HONG KONG — Swarms of desert locusts have devastated crops in East Africa, hit the Middle East and moved into South Asia. They’re breeding fast thanks to changes in global climate patterns that have brought about major cyclones and heavy rains, and they are feeding off human food supplies across continents. So far, India has managed to prevent a swarm of biblical proportions from spilling over into Bangladesh, Burma, and then China—where the coronavirus has already paralyzed much of the country’s activity. But it’s not clear how long that line will hold.
Eastern Africa has been hit the hardest by the xanthic bugs, with fields in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia ravaged by 360 billion locusts. Swarms can be city-sized, and one of the largest—located in Kenya—covers about 37 miles by 25 miles. It is so dense that it turns daylight to darkness for anyone caught within.
Alarmist headlines are proliferating, too, many of them drawing parallels with the plagues in scripture. “Bible coming to life?” asked the Jerusalem Post. The swarms appear in the Old Testament, most notably in Exodus as one of the plagues Moses calls down on Egypt, which also is referenced in the Quran. In the New Testament locusts are associated with Revelation 9:3, where they emerge in ferocious swarms that also have the sting of scorpions. Allusions to the Apocalypse aside, the real-life potential for disaster is huge.
A square mile of a swarm can be formed by up to 210 million locusts, which can eat as much food as 90,000 people in a day. In East Africa, the bugs have been tearing through maize, sorghum, cow peas, as well as vegetation that cattle graze on. Kenya hasn’t seen a swarm this size in seven decades, while Ethiopia and Somalia have managed to avoid these conditions for a quarter of a century. The governments of Kenya and Ethiopia have each dispatched several planes to dump pesticides from the air, which the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says is the only effective way to kill desert locusts. Farmers attempt to chase the bugs off, blasting the claxons on their motorbikes, or rigging contraptions that make loud, metallic noises when shaken. These methods have not made a dent in the locust population. There are simply too many of them.
For now, the Himalayan range is acting as a natural barrier for China, insulating its southwestern border from the scourge that is in Pakistan. But the locusts could bank into Southeast Asia, flowing through Bangladesh and up into Burma, landing in China’s Yunnan province, hitting a country that is already locked down because of the coronavirus’ rapid spread. As fears rise, the state-run media outlet Global Times has been offering ludicrous consolation to the public, claiming that the desert locusts are “eaten by ducks, fried for food,” and “not a threat to China.” And the international arm of state-run CCTV even released a bizarre video of “duck troops” amassing at the border. But the species of locust that is on the country’s doorstep emits phenylacetonitrile, a foul-smelling secretion that is meant to deter predators. Birds typically do not seek them out as a food source. – Daily Beast