Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Jordan sends out air force to defeat locust swarm

The destructive insects had descended on the kingdom's rich agricultural lands in Tafilah

Jordan was hit by a second swarm of locusts in the space of 24 hours on May 6, 2019. Getty Images
Jordan was hit by a second swarm of locusts in the space of 24 hours on May 6, 2019. Getty Images

Jordan mobilised its air force again on Monday to combat the second wave of locusts to hit the kingdom in 24 hours.

The Jordanian air force began spraying pesticides from the early morning and agriculture ministry teams continued to sweep through southern Jordan after the arrival of what officials are calling a “significant swarm of locusts carried over on south-eastern winds from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The swarm was reported to have hit Tafilah, a southern governorate known for its fruit and olive orchards and pastoral lands, particularly in the Dana nature reserve, a major tourism attraction, on Sunday evening.

The pesticide spraying began on 5am on Monday and continued into the late morning, concentrated in an area with a 10-kilometre radius, Jordan’s agriculture ministry said.

“We have eliminated 95 per cent of the locust swarm in southern Jordan, and we hope to have completely eradicated the locusts in the final area by early tomorrow,” Lawrence Majali, a ministry spokesman, told The National.

“No additional locust swarms have entered Jordan and monitoring is ongoing,” he said.

The air force was also sent out to spray a smaller swarm that was reported late on Saturday in Jordan’s eastern desert near the Al Jafer region, 100km west of the border with Saudi Arabia. The swarm covered an area with a 9km radius, according to the agriculture ministry.

Agriculture and Environment Minister Ibrahim Al Shahahdeh said that swarm had been “eliminated” by Monday.

The Jordan Meteorological Department forecast a shift in winds from south-easterly to north-westerly on Monday evening, which would slow down the approach of more locust swarms from Saudi Arabia.

“A southern wind has been aiding the locusts’ spread, but today after sunset a northern wind will affect the kingdom and this will help prevent the entry of further locust swarms,” Mr Majali said.

Jordan has been on high alert for locust invasions since February, forming an emergency anti-locust committtee and dispatching the air force to monitor regions for invasions by the destructive insects.

The locust threat has been treated as a national emergency in the kingdom, which relies on agriculture for 4 per cent of GDP, and exports produce to Iraq, the Gulf and Europe.

Adult locusts can eat their body weight in fresh vegetation every day and even a small swarm can consume enough food for 35,000 people in just 24 hours, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

According to the UN agency, in addition to locusts crossing over from Eritrea and Sudan to the Gulf, rainfall from cyclones Mekunu last May and Luban in October also created conditions for mass breeding in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter, near the Yemen-Oman border, with hatchings recorded south-west of Madinah on the kingdom’s west coast.

The FAO had warned of renewed locust movements between March and June this year.

A female locust can lay about 300 eggs in her short life, meaning swarms can quickly grow to hundreds of millions of individuals and measure miles across. They have the ability to strip land bare as they pass through.

Tackling swarms is made more difficult by the locusts' ability to travel up to 150km in a day.

Updated: May 6, 2019 06:46 PM

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