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Why Locusts Are Descending On East Africa

in May of 2018 something weird happened over the Arabian Peninsula a large cyclone passed over the rubra Holly desert a massive stretch of unbroken sand also called The Empty Quarter it usually looks like this but after the cyclone it looked like this Lakes had formed between the dunes the desert was filled with water for the first time in 20 years then five months later it happened again another cyclone hit over the next year powerful cyclones kept coming out of the Arabian Sea at a frequency not seen in decades it caused catastrophic flooding in normally dry areas across the region but especially here in East Africa today the flood waters have receded but they left behind a different type of disaster millions of locusts a plague of biblical proportions worst in 70 years the impact devastating precedented threat to food security is no end in sight this is a desert locust it’s a type of grasshopper that lives across this area from northwest Africa to Western Asia typically desert locust spend most of their time alone in what’s called their solitary phase they only really meet with others to mate but if the weather starts to shift that can lead to a transformation if a normally dry area becomes unusually lush with vegetation as it would after heavy rains these insects will start to congregate that sudden crowding triggers a hormone and the locust starts to change both physically and mentally it starts with a color shift from a muddled brown color to a bright yellow its body shrinks and its endurance increases which optimizes it for flight its brain grows and so does its appetite this is called the gregarious phase they eat and breathe leaving their eggs in the damp soil when they hatch they form what are called hopper bands swarms of tens of thousands of non-flying but voracious insects that move together as a unit eventually they develop wings and once they take flight it’s almost impossible to stop them locust swarms ride the wind which allows them to travel up to a hundred and fifty kilometers a day a single swarm can contain up to 150 million insects per square kilometer each one consumes its body weight and vegetation daily in 24 hours a swarm of that size eats more food than 35,000 people since late 2019 East Africa has been experiencing its worst locust outbreak in decades in 2020 the area has seen swarms as large as 2,400 square kilometres that’s a swarm of insects over three times the size of New York City capable of eating as much food as tens of millions of people the swarms of bugs are so thick that airplanes have been forced to divert their course billions of ravenous insects sweep through areas decimating acres of farmland and threatening already food scarce regions with famine there’s nothing left to harvest there’s nothing else that I know how to do and they’re spreading in February Pakistan declared a state of emergency by late May the swarms had reached parts of northern India for the first time since 1962 and the biggest factor in all this is the weather locusts reproduce exponentially when the weather is in their favor with every new generation the population increases twenty fold so if a normally dry area stays wet for a long time the population will explode and that’s what researchers think happened starting with a 20-18 cyclone the unusual amount of rain led to an unusual amount of vegetation which led to an unusual number of new locust swarms formed here in the unusually wet desert and made their way into surrounding areas including East Africa which itself had just experienced historic flooding in late 2019 from heavy rains caused by an unusually warm Indian Ocean a single perfect storm isn’t enough to bring in swarms of locusts of this size it takes a series of them something that used to be really rare in this area but unfortunately extreme weather that used to be really rare suddenly becoming more common is one of the hallmarks of climate change that could mean a future with more cyclones in 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