Photo Credit: Christiaan Kooyman / Public Domain via Wikimedia
A desert locust is laying eggs during the 1994 locust outbreak in Mauritania

It’s a little bit early for Passover yet — the bakeries in Israel are filled with three-cornered pastries in preparation for the holiday of Purim — but apparently Upstairs they didn’t get the memo because huge swarms of locusts are causing havoc in all the countries that recently declined to back President Donald Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan and who have repeatedly voted against Israel at the United Nations.

Jordan, a US ally, is one of the first among them, and now is facing a massive swarm of locusts that could threaten its agricultural produce.

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The Jordanian Agriculture Ministry raised its alert from medium to high on Tuesday as part of its measures to control an invasion of locusts, the state-run Petra news agency reported.

Agriculture Minister Ibrahim Shahahdeh said the measure was taken after it became clear swarms of desert locusts had reached parts of Saudi Arabia – mainly Hail – 500 kilometers from the Saudi-Jordanian border. Jordan is “able and ready to face the ravenous insects with the support of the Royal Air Force, the Royal Badia Forces and the Jordan Customs Department, among others,” Shahahdeh said.

Millions of locusts are also flying across the African continent as the most serious swarm of the insects in 25 years is posing an unprecedented threat to the food security in some of the world’s poorest nations.

A small swarm can eat enough food to feed 35,000 people in just 24 hours – one locust can eat enough food to equal its weight in that time.

Unusual climate conditions are partly to blame, according to a report by Voice of America. But the infestation began this time in Asia, not Africa.

In southeast Asia, Pakistan was hit by the worst locust swarm in more than two decades. The country declared a state of emergency two weeks ago, according to DW, after the insects decimated the cotton, wheat, maize and other crops. There are also swarms of locusts threatening to cross a border into China.

The swarms then spread from Pakistan to Yemen, then across the Red Sea from Yemen and attacked Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia, according to a report by EcoWatch in late January.

They spread into Somalia, which declared a national emergency; the country’s Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement published by multiple news outlets that the swarms pose “a major threat to Somalia’s fragile food security situation … Food sources for people and their livestock are at risk.

“Ethiopian farmers have lost their entire crop to the voracious insects. The desert swarms are uncommonly large and consume huge amounts of crops and forage,” the statement said. The swarms have also arrived in Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

In South Sudan in particular, the arrival of the swarm heralds a catastrophe, coming after a war followed by drought and floods that have left six million people – 60 percent of the population – struggling with severe hunger and near starvation.

Locusts Breeding, May Grow 500 Times by June
This past Monday, the swarms crossed South Sudan’s eastern border with Uganda, according to the AFP news agency, quoting South Sudan Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo Nyikiwec.

“The report came that these are matured. As you know locusts are like human beings, they send their reconnaissance ahead of time to make sure that whether there is food or not and if the area is good for breeding,” Nyikiwec said.

FAO representative Meshack Mao said about 2,000 of the locusts had been spotted so far. “These are deep yellow which means that they will be here mostly looking at areas in which they will lay eggs,” Mao warned.

“We are training people who will be involved in spraying and also we need chemicals for spraying and also sprayers. You will also need cars to move while spraying and then later if it becomes worse, we will need aircraft,” Nyikiwec added.

Southwest of Somalia, Kenya is also facing a crisis with the worst locust invasion it has seen in 70 years, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the BBC reported. One swarm there was estimated at 100 billion to 200 billion locusts, marauding through 2400 square kilometers.

Tackling large locust swarms is challenging and requires fast-acting chemical pesticides sprayed from aircraft. Ethiopia and Kenya are now spraying those chemicals, Science Magazine reported. In Somalia, which has large grazing areas, FAO is instead helping the country use biopesticides. They consist of spores of the fungus Metarhizium acridum, which produces a toxin that kills only locusts and related grasshoppers.

The FAO is warning that without containment, they may grow 500 times by June. The insects can fly at a speed of 16 to 19 kilometers per hour.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.