Climate Change Fueling Locust Outbreaks in East Africa

Image: AP

Locust swarms are an allegorical plague for a reason: they’re truly terrifying. As the NY Post explained, millions of the insects have invaded East Africa including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, devouring farmland and just about anything else in their path. The locust outbreak is the worst in 70 years for Kenya.

However, climate change has been found to be a driver of this current outbreak as it’s brought rising temperatures and more rain to the region.

What’s Happening: Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker explained to AP, heavy rains in East Africa made 2019 one of the region’s wettest years on record. He blamed rapidly warming waters in the Indian Ocean off Africa’s eastern coast, which also spawned an unusual number of strong tropical cyclones off Africa last year. Babiker added that heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures are favorable conditions for locust breeding and in this case, the conditions have become “exceptional.”

Rainfall across East Africa is fueling vegetation that’s helping locusts feed and multiply. Meanwhile, people affected by the swarms have little recourse aside from trying to shoo away the insects which is pretty futile when billions of insects take to the air.

The Stakes: The UN Food and Agricultural Organization, which leads international efforts to fight hunger estimated that the locust outbreak will cost $70 million in an immediate response to the situation. As Voice of America explained, “the fast-moving swarm is threatening crops in a country where more than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood.”

A Growing Threat: As the UN explained,

  • Numerous desert locust swarms have been breeding in India, Iran, and Pakistan since June 2019.
  • And some have migrated to southern Iran where recent heavy rains have nurtured a breeding ground that could generate swarms in the spring.
  • Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen are also seeing substantial breeding activity that could see locust bands expand into swarms in the coming months

Why This Matters: As far as Biblical plagues go, climate change is bringing many of them to life: red water (red tide), hail storms, darkness (due to wildfires), livestock deaths, more flies, and now locusts! But in all seriousness, we’re pushing our Earth to its limits and we’re starting to pay the price. Tragically, for places like East Africa which have not contributed to the climate crisis in any significant way, they’re paying the price for the rest of our overconsumption. We have to take the writing on the wall seriously unless we want to wait and see if festering boils also make a comeback…

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