Warning of potentially worst locust infestation since 1993

Yemen’s Desert Locusts Control Centre (DLCC) has asked the government to increase its budget after the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Yemen was facing its worst locust infestation in nearly 15 years.

The DLCC also asked the donor community to help fight the outbreak.

"Widespread breeding is in progress within a large and remote area -estimated at 31,000sqkm - in the interior of Yemen, where locust swarms are likely to form,” FAO expert Keith Cressman said.

Locusts have been detected in Hadhramaut Province, in an area between Thamoud and al-Abr District, and in Shabwa Province.

"Our capabilities are very limited and are designed to tackle locally bred locusts only. If things get worst we will definitely need aerial support," Abdu Farei al-Rumaih, the DLCC’s director-general, told IRIN.

"We need helicopters to facilitate insecticide and monitoring operations and vehicles for land operations. We also need landlines, wireless, and satellite telecommunication systems," he added.

Yemen is affected by both desert and migratory locusts. It is a crossroads for locust migrations from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian peninsular.

Rain in the desert

"Rain fell heavily in the desert this year and caused plants to grow. These were favourable conditions for locust reproduction," said Al-Rumaih.

Al-Rumaih said that if they were not able to stop the locusts breeding, swarms might cover 120,000 hectares. He recalled that the worst locust invasion was in 1993 when they spread over 100,000 hectares. Yemen has not witnessed any large-scale locust infestation since 1998.

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"There isn't much loss so far since the swarms are still in the desert. But if they reach cultivated areas, they are expected to ruin 60 to 90 percent of agricultural production [in those areas],” Al-Rumaih added.

FAO also said that if the locusts are not controlled in time, agricultural crops in Wadi Hadhramaut and other areas, including the Sana'a highlands will be at risk.

Adult locusts can consume roughly their own weight in fresh food per day, meaning a very small part of an average swarm eats the same amount of food in a day as about 2,500 people, FAO said.

However, as Yemen imports about 75 percent of its food, even a complete devastation of agricultural land would not necessarily mean a major food crisis in the country. Locusts do not eat the all important Qat crop, which is planted on some 3.5 percent of the land area.