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Billions of Locusts Pose an “Unprecedented Threat” to Africa, UN Warns

Hundreds of billions of locusts are feasting on crops in Africa.

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Locust Swarms Africa
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(TMU) — Desert locusts are invading and feasting on crops across Africa, and those affected are calling for international help, a new report states.

The outbreak of desert locusts is reportedly the worst that Kenya has seen in 70 years, according to the Associated Press. The insects have been flooding the country from Ethiopia and Somalia, leaving destroyed farmland in their wake in a part of the world that already suffers from hunger, drought, and flooding warned the UN.

We must act immediately,” David Phiri of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said.

This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion. FAO is activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said in a statement earlier this week.

Phiri called for aid to “avert any threats to food security, livelihoods, malnutrition.”

According to an FAO fact sheet, a swarm of locusts the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food as half the population of France in just a single day. The UN states that even a small swarm of locusts can eat through enough food for 35,000 people in a single day and can travel more than 90 miles.

The FAO estimates one swarm in Kenya to be around 930 square miles, suggesting it could contain up to as many as 200 billion locusts.

Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are all struggling with “unprecedented” and “devastating” swarms of the insects, the FAO has said. And the locusts are not only eating crops but disrupting farm animals and basic farming operations, according to the agency.

Beyond that, the locusts can even disrupt passenger planes in the region and may have already done just that. In fact, earlier this month an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Djibouti to Dire Dawa performed an emergency landing after the insects collided with it. A report states that the locusts were trapped in the engine and others hit the aircraft’s windshield.

The UN proposed a six-month emergency action plan estimated to cost $70 million. The cost would include aerial pesticide spraying, which they say is the only effective way to combat the insects. However, that task won’t be an easy effort especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group.

The United Nations said that the problem could increase in March when rainfall picks up in the region.

FAO expressed fears that if the problem is left uncontained when new vegetation grows, the swarms could grow 500 times by June of this year. If the infestation is not controlled, the agency warns that South Sudan and Uganda are also at risk.

Ethiopia and Somalia have not faced an infestation on this scale for 25 years while Kenya has not seen a locust threat this size for 70 years, the FAO said earlier this week.

In November of last year, Ethiopia issued a call for “immediate action” to deal with the problem affecting four of the country’s nine states.

In northern Amhara state some farmers have lost “nearly 100%” of their crop of the staple grain teff, the FAO said. The FAO estimate that the insects were eating 1.8 million tons of vegetation a day across 135 square miles of Ethiopia.

The speed of the pests’ spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit,” the FAO said.

Besides locusts in east Africa, the insects have also been breeding in India, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan which could turn into massive swarms in the spring. The locusts in East Africa are believed to have originated from Yemen last August, having traveled across the Red Sea.

The unusually heavy rain that has recently hit the region may also be a factor in the swarms, according to Accuweather. Warmer temperatures can also play a role in desert locust swarms.

A donor conference in Rome next week will be asked to pledge $70 million to deal with the plague of desert locusts that are threatening where tens of millions of people already face extreme hunger. The UN has so far released $10 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to combat the invasion according to to VOA who spoke to Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

By Aaron Kesel | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Thrilled by Discovery of Rare, Mammoth 400-Year-Old Coral

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A massive 400-year-old hard coral discovered on the Great Barrier Reef has scientists expressing their sense of surprise and excitement.

Named Muga dambhi by the Manbarra people, the Indigenous group who have traditionally taken care of the land, the “exceptionally large” brown and cream-colored coral is located off the coast of Goolboodi or Orpheus Island in the Great Barrier Reef.

It is believed that the coral was spawned some 421 to 438 years ago, meaning that its age predates the arrival of Captain James Cook and the advent of colonization in Australia, notes the Guardian.

The spectacular coral is about 35 feet wide and over 17 feet high, and is double the size of the nearest coral.

Scientists and members of the community participating in a marine science course discovered the specimen earlier this year.

While not the largest coral in the world, the huge find is of major significance to the local ecosystem, according to Adam Smith, an adjunct professor at James Cook University who wrote the field note on the find.

“It’s like a block of apartments,” Smith said. “It attracts other species. There’s other corals, there’s fish, there’s other animals around that use it for shelter or for feeding, so it’s pretty important for them.”

