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


Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
Updated 03 December 2021

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy

Libya’s foreign minister slams European migration policy
  • Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues in a session titled “Dealing with Migration"
  • EU sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies

CAIRO: Libya’s foreign minister on Friday criticized a system of deterring migrants from reaching European shores that she argued fails to address the root of the problem and has so far only served the interest of EU states.
Her comments are the latest stab at EU policies that fund forces such as the Libyan coast guard, which intercepts migrant boats and brings them back onshore and detains them.
Foreign Minister Najla Mangoush spoke via video call at the Mediterranean dialogues, a conference hosted by the Italian government, in a session titled “Dealing with Migration.”
“Please do not push the problem in our lap and please do not point your fingers at Libya and portray us as a country which abuses and disrespects refugees,” she said. “We are tired of beating around the bush, and all these superficial solutions being offered, it’s time to state the problem and face it, instead of ... keep repeating it again and again.”
The European Union, which has come under fire for its support of Libya’s domestic efforts to stem migrant crossings in the past, has supported the country’s coast guard, which regularly intercepts vessels carrying migrants. Many migrants are then placed in brutal detention facilities, held indefinitely in appalling conditions, or held for ransom in exchange for payoffs, according to migrants who have made it out.
The European Union sends funds to the detention centers indirectly through aid agencies.
In her speech, Mangoush did not directly address the abuse accusations.
Libya has emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East, hoping for a better life in Europe. Each year, thousands of migrants and refugees from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia attempt the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe on overcrowded and often unseaworthy boats.
More than 1,300 men, women and children have died so far in 2021 trying to cross the Central Mediterranean from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and Malta, according to the UN migration agency.
The EU has sent 455 million euros to Libya since 2015, largely channeled through UN agencies and aimed at beefing up Libya’s coast guard, reinforcing its southern border and improving conditions for migrants.
Libya has been at war and split for years between rival administrations in the east and west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments. After years of UN-led talks, the country is set to hold national elections later this month.
Mangoush said that what Libya needs is better policing system at its southern borders to control the influx of migrants, to address the root of the issue. She said the solution of simply providing money to Libya would never be enough, calling past initiatives “just for the cause of serving the agenda of the EU and the perspective of the EU.”


Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
Updated 03 December 2021

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant

Tunisia records first case of omicron variant
  • 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by authorities

TUNIS: Tunisia recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a Congolese man who arrived from Istanbul, the health minister said Friday.
Ali Mrabet said the 23-year-old man tested positive and all fellow travelers on his flight from Turkey were contacted by Tunisian authorities to be tested as well.
The omicron variant was first announced by South Africa but has since been discovered to have been present earlier in Europe.
It has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, despite warnings from the World Health Organization this could do more harm than good.
On Friday, the WHO said it had not seen any reports of deaths related to the new omicron variant.
The WHO has said it will take several weeks to get a full picture of the transmissibility and severity of omicron, and to assess how vaccines, tests and treatments hold up against the new variant.


France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’
Updated 03 December 2021

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

France’s Macron says hoping for progress on Lebanon ‘within next hours’

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday he hoped there would be progress on the Lebanon crisis in the next hours.
“We will do all we can to re-engage the Gulf regions for the benefit of Lebanon... I hope the coming hours will allow us to make progress.” Macron said during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.
Lebanon is facing a diplomatic crisis with Gulf states, spurred by a minister’s critical comments about the Saudi Arabia-led intervention in Yemen that prompted Riyadh, Bahrain and Kuwait to expel Lebanon’s top diplomats and recall their own envoys. The UAE withdrew its envoys.


US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
Updated 03 December 2021

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts

US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
  • Planned changes to district boundaries could affect nine members of Congress who have a record of voicing support on Palestinian issues

CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.

Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.

Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.

Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.

“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.

Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”

The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.

“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”

The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.

They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.

Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.

In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.

Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.

Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.

Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.


Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
Updated 03 December 2021

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities

Israeli agents convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities
  • They posed as Iranian dissidents and smuggled bombs into the Natanz facility disguised as food
  • Israel had pledged to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons

LONDON: Agents from the Mossad convinced Iranian scientists to blow up their own nuclear facilities by “posing as dissidents” and smuggling explosives disguised as food into facilities, according to reports.

According to The Jewish Chronicle, Israeli agents convinced up to 10 scientists to destroy the Natanz nuclear facility, wiping out 90 percent of its centrifuges – crucial for research into nuclear weapons.

They are said to have smuggled some explosives into the plant in food lorries, while others were dropped in via drones and picked up by scientists – who they convinced to use against the nuclear sites by posing as Iranian dissidents.

The attack on the facility is just one of a long line of Israeli sabotages of Iranian nuclear facilities, a strategy that they have engaged in more as Iranian nuclear research has progressed.

The Natanz facility, a critical nuclear research site, has been hit by at least three attacks linked to the Israeli secret service, the Mossad.

In another incident, agents used a quadcopter drone to fire missiles at the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company in an attempt to disrupt its research.

In recent years, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran has increased its atomic energy research, including enriching growing quantities of uranium above the levels required for civilian nuclear activity such as energy production.

In April Iran said that it would start enriching uranium up to 60 percent after the attack on its Natanz plant which it blamed on Israel – that is closing in on the 90 to 95 percent enrichment required for nuclear weapons.

This week – much to the ire of Israel – Iran and the US returned to the negotiating table to try to find a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activity in exchange for relief from crushing economic sanctions imposed on the country by the US and its allies.

But on Thursday, Israeli officials called on the US directly to cease those negotiations.

In a phone call with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for “concrete measures” to be taken against Iran.

He said that Tehran was carrying out “nuclear blackmail” as a negotiation tactic and that “this must be met with an immediate cessation of negotiations and by concrete steps taken by the major powers,” according to a statement released by his office.

The Israeli leader also expressed his concern about a new report from the UN, issued during the US-Iran talks in Vienna, which showed that Iran had “started the process of enriching uranium to the level of 20 percent purity with advanced centrifuges at its Fordo underground facility.”

Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.