CAIRO, Egypt – In an echo of the biblical plagues, millions of locusts swarmed into northern Egypt on Wednesday for the first time in 50 years, prompting authorities to order emergency pesticide spraying to protect the region’s important agriculture industry.
Clouds of the red insects, up to 2 3/4 inches long, flitted about over Cairo, while others hopped around on rooftops. By evening, the skies were clear.
Christian Pantenius, program coordinator of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization office in Egypt, said the swarm was an offshoot of a serious locust infestation in West Africa that was blown by strong winds across the Sahara. He said locusts also were spotted in Crete and Lebanon.
Pantenius said the locusts were showing no sign of moving farther south along the agriculturally rich Nile River valley, and he predicted the swarm most likely would head southeast toward the Red Sea coast, which is an annual locust breeding ground between November and March.
Locusts, which normally live between two and six months, eat their weight – about 0.07 ounces – in crops every day. They can travel as much as 120 miles in a day.
“People are very afraid that it may cause damage to agricultural production, but to what extent the agricultural sector could be damaged is difficult to say,” Pantenius told the Associated Press.
Agriculture Minister Ahmed el-Leithy said the locusts appeared to pose no serious threat to Egypt’s crops “because the swarms are continuing to move and are not fully grown.” But he said 50 pest eradication teams had been rushed out to spray pesticides in farm areas.
Farmers without pesticides set smoky fires and made loud noises with machinery in hopes of keeping locusts away from their fields.
The FAO described the insect clouds as a “medium density swarm of locusts numbering several million, if not a billion,” covering several square miles.