Yemen appeals for international support amid 'massive' locust outbreak

Huge swarms are sweeping across the war-torn country, destroying crops before help can arrive

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Yemeni officials have called for urgent international support to battle a major locust outbreak that is jeopardising food supplies in the war-ravaged country.

Officials in Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture have appealed to the UN and international organisations for further assistance amid a surge in desert locusts as huge swarms invade the eastern and northern parts of the country, destroying vital crops.

“Many provinces in southern and northern Yemen have been experiencing a massive outbreak of the desert locust [the likes of] which hasn’t been seen in decades,” said Ali Juneid, an engineer at the agriculture ministry in Yemen.

Yemen once had an effective locust response mechanism but the civil war has left the country unable to control regular invasions of the pests. If international organisations and surrounding countries don’t step in to provide support, the situation will get worse for everyone, Ali Saif Al Sheibani, head of the General Directorate of the Plant Protection in the Yemen Ministry of Agriculture warned.

“The locust swarms know no borders. They aren’t just threatening our country but the neighbouring countries as well. So our neighbours should be standing by us in our fight to overcome this new ordeal,” he said.

Farms in the provinces of Marib, Hadramawt, Shabwa, Abyan, Lahj and Al Dhalea have been invaded by desert locusts in vast numbers, causing major damage to agriculture, which poses a significant threat to Yemenis who are already suffering from severe food shortages he told The National.

Over 20 million people are food insecure in Yemen, with a staggering 10 million at risk of famine, according to the World Bank.

Why are locust swarms spreading so fast?

Why are locust swarms spreading so fast?

“We send an urgent appeal to local and international partners to help us win the fight against this new enemy, which is not just going to worsen the food crisis in Yemen, but will go far beyond the borders to destroy cultivation in the bordering countries," Mr Juneid said.

The National has asked the UN to comment.

Earlier this year, experts attributed the spread of locust swarms across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya to Yemen’s inability to subdue the outbreaks. Heavy rainfall has created ideal conditions for the locusts to keep breeding, resulting in larger and more frequent swarms than usual.

Yemen's capacity to respond to the heightened outbreak has been further undermined by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on resources that have already been depleted by years of conflict.

The ministry lacks the vehicles, pesticides and spraying equipment to tackle the scale of the outbreak. “Our infrastructure is completely devastated … Our buildings, our vehicles and our equipment were all destroyed and looted during the war and the government has no budget for emergencies,” Mr Juneid added.

In the Yemeni provinces of Hadramawt, Shabwa and Marib huge bands of hoppers have caused major damage to seasonal crops.

"The swarms attacked farms cultivating onion and corn and cattle clover; these farms were completely devastated and the farmers had to cultivate them again," Fahed Mabruk the director of the agriculture office in Shabwa told The National.

In Marib, northern Yemeni farmers growing oranges said the swarms caused heavy losses in their orchards.

In recent months, Yemen's Ministry of Agriculture has launched campaigns with funds from the Food and Agriculture Organisation to combat swarms in the eastern areas of Yemen and Marib in the north. This has allowed them to clear locusts from 1140 hectares of land in Shawba and 175 hectares in Hadramawt.

But support from international organisations often comes too late to tackle the swarms effectively – “consequently we lose the war against the locust outbreak because we have never been able to launch the fight campaigns in time,” Mr Juneid said.