The Plagues and Famine of the Fourth Seal (Revelation 6)

Photo: Reuters

Locusts continue to plague nations on 3 continents

July 31, 2020 — News Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, Desert locusts, East Africa, Iran, Iran Nuclear Dispute, Iran-U.S., Israel News, Israel Now, Latin America, locust swarms, Middle East, UN Food & Agriculture Organization, US Sanctions on Iran

Nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America are relentlessly combatting the worst infestation of desert locusts in decades.

Israeli authorities remain vigilant against the threat posed by the pests, while confident that the nation’s advanced technology and preparedness would successfully eradicate any swarms soon after their detection.

In a brief overview starting in Latin America: grains powerhouse Argentina is getting hit by a second swarm of locusts arriving from neighboring Paraguay, Argentina’s Senasa agricultural health inspection agency said earlier this week – putting farmers on notice about possible crop damage. The new swarm is concentrated in the province of Formosa in north-east Argentina, on the Paraguay border. The area is not part of Argentina’s main Pampas grains belt, but it could hurt crops if the low temperatures of the Southern Hemisphere winter do not keep the swarm from spreading too far southward. “The swarm detected in Formosa advanced in a southern direction,” Hector Medina, a coordinator at Senasa, told Reuters, adding that “The wind allowed it to move quickly and is expected to approach Rio Bermejo, so the alert is extended to Chaco province.”

Brazil declared a phytosanitary state of emergency in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina due to the risk of an outbreak of the Schistocerca cancellata plague caused by the cloud of locusts flying through Argentina, made up of thousands of the species that arrived in the country from May 11 from Paraguay, traveling at a daily speed of up to 150 kilometers per day.

Turning to East Africa, and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has just publicly thanked the government of Canada for a substantial contribution toward helping to battle infestations of crop- and pasture-devouring desert locusts in the region, as well as for having been among the first nations to respond with donations that now amount $1.5 million. Earlier this month, the European Union injected an additional $17 million. Other funding for the effort to contain desert locust and diminish the upsurge’s food security impacts has also been received from the Governments of Belgium, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America, the African Development Bank, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the European Union, the Louis Dreyfus Foundation, the Mastercard Foundation, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Bank Group.

The FAO noted that so far, “nearly half a trillion locusts are estimated to have been killed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen in control operations since January and one million tons of crops – enough to feed nearly 7 million people – have been spared from devastation.”

But “despite the success of control operations spanning 500 000 ha (hectares), heavy rains during this spring season created ideal conditions for reproduction and the potential destruction caused by the new-generation swarms which could still provoke a humanitarian crisis as new swarms strike Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Yemen,” said the FAO, adding that “Survey and control operations are in progress in all countries.

Locusts move in swarms of up to 50 million, can travel 90 miles a day, and lay as many as 1,000 eggs per square meter of land. The locust outbreak in East Africa “is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years – for Kenya, in 70 years.

The most recent FAO Desert Locust Watch report determined that spring-bred swarms are shifting north to the summer breeding areas. Even though there has been a notable decline in immature swarms in northwest Kenya due to control operations and migration to Ethiopia, there are still some swarms present in parts of Samburu and in Turkana near the Uganda border. Immature swarms in Ethiopia are mainly present in the Somali region and also, to a lesser degree, in parts of Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions. In Somalia, immature swarms are present on the northern plateau where some of them have started to become mature. Survey and control operations are in progress in the three countries. In Sudan, low numbers of solitarious mature adults are present between Eritrea and North Kordofan while mainly immature adults are present further north in the Nile Valley. Small-scale breeding will start shortly in areas of recent rainfall. So far, there are no reports of swarms arriving from NW Kenya, and intensive surveys are in progress.

The situation remains calm in West Africa. Solitarious adults are present in the summer breeding areas in southern Mauritania, central and northern Niger, and in western and eastern Chad where egg-laying will occur shortly in areas of recent rainfall. While the threat of a swarm invasion continues to decline, it is necessary to maintain strict vigilance, preparedness, and thorough monitoring.

In the Arabian Peninsula, local infestations of solitarious adults are present in the southwest in Saudi Arabia, near Najran. Yemen continues to be of particular cause of concern because of the continuation of good rains and breeding in interior areas where hopper bands and swarms are forming. Survey and control operations are in progress in some areas. The locusts have compounded an already dire hunger situation after five years of war that has also been impacted by coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, floods and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response. U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up after which the World Food Program fed up to 13 million a month. Resurgent violence in recent weeks between warring parties, despite U.N. peace efforts, is also killing and injuring civilians. In Oman, control operations are in progress against hopper groups and bands that formed on the southern coast near Salalah while solitarious adults are present in adjacent areas of the interior.

Summer breeding is underway along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. In India, numerous adult groups and swarms are laying eggs over a wide area of Rajasthan between Jodhpur and Churu while hatching and band formation from earlier laying have occurred further south from Phalodi to Gujarat.

Pakistan is especially prone to locust attacks because it is situated on the migratory route of locusts coming from the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Oman. Hopper groups and bands are present in the Nagarparkar area of Pakistan in Tharparkar of southeast Sindh. Adult groups are scattered throughout Cholistan and other parts of Tharparkar that will lay eggs shortly.

Last year, Pakistan suffered its worst attack of locusts since 1993, for which the country was largely unprepared. Officials from the Ministry of Food Security and Research say swarms coming from the Horn of Africa could be 400 times more than those that came last year.

Pakistani authorities warned that immediate steps needed to be taken to thwart huge swarms of desert locusts expected to reach Pakistan later this month from the Horn of Africa.

