Climate change and geopolitics converge to yield locust swarms

The butterfly effect occurs when a trivial cause, such as a butterfly fluttering its wings somewhere in an Amazon rainforest, triggers a series of events that end up having a massive impact elsewhere—a tornado ravaging the state of Texas in the US, for example.

Edward Lorenz, the American meteorologist who coined the phrase in the early 1960s, came up with it while building a mathematical model to predict weather patterns. It is a fitting metaphor to explain a “plague” that is currently destroying vegetation and livelihoods in East Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, Pakistan and India.

Even as the world’s primary attention has been fixed on the Covid-19 outbreak, which originated in China, several countries in Africa and Asia have been dealing with “the curse of good rains”: Massive swarms—called “plagues”—of the desert locust.

Swarms as large as 2,400 sq. km, comprising 200 billion insects, have already damaged over 70,000 hectares of crops in Kenya and around 30,000 hectares in Ethiopia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Last month, Pakistan declared a national emergency over locusts. In India, several districts in Gujarat and Rajasthan have been affected, and the latter has announced a compensation of ₹13,500 per hectare to affected farmers.

While locust swarms continue to plague African countries, for now, the outbreak has tapered down in India with swarms headed back towards Sindh and Balochistan. But that’s not end of the affair. The expectation is that the locusts will be back in June, by which time their numbers would have grown fivefold.

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