Pictures of swarms of locusts, crawling, flying, mating and stripping greenery in the East and Horn of Africa region appear like something out of a horror movie or some Africa Magic epic. One agrees that the poor devils have a right to live and to thrive, but why could they not find their own creepy planet? How could billions of the little horrors descend on shrubberies and farmlands without care?
The Earth is already challenged with a plethora of crises and one would think that plagues of locusts are best left as already settled in the Holy Book. To have those noisy crowds flying about and eating up every green thing is another form of terrorism.
And here we are, having these creeping disasters attack the last hope of the already desperately poor. It is said that a small swarm of desert locusts can devour the same amount of food as 35,000 people per day. Imagine that one swarm can have up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre of farmland or an equivalent of about 250 football fields! No one wants these swarms, no matter how small. One report has it that a large swarm in north eastern Kenya measures as much as 60 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide.
Even without rising temperatures and though they die soon after copulating, these creatures are annoyingly fecund. Africa has had an unfair share of climate-related disasters. Floods, droughts, heat and water stress all pile harms upon the continent, deepening poverty and exacerbating inequalities.
Mark Lowcock, UN humanitarian chief, warns that the locust invasion in East Africa can become “the most devastating plague of locusts in any of our living memories if we don’t reduce the problem faster than we’re doing at the moment.” What is being experienced is said to be inching towards the worst to be seen in the last 70 years. The menace is so shocking that even cows are wondering what on earth is happening. Humans know that a hotter climate means more swarms, no matter what deniers may postulate.
It is estimated that if the locust storm (and that’s a close image of the plague) persists, up to 10 million persons may plunge into hunger in that part of Africa. The locusts have already struck Kenya, Somalia and parts of Uganda. South Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia are also threatened. They are believed to have been blown in by strong cyclones from the Arabian Peninsula and across the Red Sea and to have had a hit with greenery in East Africa. More rains offer better conditions for the locusts to thrive. Lesser rain reduces their population, but a whiff of water would quickly see a multiplication of the survivors.
What can be done about these creatures? Kill the nymphs before they grow! Did we just say that? That sounds horrendously gruesome. But that’s the harsh truth. When they pop up, wiggly, wingless and hopping, that is the time to step on them. Ouch. That is the time to give them a shower of pesticides or locusticides. The insects are edible, but locust fries, salad or suya would not eliminate these hordes. Imagine if nets were set and these troops are captured and sent to any community where they could be served for snacks or dinner. Where are the titans in search of capital? This is a business idea, brisk, short-term and extremely profitable. The stock will be freely available, and you would not even need to pay for the creatures.
Aerial spraying could be a solution in the less accessible parts of Somalia, but that option is a no brainer with the presence of al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab groups. Halting the spread of the locust is a task that must be done. Left to their devices, the attack becomes a plague that, according to experts, would take years to eradicate.
Looking at the climate disasters and now the locust invasion in East Africa, one cannot help but conclude that West Africa has generally gotten off lightly from the tweaks of Nature and disasters triggered by the reckless plunder of Nature in the pursuit of capital.
Look at a nation like Nigeria. Natural disasters are few and far apart. When the floods come it is often predicted by relevant agencies and the disaster nevertheless arrives at a leisurely pace, traveling down the Niger and Benue Rivers until they empty into the Atlantic Ocean after sweeping away the dreams of the hapless citizens.
While locusts devour lives from trees in East Africa, in Nigeria, city gates are locked before dusk in the fear of terrorists. Citizens locked inside the cities may enjoy a dubious respite, but those locked outside the gates get roasted and annihilated in exposed and unsecured villages.
The swarms of locusts love germinating crops, devour leaves and generate hunger and desperation. Climate change intensifies floods and wreak havoc in many areas. Where these aren’t so potent, humans look for ways to spill blood, light the fires of terror in forests and scrublands, kidnap, abduct and make kids become targets merely by wearing school uniforms.
While no one can claim now to have an immediate solution to the locust strike, we have those saddled with responsibility of providing security in Nigeria screaming that they have defeated their human locusts several months ago, and that even if they are bereft of ideas on how to tackle the murderous horrors, they are indispensable.
Meanwhile, we wonder why the number of victims of terrorist attacks in Borno State and in the North East generally has regularly hovered around 30. A casual look at some news reports show that 30 persons were reportedly killed in attacks in February 2012, July 2013, December 2013, May 2015, December 2016, September 2018, May, June and December 2019, and in January and February 2020.
Is it that we cannot count persons or is 30 a set number for massacres in the region? What will we do if the locust storms blow this way?
Nnimmo Bassey is Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF)