Locusts added to humanitarian threats facing Iran

For the second consecutive year, swarms of locusts are threatening widespread destruction across southern Iran’s farmland in what’s expected to be the worst infestation in more than half a century.

Millions of insects are invading from the Arabian Peninsula and South Asia, just as an earlier-than-normal spring rainy season hatched the local population. So far, the combined swarm has damaged at least 4.8 million tonnes of agricultural products in the country, according to the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination arm, OCHA.

“There’s a generation of locusts in south-eastern Iran every year, and that’s not the problem, as preparations have always been made to fight the insects,” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecaster for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. “The issue this year is that swarms from outside invaded the southwest of the country, while seasonal rains came early.”

At the same time, Iran has been hard hit by the pandemic, with at least 99,000 confirmed cases and more than 6,300 deaths as of 6 May. When combined with rising flood waters in the north of the country that may have damaged as many as 80,000 homes, the locusts round out a three-front crisis. The nation’s economy is already suffering, with double-digit inflation rates and a Gross Domestic Product expected to contract six percent this year, under pressure from both the economic shutdown associated with the coronavirus and the stranglehold of escalating US sanctions.

Iranian government officials declined to estimate the locusts’ potential impacts on food insecurity in interviews with The New Humanitarian. But locust swarms have had deep repercussions elsewhere. In Ethiopia, which is also facing its worst desert locust outbreak in decades, a swarm that hit 200,000 hectares earlier this year left one million people in need of food assistance. reported that while Iran has the workforce to tackle the locust invasion, sanctions hinder importing ultra-low volume pesticides, the chemicals sprayed in small concentrated doses and most commonly used to fight desert locusts.

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