Locusts Block Out Sun in Iran as Bug Swarms Threaten Famine From Africa to Asia

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(TMU) – While the year began with fears that World War III would break out in the Middle East, it would appear that a different threat is tearing through the region – one of the worst locust infestations in modern history which is slamming Iran.

The plague of locusts has grown so bad in the south of Iran that the country’s leadership is considering deploying its military to combat the horrific insect infestation, which could ravage the country’s agriculture and food supplies.

Mohammed Reza Mir, a spokesman for the Iranian Agriculture Ministry’s Plant Protection Organization, told the semiofficial news agency ILNA last week that the country’s military hopes to join in the fight to ward off the invasion. Mir said:

“The military have promised to help fight the desert locusts, including by providing all-terrain vehicles for use in areas which are hard to access. Last year the military provided personnel and vehicles, and that was a big help.”

About 500,000 acres (200,000 hectares) of orchards and farmland have already been devoured by the swarm, the official said. And nearly 2.5 million acres of land could face utter decimation if nothing is done to halt the biblical-scale migration of insects.

In terrifying video footage that is reportedly from Iran, a humongous cloud of locusts can be seen nearly obscuring the sun as a car drives through the swarm.

The emergency is slamming the country as it contends with an economy ravaged by U.S.-led sanctions, collapsing oil prices, and the impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

ABC reports that the locusts are capable of traveling in swarms as large as 50 million insects and can travel over 90 miles and eat up to 200 tons of crops every single day.

The last locust outbreak occurring on a comparable scale took place in the mid-20th century, when monitoring and reporting was a much slower manual process. However, the availability of chemical pesticides wasn’t as much an issue then as now, allowing for relatively efficient control operations.

Officials in Iran claim that the ground in one afflicted area was covered in a 6-inch-high layer of dead locusts after they sprayed it with pesticides, but clearly this was far from enough.

However, this is the second consecutive year that the locust swarms have wreaked havoc across the region – and it’s a problem that’s grown much worse due to the erratic and unpredictable shifts in climate conditions, which have entailed unseasonal rainfall, cyclones, and other factors contributing to the birth of new locust generations.

Warming waters in the Indian Ocean—known as the Indian Ocean Dipole or “Indian Niño” due to its similarity to El Niño in the Pacific—have also been linked to an uptick in cyclones across the region, as well as dry weather, flooding, and even the raging bushfires across Australia.

Muhammad Azhar Ehsan, a researcher at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told Vox:

“The western side of the Indian Ocean was unusually warm as compared to the eastern side. So when the western side was warm, we had a lot of evaporation happening over there, and that evaporation turned into a rainfall.”

The humongous swarms of desert locusts are also sweeping across the Horn of Africa and South Asia. The locusts are threatening to plunge tens of millions of people into famine, especially as it coincides with the novel coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic shutdown rippling across the globe.

About 20 million people are already in the grips of food insecurity while roughly 17 million people in war-ravaged Yemen face grave danger.

In some areas, the recent swarms have seen nearly 100 percent of crops lost to the swarms. For many countries, this is also the first swarm they’ve seen in decades – meaning they are poorly equipped to control the plague of locusts.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agricultural Orgnization (FAO), said “It’s like a fire in a country that has no fire department.”

And to make matters worse, some people believe that the scarcity created by the locusts could itself be a contributing factor to armed conflict in the region.

A failure to urgently fund and step up the campaign to suppress the desert locust infestations could see the insects’ numbers grow to 20 times worst than the last outbreak – ensuring that desert locusts will ruin this year’s harvest season.