, Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh, told Arab News that the judicial ruling “is based more on emotions than wisdom, justice and scientific facts.”

Sukkarieh added: “The judiciary focused on the tragedy of the child’s condition, which cannot be compensated with money, without checking the stages of the disease and the accumulation of its causes.”

He said: “Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil was not equipped with intensive care for children. As for the doctors who saved the child through the amputation, they were spiritually affected.”

Hassan Tannous said that although the ruling “does not compensate for the loss of Ella to her limbs, it is a moral compensation.”

The father said the ruling “is a very strong message in the face of the perpetrators of medical errors, that there is an honest judiciary capable of restoring the rights of the owners.”

The girl’s family moved to France for her rehabilitation but continued to pursue the lawsuit until the end.

“It is a public rights issue to protect all Lebanese children from medical neglect,” said Hassan.

During the sit-in at the Palace of Justice on Monday, Dr. Abu Sharaf said: “There are complications that occur as a result of the medicines, and mistakes happen sometimes, but the doctors have no criminal intent. After today, no doctor will dare to work on difficult and rare cases.”

Dr. Ashraf called for “work to remove the effect of the judicial decision, and to establish a body specialized in medical matters in the judiciary to study medical problems.”

Hotel Dieu Hospital de France announced that it would stop receiving patients in all its departments and private clinics.

“It is unacceptable for doctors to pay the price for a health policy that does not exist in the first place,” said Elias Shallal, head of the hospital’s medical committee.

“It is unacceptable to applaud doctors for their role in the fight against coronavirus and after the Beirut Port explosion, and then attack them because of a medical error.”

The administration of Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil described the ruling as “unfair.”

It stopped receiving patients except in emergency cases.

The American University Medical Center in Beirut closed its clinics until further notice and stopped receiving patients, except for emergency cases.


Israel defies international community as conflict with Palestinians continues

Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 48 min 12 sec ago

Israel defies international community as conflict with Palestinians continues

Palestinian medics evacuate wounded protesters as Israeli security forces fire tear gas in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. (AFP)
  • Outrage prompted over targeting of civilians, holy sites, and use excessive force
  • Former PLO committee member challenges Americans, Europeans to ‘grow a backbone’

AMMAN: Despite calls from the international community for an end to the hostilities between Israeli security forces and Palestinians, clashes continued in Jerusalem on Monday, with violence erupting at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, for the second day in a row.

Over 300 people have reportedly been injured, with the Red Crescent saying half a dozen Palestinians are in a critical condition.

On Friday, May 7, US State Department spokesman Ned Price called on both sides to show restraint, saying Washington was “extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah,” condemning an attack on Israeli soldiers and “reciprocal attacks on Palestinians.”

US-based outlet Axios, meanwhile, said the White House had pressed Israel to restrain Monday’s planned Jerusalem Day celebrations, marking the capture of East Jerusalem in 1967, so as not to stoke further tension in the city, but that Israel had rebuffed these advances.

Former Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi challenged the US and European leaders to “grow a backbone” and “translate their words into action,” over restraining Israel against Palestinian worshippers.

She said: “Americans must learn to grow a backbone and work hard to enforce their position and to use their financial and political power. This is not a big deal to ask to ensure freedom of religion.

“This is the language that the Israelis understand; if they are being rewarded, nothing will happen,” she continued. “There has to be a cost and this is a test of the Biden administration. Americans must say enough is enough.”

Ashrawi added that what is happening is a “crime” and a clear case of multiple human rights violations, including targeting civilians, vandalizing holy sites, and using excessive power against worshipers.

Protests at the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, meanwhile, drew the presence of right-wing Israeli members of the Knesset and a large number of Palestinians and their supporters.

The UN secretary-general and senior world leaders were among those to condemn the violence, and express their concerns over the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah.

Jordan summoned the Israeli chargé d’affaires in Amman, and threatened to recall its ambassador in Tel Aviv. There were also loud demonstrations outside the Embassy of Israel in Jordan calling for its closure.

Former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told Arab News that Jerusalem is the symbol of the Palestinian cause.

“The reunification of the homeland and its national institutions requires the full (cooperation) of all Palestinians regardless of where they are,” said Fayad.

“Such reaction is the strongest response to the Israeli aggression and the terror of its army and settlers against our holy places and our people in Jerusalem,” he added.

Fayyad continued that the basic right of people to live in their homes and homeland was fundamental “to allow our people to extract their right to self-determination.”

Hazem Kawasmi, a Jerusalem civil society activist, told Arab News that what is happening in Sheikh Jarrah was the continuation of the last 70 years of evictions of Palestinians from their homes and land across the country.

“Trying to evict 28 families from their houses in Sheikh Jarrah is a clear case that (shows) the Israeli apartheid regime and transfer policy to implement their ‘Judaizing’ of the city, emptying it of its indigenous Palestinian population,” Kawasmi said.

“Not surprisingly, the international community are watching and doing nothing to stop the rogue state of Israel from practicing its ethnic cleansing policies.”

There are fears that Israel’s actions in Jerusalem could also provoke wider problems beyond the city. Senior Hamas figure Salah Aruri warned that “by playing with fire in Jerusalem, the occupiers (Israel) will witness a burning response on their heads.”


US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats
Updated 2 min 18 sec ago

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

US ship fires warning shots in encounter with Iranian boats

WASHINGTON:  A US Coast Guard cutter fired two volleys of warning shots Monday as a group of 13 Iranian fast boats sped toward US Navy vessels in the Persian Gulf's Strait of Hormuz in what the Pentagon called “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers by the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the Iranian vessels maneuvered at high speed toward six Navy ships that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia through the Strait. After the Coast Guard cutter Maui unleashed a second volley of warning shots, the Iranian boats backed off, Kirby said.
“They were acting very aggressively,” Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon. He said they got within 150 yards of the US ships, which included the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey. A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.
Kirby said the Maui fired two rounds of warning shots from its .50-caliber machine gun — the first round when the Iranian boats got to within 300 yards of the US ships, and the second when they got within 150 yards.
“After the second round of warning shots the 13 fast attack craft from the IRGC-N broke contact,” he said, ending the encounter.


US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
Updated 10 May 2021

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya

US names ambassador Richard Norland as special envoy for Libya
  • Norland will lead US diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country

WASHINGTON: The United States on Monday named Richard Norland, US ambassador to Libya, as the US special envoy for the country, the US State Department said, to lead diplomatic efforts for a negotiated political solution in the North African country.
The appointment comes as the Presidency Council, which functions as Libya’s head of state for now, was chosen through a United Nations-facilitated process that also selected a new Government of National Unity that took office in March, replacing rival administrations in east and west.