“It’s a bit like finding a giant redwood tree in the middle of a botanic gardens,” he added.

It is likely that the coral hasn’t been discovered for such a long time due to its location in a relatively remote and unvisited portion of a Marine National Park zone that enjoys a high degree of protection.

“Over the last 20 or 30 years, no one has noticed, or observed, or thought it newsworthy enough to share photos, or document, or do research on this giant coral,” Smith said.

The coral is in remarkable condition, with over 70 percent of its surface covered in live coral, coral rock and microalgae. No disease, bleaching or recently deceased coral has been recorded on the specimen.

“The cumulative impact of almost 100 bleaching events and up to 80 major cyclones over a period of four centuries, plus declining nearshore water quality contextualise the high resilience of this Porites coral,” the field note added.

The specific coral has been given the name Muga dhambi, meaning big coral, out of respect for the Indigenous knowledge, language, and culture of the Manbarra Traditional Owners.

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Environment

Greenland Ice Washed Away as Summit Sees Rain for First Time in Recorded History

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For the first time in recorded history, torrential downpours of rain have struck Greenland’s icy summit nearly two miles above sea level.

Greenland, an environmentally sensitive island, is typically known for its majestic ice sheet and snowy climate, but this is fast changing due to a massive melt taking place this summer.

However, the typical snowfall has been replaced in recent years not simply by a few showers, but by heavy rainfall. The torrential downpour last week was so huge, in fact, that it washed away a terrifying amount of ice across some 337,000 square miles of the ice shelf’s surface, reports Earther.

Temperatures at the ice shelf had simultaneously warmed to a significant degree, with the summit reaching 33 degrees Fahrenheit – within a degree above freezing and the third time that the shelf has surpassed freezing temperatures this decade.

The fact that rain is falling on ice rather than snow is also significant because it is melting ice across much of southern Greenland, which already saw huge melting events last month, while hastening rising sea levels that threaten to submerge whole coastal cities and communities.

To make matters worse, any new ice formed by the freezing rainwater will not last long. The ice shelf currently existing on Greenland was formed by the compression of snow over innumerable years, which shines bright white and reflects sunlight away rather than absorbing it, as ice from frozen rain does.

The huge scale of the melt and accompanying rainfall illustrate the growing peril of rapidly warming climate conditions across the globe.

“This event by itself does not have a huge impact, but it’s indicative of the increasing extent, duration, and intensity of melting on Greenland,” wrote Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado. “Like the heat wave in the [U.S. Pacific] northwest, it’s something that’s hard to imagine without the influence of global climate change.”

“Greenland, like the rest of the world, is changing,” Scambos told the Washington Post. “We now see three melting events in a decade in Greenland — and before 1990, that happened about once every 150 years. And now rainfall: in an area where rain never fell.”

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Environment

South Korean Toilet Turns Poo Into Green Energy and Pays Its Users Digital Cash

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What if your morning #2 not only powered your stove to cook your eggs, but also allowed you to pay for your coffee and pastry on the way to class?

It seems like an absurd question, but one university in South Korea has invented a toilet that allows human excrement to not only be used for clean power, but also dumps a bit of digital currency into your wallet that can be exchanged for some fruit or cup noodles at the campus canteen, reports Reuters.

The BeeVi toilet – short for Bee-Vision – was designed by urban and environmental engineering professor Cho Jae-weon of the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST), and is meant to not only save resources but also reward students for their feces.

The toilet is designed to first deliver your excrement into a special underground tank, reducing water use, before microorganisms break the waste down into methane, a clean source of energy that can power the numerous appliances that dorm life requires.

“If we think out of the box, feces has precious value to make energy and manure,” Cho explained. “I have put this value into ecological circulation.”

The toilet can transform approximately a pound of solid human waste – roughly the average amount people poop per day – into some 50 liters of methane gas, said Cho. That’s about enough to generate half a kilowatt hour of electricity, enough to transport a student throughout campus for some of their school day.

Cho has even devised a special virtual currency for the BeeVi toilet called Ggool, or honey in Korean. Users of the toilet can expect to earn 10 Ggool per day, covering some of the many expenses students rack up on campus every day.

Students have given the new system glowing reviews, and don’t even mind discussing their bodily functions at lunchtime – even expressing their hopes to use their fecal credits to purchase books.

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