Yemen: Country on alert as locust swarms increase

News and Press Release
Originally published
SANA'A, 20 May 2007 (IRIN) - Yemen's Desert Locusts Control Centre (DLCC) has declared a state of emergency after swarms of locusts descended on three provinces in the south. There are fears that, if not controlled, the locusts could head for agricultural land in mountainous areas and threaten food production, as they often thrive in areas planted with grains, such as millet and sorghum.

Separate swarms of locusts have descended on some 150 square kilometers of the southeastern provinces of Hadhramaut, Shabwa and al-Mahrah, according to the DLCC.

Abdu Farei al-Rumaih, director-general of the DLCC, told IRIN on Wednesday that all workers at his centre and plant protection units have been put on alert.

Specialists say that because these locusts are not yet sexually mature, they still need to feed on plants. It is because of this that there are fears they could soon invade nearby farm land. Sexually mature locusts, however, pose no threat as they move to sandy areas where they can lay their eggs, al-Rumaih said. In those cases, male locusts hover over the area, look for female locusts or just feed, he added.

Current distribution of locusts

In Hadhramaut province, locusts have descended on an area of over 100 sq km in al-Abr district, with a density of 15 locusts in each square metre. This means there are about 15 million locusts there. Al-Rumaih said these swarms might move to an area between Marib and al-Jawf, in the south.

Swarms of locusts have also been detected in the Arian district of Shabwa province, 474 km from Sana'a, where they have descended on 20 hectares (0.2 km sq), with a density of 10 locusts in every square metre. The locusts in this area are immature hoppers, according to al-Rumaih. The locusts found in Shabwa's Esailan district might head for Marib province and some areas of Khawlan district in Sana'a province, al-Rumaih added.

Also in Shabwa province, locusts have been detected in a 7 sq km area in Jubah district. About 10 locusts can be found in every square metre there.

Fumigated areas

Locust swarms have been descending on Yemen for the past several months. DLCC teams have fumigated 3,700 hectares (37 sq km) in Thamoud, a desert area in Hadhramaut. The area was invaded in late April by mature desert locusts carrying millions of eggs over 4,000 hectares of grazing land. However, the DLCC said they did not cause much damage.

In March, migratory locusts descended on 27 sq km of farmland in the western province of al-Hudaidah, but field teams managed to control the situation.

Specialists say a small swarm of locusts can eat as much food in a day as 2,500 people. A swarm can have up to 80 million adult locusts in each square kilometre, and is capable of destroying a crop field in seconds. Nearly all crops and non-crop plants are at risk, except the most valuable crop of all to Yemenis, the mild narcotic qat.

Yemen is at the crossroads of swarm migrations originating from eastern countries - such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Oman - and central areas - such as the rest of the Arabian Gulf, Sudan and the Horn of Africa.

Yemen will host a regional conference on locusts from 20-24 May. Seven Middle Eastern countries will participate in the conference, said al-Rumaih, and Yemen will brief participants on the current locust threat to the country.