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Planet Earth: Our Loving Home

Warning Signs to Help End Climate Change: Locust Swarms, Part 1 of 3

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On today’s program we’ll travel to Africa to learn about the recent massive invasion of locusts that the continent has experienced. The plague began in June 2019 and has continued through 2020. Billions of desert locusts, resembling dark storm clouds, have descended on the Horn of Africa, destroying vast areas of cropland and vegetation. Dr. Rick Overson of Arizona State University's Global Locust Initiative further explains, "They are powerful, long-distance flyers, so they can easily go a hundred-plus kilometers in a 24-hour period. They can easily move across countries in a matter of days, which is one of the other major challenges in coordinated efforts that are required between nations and institutions to manage them." The locust plague came as many countries in East Africa were already struggling to manage food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 20 million people are experiencing acute food scarcity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania. As billions of locusts have invaded farmers’ crops, the swarms have multiplied by as much as 400 times, spreading far beyond Kenya’s borders. An article in the scientific journal Nature reported that in Kenya one unusually large swarm occupied an area of 2,400 square kilometers, more than three times the size of New York City. Swarms typically occupy 100 square kilometers. Even at this size, they can contain from four- to eight-billion locusts, which can consume the amount of food 3.5 million people would eat in a day. “The swarms came from Yemen, then down from the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa. The unusual warm temperatures off the coast are partly to blame. The recent heavy rainfall has created the perfect breeding conditions.” The amount of unpredictable weather to come will be crucial in determining how long the crisis lasts and which areas will be affected next. Climate change experts have warned that warming oceans that feed cyclones could continue to create conditions for record-breaking swarms of desert locusts. Such plagues could grow larger and more widespread if climate change continues.
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