A Second, Larger Wave of Locusts Invades East Africa Amid Pandemic
By Jessica Corbett
While much of the world focuses on the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 1.6 million people across the globe, East Africa is battling the worst invasion of desert locusts in decades — a months-long "scourge of biblical proportions" that experts warn could get worse with a larger second wave already arriving in parts of the region.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which is shepherding the global response to the region's locust crisis, "estimates that locust numbers could grow another 20 times during the upcoming rainy season unless control activities are stepped up," U.N. News reported Thursday.
A Wednesday update from FAO's Locust Watch service warned:
The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as hopper bands and an increasing number of new swarms form in northern and central Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and Somalia. This represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods because it coincides with the beginning of the long rains and the planting season. Although ground and aerial control operations are in progress, widespread rains that fell in late March will allow the new swarms to mostly remain, mature and lay eggs while a few swarms could move from Kenya to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. During May, the eggs will hatch into hopper bands that will form new swarms in late June and July, which coincides with the start of the harvest.
The massive swarms, as Common Dreams has reported, are partly fueled by the climate crisis and have affected Djibouti, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The pests have also been spotted in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iran, Pakistan and India.
The main method of battling locust swarms — which each can devour enough food to feed 35,000 people in a day — is the spraying of pesticides. Concerns are mounting that locust eradication efforts in the region will be increasingly hampered by pandemic-related travel restrictions and supplies problems.
“Parts of Africa were already threatened by another kind of plague, the biggest locust outbreak some countries had… https://t.co/lrQlLrBZFE— Jonathan Lemire (@Jonathan Lemire)1586517820.0
"Suppliers of motorized sprayers and pesticides are facing major challenges with limited airfreight options to facilitate delivery," Cyril Ferrand, FAO's resilience team leader for East Africa, told EARTHER on March 30. "Purchased orders were placed [a] few weeks ago and pesticides expected last week in Kenya have been delayed by 10 days."
Ferrand said in a statement Thursday that "there is no significant slowdown" in efforts to stop the swarms across the region so far "because all the affected countries working with FAO consider desert locusts a national priority."
"While lockdown is becoming a reality, people engaged in the fight against the upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance, and air and ground control operations," he said. "The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly."
"Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country," Ferrand added. "That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign."
The fight against desert locusts in East Africa goes on despite #COVID19 restrictions, @UN's @FAOnews says, the age… https://t.co/RWb6mYgsYa— UN News (@UN News)1586498400.0
FAO has secured about $111.1 million of the $153.2 million it has requested to tackle the locust crisis and is supporting surveillance and pesticide application in 10 nations.
The U.N. agency continues to raise concerns about how locusts could impact the collective 20 million people already enduring food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania — as well as an additional 15 million people in war-torn Yemen.
This is the worst locust invasion that Kenya has seen in 70 years. Quartz Africa reported Friday on current conditions in the country, where hoppers have been maturing into adults over the past month after hatching in February and early March:
These swarms are still immature, and take up to four weeks before they are ready to lay eggs. Kenya is more than halfway through this maturation cycle, and the new generation of locust swarms are expected to begin laying eggs within the week.
In Kenya, the locust maturation is coinciding with the onset of the rainy season. Farmers have been sowing crops of maize, beans, sorghum, barley, and millet during March and April, in hopes that a favorable rainy season will allow for abundant growth during late April and May. With the locust swarms gaining size and strength, experts fear that up to 100% of farmers' budding crops could be consumed, leaving some communities with nothing to harvest.
"The concern at the moment is that the desert locust will eat under-emerging plants," Ferrand told Quartz. "This very soft, green material, biomass leaves, rangeland, is, of course, the favorite food for the desert locusts."
As for the coronavirus pandemic that first emerged in China late last year, Africa has reported 562 deaths and nearly 11,000 COVID-19 cases, according to Al Jazeera, which are relatively low figures compared with other affected regions. However, the U.N.'s World Health Organization (WHO) is warning that some African nations could see a significant spike in cases in the coming weeks.
"During the last four days, we can see that the numbers have already doubled," Michel Yao, the WHO Africa program manager for emergency response, said Thursday. "If the trend continues, and also learning from what happened in China and in Europe, some countries may face a huge peak very soon."
As Ferrand said in his March conversation with EARTHER: "How do we respond to the needs of the European countries and North American countries as well as the humanitarian and development assistance that is still so necessary in the continent of Africa? ... This is the challenge that we will have to face in 2020."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
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Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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