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Yemen facing plague of locusts as it reels from civil war

Just one 'small' swarm contains about 40 million insects that can eat the same as amount as 35,000 people
For the pot: Locusts are considered a delicacy in Yemen (AFP)

Yemen is facing a plague of locusts it will not be able to control as the country struggles through civil war and failing security, according to a report from the country's insect control experts.

A report on SciDev.Net said Yemen's Desert Locust Control Centre issued a warning earlier this month that many desert locusts had matured to their adult flying phase, and remaining populations would do likewise within weeks. 

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation meanwhile warned that the outbreak threatens the country’s farming, and the swarms could reach neighbouring countries, including Oman and Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran.

According to the FAO, just one "small" swarm containing about 40 million insects can eat the same as amount as 35,000 people.

Adult desert locusts are able to survive extreme heat and drought, and can travel up to 150km a day.  

Yemeni experts said their control efforts this month, especially in the southern coastal Shabwah province, have largely failed. Pesticide spraying was also harmful to Yemen's beekeeping industry, a crucial part of the country's struggling economy.

“The intervention process to control locusts through insecticide spraying was very difficult due to a number of obstacles, the most important of which were the security aspect and the presence of beehives,” says Ahmed Eryani, a spokesman for Yemen's Desert Locust Control said. 

The centre added that Yemen's civil war also made control efforts difficult, meaning experts were unable to kill substantial amounts of juvenile locusts. 

“In light of the current security and financial challenges, we cannot do anything about it at the appropriate time.” 

“The expected locust plague portends a true disaster which will negatively affect food security in all districts of Yemen and may extend beyond its borders,” says Salah Hajj, the FAO’s representative in Yemen. 

The FAO started a last-minute eradication effort last week, SciDev reported, but Eryani said it was too late. “It is difficult to control flying swarms."

“Devastating swarms could form undetected in conflict areas and, once they are widespread, it is impossible to control them,” Eryani added. 

According to the FAO, the outbreak was caused by an unusual abundance of rain at the end of last year, leading to an abundance of foliage, which encouraged breeding.

Yemen last faced an invasion of locusts in 2013. The insects, however, are considered a delicacy and many Yemenis eat them.