“The situation today is that, within the next few days or weeks, these swarms from the Horn of Africa, especially from Somalia, may arrive in South West Asia. South West Asia means Iran, Pakistan, India,” Federal Minister For National Food Security And Research, Fakhr Imam told a meeting of the National Locust Control Centre (NLCC) last  Friday (July 24).

According to statements from NLCC, 1051 joint teams of Pakistan army, Agriculture Ministry and Food Department have conducted surveys in over 43,9312.21 square kilometers of the affected areas of the country and carried out fumigation operations in 10,720.49 kilometers of land. Around 8000 military personnel, and 9 aircraft, are taking part in the locust control operations.

Meanwhile, in Iran, the Mehr News Agency headquartered in Tehran and owned by the Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization (IIDO), reported that the Islamic Republic’s Embassy’s representative in Pakistan, Somayeh Karimdoost, criticized “problems in bilateral cooperation to cope with the challenge of desert locust attacks, the called for strengthening regional cooperation to deal with desert locust.”

She went on to say that the “swarms have already devastated crops and it is feared that they can cause greater damage,” but that “interference is creating hurdles in the implementation of the bilateral mechanism.”

Karimdoost called on the FAO and the World Food Organization of the United Nations to play a more effective role in assisting countries affected by desert locusts and facilitate cooperation between them. She maintained that “Iran has made every effort to control locust attacks and help its neighbors to prevent the damage caused by this problem,” before going on to level veiled criticism at the United States’ sanctions program against her nation, saying that a continuation of “such coercive behavior” would have “a negative impact on the region especially the neighboring states of Iran” in dealing with the locust challenge.

Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan Sayyed Mohammad Ali Hosseini previously stated that Washington’s punitive campaign against Tehran, aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, “significantly reduced the resources allocated to dealing with desert locusts.”

Overall, the most recent FAO update has assessed a decline in Iran’s locust numbers. According to the organization’s GIEWS Country Brief: Iran (Islamic Republic of) 20-July-2020 FOOD SNAPSHOT: there has been a slightly above‑average cereal harvest forecast in 2020, but that further increases in food inflation following currency devaluation are likely over a detrimental effect on household incomes due to COVID‑19 containment measures, combined with economic slowdown and rapid currency devaluation.

Pertaining to the desert locust, the report noted that even though the pest is common in Iran, “breeding conditions in 2020 were particularly favourable due to abundant rains in the country. Seven provinces (Sistan and Baluchistan, Hormozgan, Bushehr, Fars, Khuzestan, Kerman and South Khorasan) in the southern part of the country, stretching from eastern Islamic Republic of Iran on the border with Pakistan to the southwestern border with Iraq, were affected. As of June 2020, seasonal infestations were declining due to control operations and migration to Indo‑Pakistan summer breeding areas. More than 400 000 hectares were treated since January 2020, with almost one‑third of the treatment carried out in May 2020.”

Economic analysis revealed that “In 2019/20 (April‑March), the overall economy contracted by 7%. Growing 3%, agriculture was the only expanding sector and it contributed to about 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Among other findings, “The food and beverages price inflation index in Khordad 1399 (corresponding to 22 May‑21 June 2020) was recorded at 14.9% on a yearly basis, driven by the devaluation of its currency, up from 10.7% in Farvardin 1399 (22 March‑21 April 2020), but below 74.1% in mid‑2019.

The general inflation registered 22.5% in Khordad 1399, up from the 19.8% in April 2020, but below 50.4% in July 2019” – with the GIEWS Country Brief on Iran concluding that “The sanctions severely limit the export earnings.”

The coronavirus pandemic deepened Iran’s fiscal deficit and balance of payments, prompting the government in May to slash four zeros and replace the national currency with the Toman at an equivalency to ﷼ 10,000 Iranian Rial (IRR). “The Central Bank of Iran maintains a dual tier exchange rate system. The fixed rate of IRR 42,000 per US dollar is used to finance the imports of essential goods, such as food and medicine, although reports indicate that in the current fiscal year (starting from 20 March 2020), the practice was discontinued for rice. For other transactions, the current official exchange is IRR 22,2763 per US dollar. As of 13 July 2020, USD 1 was trading for IRR 234,000 on the free market exchange, up from IRR 171,000 on 21 June 2020,” reads the report.

Precautionary measures to prevent spread of COVID-19 in March (although somewhat eased in April) were found to have had “a detrimental effect on the incomes, particularly of casual labourers” when “combined with the economic slowdown and the rapid currency devaluation.” In addition to required physical distancing, quarantine for returnees, bans on gatherings, educational activities, social and religious events; several economic steps were also taken.

COVID‑19 relief and recovery measures declared by presidential decree in March amounted to more than 10% of Iran’s GDP. A moratorium on tax payments for a period of three months (7% of the GDP) was implemented, in addition to the establishment of credit facilities for affected businesses (4.4%) in terms of loans with a 12% rate and a repayment period of two years; additional funding of the health sector (2%) and cash transfers to vulnerable households (0.3%). Three million Iranians in the lower income bracket were qualified to receive payments between IRR 2 million to IRR 6 million in four stages, depending on the size of the household. Other measures included increased support to the unemployment insurance fund (0.3%) and new low interest rate loans to vulnerable families.

In early March 2020, the Central Bank also allocated funds (equivalent to 0.06% of the GDP) to import medicine, while also coordinating an agreement with commercial banks to postpone loan repayments that had been due in February for another three months, and granting temporary penalty waivers for clients with non‑performing loans. The Central Bank also expanded the infrastructure for contactless payment via QR codes and digital wallets to limit exposure to the coronavirus through the circulation of banknotes.

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