Residents in parts of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, especially Al Ain, recently spotted swarms of a pest not commonly seen in the UAE – the desert locust. As many took to social media to record the unusual sightings last month, the Dubai Municipality was quick to assure that the situation was under control. They may be the size and weight of your average paper clip, but locusts, in swarms, have the ability to devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage, which can lead to starvation if a city is unprepared to deal with the loss of crop.
This year alone, Africa saw the biggest locust outbreak in some countries in 70 years. It is the locusts that “everyone is talking about,” Yoweri Aboket, a farmer in Uganda told AP. “Once they land in your garden they do total destruction. Some people will even tell you that the locusts are more destructive than the coronavirus.”
The desert locust is known for its ability to cover tremendous distances while flying at great speeds – up to 17 hours non-stop per day, to be precise. It is an international scourge and a threat to agricultural production and food security, as a single square kilometre swarm can destroy the equivalent of 35,000 individuals’ food intake per day.
Therefore, at the beginning of May, when a dense swarm of locusts was detected in the Hatta region, ground control teams were immediately directed to the site, where they conducted control operations for 24 hours over a period of several days.
Using effective pesticides, they successfully trapped and eliminated the locusts, while conducting thorough surveys to trace any remains of the swarms and responding rapidly to any notifications or reports from the public.
Sightings during Eid
The swarms monitored in the skies in several areas of Dubai during the first days of Eid-Al-Fitr were the result of an increase in speed of southeastern winds as well as sporadic precipitation that aided swarms coming from Iran, authorities said.
As the locusts settled in some areas of Jebel Ali and neighbouring areas, teams from the municipality moved quickly to survey and control the situation for the next three days until it was confirmed that there were no locusts in those areas.
Pest control strategy
The Dubai Municipality’s Department of Agriculture and Irrigation had been conducting continuous surveys in various parts of the emirate in accordance with its annual plan to control agricultural pests. So when the swarms entered the country earlier this year, they knew right away.
“Last February, locusts in small numbers had been sighted in some areas of Abu Dhabi,” it explained.
“However, by the end of April, due to the multiplication of locust swarms on the border of the Sultanate of Oman, large numbers of the desert locust were detected in the Al Ain region, too.”
As a result of the proximity of Al Ain to the borders of Dubai, the team raised the state of readiness “to the highest degree” and activated the approved pest contingency plan, said Mohamed Abdel-Rahman Al Awadi, director of the Department of Agriculture and Irrigation.
An emergency team, consisting of qualified agricultural technicians, was formed and highly efficient equipment was introduced, the municipality said.
The equipment, proven to be effective in desert locust control, included two Furell vehicles and two spray machines with ULV technology.
The number of equipped control teams was raised to 14, and 500 litres of specialised pesticides were provided to them, together with the necessary safety tools.
Nearly 20 thousand hectares were surveyed and explored, as the department’s call centre received 100 notices from various external and private parties.
The municipality confirmed that most of them were dealt with effectively and rapidly, and all public inquiries were answered around the clock.
Precautions farmers must take
The department called on individuals in the community, especially farmers, to exercise caution if their crops were exposed to locust infestation.
They must transport animals or livestock from the affected site and remove honeybee cells (if any).
They must cover wells before conducting chemical control operations to tackle the locusts, so that the animal population is not exposed to pesticides, and water pollution does not occur.
In case locust control needs to be executed in wild or pastoral areas, it is necessary to be wary of grazing in these areas 10 days before the date of pest control.