Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 July 2020

Environment

Officials monitor suspected locust swarms after sightings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

The bugs were seen over Dubai on Sunday evening and in the capital last week

Related: Desert locusts, the history and the havoc

Officials said they were monitoring swarms of desert locusts on Monday after they were spotted in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Residents told of clusters of bugs in areas across Dubai on Sunday evening, including the Marina, Barsha and Palm Jumeirah, following a bout of rain and high winds.

Ahmed Al Kamali, a forecaster with the National Centre of Meteorology, said the centre was aware of suspected sightings in Dubai and also in Abu Dhabi last week.

He said swarms, which have been seen in the Gulf in recent months, could have travelled in with the high winds that hit the Emirates on Sunday.

“Some research papers we have studied about these insects say they follow the low pressure,” he said.

“It doesn’t always happen. But they can follow the flow of the low pressure. This might be the reason why insects were migrating."

He said he had seen some videos that showed them move about in Dubai in Nad Al Hammar area. "I think they are locusts and the people in the videos suggested they were locusts. But the ones in Abu Dhabi [last week] were definitely locusts."

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, has studied such swarms for 30 years.

He told The National it was uncommon, but not unheard of, to see locusts in the UAE, adding they have been breeding in Al Ain near the border with Oman for “several months”.

“Until recently the locusts were in the nymph stage and now they have become adults and as vegetation is drying out there they have concentrated and formed these groups and small swarms. Obviously as you saw last evening, they are moving about,” he said.

“They move with the winds. Yesterday the winds were from the Al Ain area to Dubai, so that’s why you saw them yesterday. Probably there will be more around during this week.”

He said authorities in the UAE had been undertaking “control operations” in infested areas. But because the UAE is mostly desert, it is difficult to reach all of them.

Locusts do not breed in the UAE very often, but they are common in Oman, which experiences annual infestations.

“This year is just an extension of the breeding that was going on the other side of the border in Oman in the adjacent areas. We have been following this situation closely with the Omanis and Emiratis,” said Mr Cressman, who is based in Rome.

In the biologist's taxonomy, there is no real distinction between the grasshopper and the locust. A grasshopper becomes a locust when it swarms.

Under certain conditions, like dry spells, they are forced together, releasing serotonin, which makes them stronger, more aggressive and social.

Once the rains return, they produce rapidly and crowd together even more, creating a swarm that travels en masse searching for food, wreaking havoc wherever they go by devastating crops.

They can cover massive distances and remain in the air for days. In 1954, one swarm of desert locusts flew from north-west Africa to Britain.

Mr Cressman said it is likely the UAE locusts will move towards India and Pakistan. But because they need the wind to carry them, it will depend which way the wind blows.

“If they can get up into the winds that could carry them over the mountains of Fujairah and across the Strait of Hormuz and they will probably move towards the Indian and Pakistan border.

“They are looking for areas where it is going to be raining. So that is where it is going to be raining, on the Pakistan border. But if the winds shift and you get some strong north-east winds, then they will move in the opposite direction across the Rub Al Khali towards Yemen. So they have a few options.”

On Thursday, the World Bank approved a record $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in grants and low-interest loans to help countries in Africa and the Middle East fight the swarms of desert locusts that are eating their way across vast swathes of crops.

Locust swarms have infested 23 countries across East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the biggest outbreak in 70 years, according to the World Bank.

Updated: May 26, 2020 01:09 PM

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