Swarm of Biblical proportions surprises local authorities and blankets the ground near Giza
An enormous swarm of locusts is plaguing Egypt in a development that agricultural authorities admitted they failed to predict.
Egyptian Agricultural Minister Salah Abad Almoman said the swarm, comprising an estimated 30 million insects, descended on Giza, near southern Cairo, where it is causing great damage, Maariv reported on Sunday.
“The armed forces and the Egyptian border units are trying to battle the swarm with various means at their disposal,” Almoman said, but the report did not detail what action was taken. The minister appealed to local residents to refrain from attempting to deal with the ravenous horde themselves.
“I ask the families living in the area afflicted with the swarm to not light car tires,” he said. “It doesn’t drive the locusts away, it only causes damage, and it could start a fire that will take human life.”
A ministry official said crop-spraying aircraft will be deployed to tackle the insects, which are a seasonal phenomenon in Egypt — albeit not in such large quantities.
Almoman said strong winds predicted for the coming days are expected to blow the insects in the direction of Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea.
Although winds usually take the insects past Israel, in 2004 a large swarm descended on Eilat and the surrounding area. It did not spread to the more fertile areas in the center and north of the country.
Swarms move to northern Egypt and Sudan
The Desert Locust situation continues to remain worrisome along both sides of the Red Sea where hoppers and adults are forming groups, small bands and swarms in northeast Sudan, southeast Egypt, on the Red Sea coast along both sides of the Sudan–Eritrea border, and on the northern Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia. Some groups and swarms have moved out of these areas recently.
In Sudan, immature adult groups and swarms plus a few mature adult groups and swarms moved from the northeast, crossing the Nubian Desert, and reaching Abu Hamed on 13 February and the Nile Valley as far north as Dongola by the 23rd. Although control operations were immediately launched, damage was reported on winter crops and date palms. Hopper bands and swarms were also present on the southern coast.
In Egypt, immature adult groups and swarms moved north along the entire stretch of the Red Sea coast, reaching Ras Gareb (south of Suez) on 26 February. Other adult groups nearly reached the Nile Valley north of Aswan.
In Eritrea, at least one swarm arrived on the northern Red Sea coastal plains from adjacent border areas in Sudan on 22 February.
In Saudi Arabia, a few groups of immature adults and an immature swarm moved north in sub coastal areas towards Duba in the past few days. A second generation of breeding is underway on the northern coastal plains between Rabigh and Yenbo where hatching started a few days ago and new hopper groups and bands are forming. Hopper bands are present on the central coast near Lith.
Aerial and ground control operations continue in Sudan and Saudi Arabia while ground control operations are in progress in Egypt.
The current outbreak originated from breeding during the past summer in the interior of Sudan where adult groups and swarms formed and moved to southern Egypt and northeast Sudan in November. A few groups crossed the Red Sea to Saudi Arabia while several groups and swarms appeared in coastal areas on both sides of the Sudan–Eritrea border. First generation breeding occurred from November to January.
Desert locusts swarm into Egypt
More swarms are expected to form in northeast Sudan and southeast Egypt in coming weeks, especially as ecological conditions continue to be favourable for locust reproduction and breeding, the ministry said.
Meanwhile, the agriculture and land reclamation ministry is co-ordinating with the defence ministry to use two military planes as pesticide dusters.
It also set up a hotline to receive reports from farmers whose lands have been invaded by locusts, Salah Mouawad, head of the ministry’s agricultural services department, said Thursday.
“Control and surveying operations have been able to eliminate 80% of the desert locusts that came from Sudan last November and have attacked Egyptian territories,” he said, adding that locust control teams in past weeks cleared locusts from 95,000 acres of land, and are currently treating locust infestations in 17 areas across four provinces.
Swarms of migrating locusts invaded Egypt in 2005, damaging agricultural crops in both Upper and Lower Egypt. The Egyptian government reported at the time that as many as 40% of the country’s crops were lost as a result.
CONTROLLING LOCUST SWARMS
Mohamed Abdel Qader, head of the farmers union, said Egyptians must stamp out the “fierce attacks of the locust swarms as quickly as possible” before they ravage winter crops.
Farmers are worried about a repeat of the 2005 crisis and are forming committees to keep locust control teams updated about areas under attack, he said.
Locust swarms that invaded Egypt in previous decades swept in from eastern and western Sudan, some Yemeni valleys and Saudi Arabia.
Those swarms came in two colours, red and green, and they often migrated during their breeding season, said Sahar Yusuf, a researcher in agriculture and pest control affairs at Ain Shams University.
“Red locusts often do not attack crops because many have yet to mature, and they have fatty reserves [in their bodies] they rely on during their flight and migration,” she told Al-Shorfa.
“They nevertheless might attack crops if they are exposed to pesticides, which could induce unexpected reactions,” she said.
Since reproduction generally takes place before the spring season, the present locust invasion may last weeks, Yusuf said.
Aya Kamal, an entomology and agricultural pests researcher at Cairo University, said pesticides the authorities use to combat desert locusts “limit the damage but do not stop it”.
“To totally prevent locust damage, [crops] must be sprayed with chemical pesticides, but these are very harmful to human health and thus, the authorities in Egypt do not use them,” she added.
Pesticides must be sprayed by airplanes because locust swarms fly at a high altitude, she said.