A buzzing, munching, shimmering cloud has descended on much of East Africa. The most serious outbreak of locusts in 25 years is affecting at least six nations. The insects are worse than annoying: They’re threatening access to food in some of the world’s most defenseless countries.
Desert locusts are the world’s most dangerous species of locust. About the length of a finger, they’re swarming by the millions in East Africa. The insects are devouring crops and forcing people in some areas to wade through them.
Officials in Kenya report an “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity. One swarm measured 37 miles long by 25 miles wide!
“A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per [one-third of a square mile],” reads a statement from East Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Swarms can move quickly, traveling between 60-90 miles a day. All those chomping mouths can do major damage too. “An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people,” continues IGAD’s statement.
East Africa’s horror may remind you of the biblical locust plague. Moses records how locusts blocked out the sun and ate everything in sight, forcing the pharaoh to (briefly) repent. (Exodus 10)
In this modern-day locust invasion, Kenya isn’t alone. The outbreak is also happening in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, and Eritrea. IGAD warns that parts of South Sudan and Uganda could be next.
The locusts have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of crops, making an already dire food situation worse. To help prevent and control outbreaks, authorities analyze satellite images, stockpile pesticides, and conduct aerial spraying. Still the locusts keep coming.
IGAD says increasing locust swarms could last until June.
Such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever will be again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees. . . . Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. — Exodus 10:14-15
(In this photo taken Thursday, January 16, 2020, a Samburu boy uses a wooden stick to try to swat a swarm of desert locusts as he herds his camel near the village of Sissia, in Samburu county, Kenya. AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi)