UN strengthens locust defences in Yemen and Saudi Arabia

Ravenous insects have spread from Africa across to the Arabian Peninsula

Locusts are seen in a farm in Marsabit County, Northern Kenya in this picture distributed on January 19, 2021. Ilias Iman/Catholic Relief Services/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
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The UN has increased efforts to fight a desert locust infestation that has devastated parts of Africa and crossed the Red Sea into coastal areas of Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Dominique Burgeon, director of emergencies and resilience at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, described work with Yemeni authorities in rebel-held Sanaa and the port city of Aden to fight the locust scourge.

“We had extensive discussions with them and agreed on processes and on the equipment they needed to physically beef up significantly surveillance efforts,” Mr Burgeon said on Tuesday.

“Since then, with also the deployment of additional capacities, with expertise being deployed, we have indeed seen a significant increase in the areas that have been surveyed.”

Keith Cressman, the FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer, said officials in neighbouring Saudi Arabia had locust populations under control.

“In Saudi Arabia, they have a very strong national locust programme so they are able to manage those locust infestations that are present along the Red Sea coast of their country,” Mr Cressman said.

“We’re not looking to see any difficulties in that situation.”

In recent weeks, locust swarms have been seen in highlands to the west of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, and along the war-torn country’s Red Sea coast.

Locusts are also breeding along much of Saudi’s Red Sea coastline.

Locust swarms first soared in number in late 2019 as a result of unusual weather patterns amplified by climate change.

The crop-destroying insects have ravaged farms in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, threatening food supplies for millions of people.

The desert locust is native to Africa, the Middle East and western Asia and is the world’s most destructive insect.

It weighs only two grams but eats its own weight in food every day.

Favourable breeding conditions can lead to overcrowding and food shortages for locusts, which then gather into a swarm.

Swarms of as many as 80 million locusts can cover several hundred square kilometres and travel 130 kilometres or more in a day.