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


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”