Report from Kenya #583 – January 13, 2020

Locust swarm in northeastern Kenya.

13 So Moses stretched out his staff over Egypt, and the Lord made an east wind blow across the land all that day and all that night. By morning the wind had brought the locusts; 14 they invaded all Egypt and settled down in every area of the country in great numbers. Never before had there been such a plague of locusts, nor will there ever be again. 15 They covered all the ground until it was black. They devoured all that was left after the hail—everything growing in the fields and the fruit on the trees. Nothing green remained on tree or plant in all the land of Egypt. Exodus 10: 13 to 15.

I am certain you have heard of the wildfires in Australia. You may remember the two cyclones (hurricanes) that hit Mozambique and Zimbabwe in March 2019. If you remember my Reports from Africa, this led to delayed rains and then droughts in Eastern Africa. This has been followed by excessive rain and floods in Kenya and nearby nations, while Zimbabwe and Zambia and part of South Africa are experiencing major droughts. The Zambezi River is no more than a trickle of its usual self. Now there is a locust invasion in Somalia and Ethiopia which has already destroyed 175,000 acres of farmland. On December 28 the desert locust swarms entered northeastern Kenya. All these climate disasters are directly connected.

The last major locust infestation in Kenya occurred in 1961. Gladys remembers it well. She says that locusts are good to eat. First you boil them and then let them dry in the sun and eat them as a snack. This severe infestation led in 1962 to the development of the Desert Local Control Organization for Eastern Africa. In the past it has been quite successful in responding to other locust invasions, such as in 2007, so that they did not spread nor cause much damage.

The current invasion began one and a half years ago in the Arabian Peninsula. The locusts then migrated to Iran. Due to economic sanctions on Iran (thanks, Donald), the Iranians did not have the correct pesticides to contain the swarms. The swarms then went to the border between India and Pakistan, then to Yemen, and then crossed the Red Sea to southern Ethiopia and Somalia.

Deserts locust swarm when there is a dry spell following by heavy rains that lead to substantial green growth that the locusts feed on. There were two hurricanes that hit the Arabian Peninsula that started the swarming. Likewise first there was drought in eastern Africa at the beginning of last year following in the fall by heavy rainfall and flooding, ideal conditions for desert locust.

There is an average of 80 million locusts in any one swarm. They can eat the equivalent of the food for 2500 people in one day. The swarms multiply and can fly up to 100 miles (130 kilometers) per day. The swarms are still hundreds of miles from Lumakanda, but then one never knows. Six Kenya counties in the northeast have been invaded and there is the likelihood of them spreading to six more counties. The Kenyan government is responding to the invasion, but, according to the media, without the vigor and resources needed to eliminate the swarms.

How are all these things connected?

 The Indian Ocean has what is called the “Indian Ocean Dipole.” This is the difference in the ocean temperature between the eastern part of the ocean near Australia and the western part near Africa. It was the fact that the western Indian Ocean was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Centigrade) above normal that led to the two cyclones that hit southern Africa in March. The cyclones blocked the moisture from moving north, leading to the drought and late rains in eastern Africa. Later the warm ocean water migrated north off the east African coast so that the rains became intense while at the same time southern Africa experienced a severe drought. The drought in eastern Africa followed by heavy rains and flooding led to plant growth that the locust now feed on.

At the same time that the western Indian Ocean has warmer water, the eastern Indian Ocean is cooler than normal. When the ocean is warmer, more water evaporates so there is more rain. Conversely when the water is cooler, less moisture evaporates and there is a drought as is now occurring in Australia.

The Indian Ocean dipole, hurricanes, droughts, and locust have no respect for artificial, international boundaries. All human beings need to cooperate to address these issues together.

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David Zarembka

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