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Country put on alert to combat locust outbreak

A small swarm of locusts can eat as much food in a day as 2,500 people

Yemen has put in place an emergency plan to combat a potential locust outbreak following reports of a spate in nearby Eritrea in December 2006, officials at the Yemeni Ministry of Agriculture have said.

On 23 February, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said that locust numbers continued to increase during January along the coast between Massawa in Eritrea and the Sudanese border.

Other countries along the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden could face significant locust infestations this winter because of unusually good rains and favourable ecological conditions, FAO said. The UN body warned that there could be a locust invasion in Yemen either at the end of February or the beginning of March.

“Small-scale breeding is in progress in coastal areas of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and reports of locust concentrations on the north-west coast of Somalia have been received by FAO,” the organisation said in a statement.

Yemen lies at the crossroads of swarm migrations originating from eastern countries - such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Oman - and the central areas – such as the rest of the Arabian Gulf, Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Swarms from any of these sources could reach Yemen, depending on the level of locust breeding, prevailing winds and the rains.

Abdu Far’e al-Rumaih, General Director of the Desert Locusts Control Centre (DLCC) at the agriculture ministry, told IRIN that two types of locust cross Yemen: the desert locust and the African migratory locust, which is most common in Yemen’s coastal areas.

“Yemen could lose 164 billion riyals [US $840 million] if these locusts invaded our crops,” he said, adding that locusts can be found over about a fifth of the country’s total area of 530,000 square kilometres.

Crop devastation can be catastrophic

Crop devastation as a result of a locust invasion can be catastrophic, particularly for an impoverished country such as Yemen. Specialists say that locusts, which weigh about two grammes, consume a daily quantity of food equivalent to their own weight. They eat leaves, flowers, bark, stems, fruits and seeds.

A small swarm can eat as much food in a day as 2,500 people, say specialists. A swarm can have up to 80 million adult locusts in each square kilometre, and is capable of destroying a crop field in seconds. Nearly all crops, and non-crop plants, are at risk.

After FAO’s warning of a desert locust outbreak in Eritrea in early February, the DLCC carried out two field surveys along 3,000km of coastal areas. However, according to the survey results, the situation is under control.

“At present, we can say that the situation is under control. But we still continue to monitor it,” al-Rumaih said.

Locusts thrive in coastal and desert areas. In Yemen, this is principally the provinces of Marib, al-Jawf, Shabwa, Hadhramout, al-Hudeidah, Aden, Abyan and Lahj. Locusts also breed in Hajjah province, which is on the border with Saudi Arabia.

Yemen witnessed damaging locust invasions in 1986, 1987, 1993 and 1998, with 1993 having a particularly serious outbreak. Additional outbreaks in 2002 and 2004 were successfully controlled.

Yemen’s emergency plan to control an imminent locust invasion includes sending teams to fumigate the affected areas. Some 288 individuals have been identified for the task and they are equipped with 14 vehicles, although al-Rumaih said that this number of vehicles was not enough.

“For the time being, we have only four teams to monitor the situation. Two are in the governorate of al-Hudeidah, one in Hajjah and the fourth team is in Abyan. There will be 42 teams in all, as set out in the emergency plan, but all these teams will be used once the locusts arrive in Yemen.

“I think we would be able to face the locust swarms if they don't outreach our abilities. We also expect the local breeding of locusts as well as locust swarms. There are 14 sprayers in 14 vehicles. We shall work to fumigate the affected areas after the locust invasion,” said al-Rumaih.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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