A massive swarm of locusts that has been eating up everything in its path in Africa crossed the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia. For now, the Arabians have it under control but if it continues to spread (which it seems to be doing), it could bring a welcome respite to war-torn Yemen whose starving inhabitants consider the locust to be a delicacy.
Locusts in Saudi Arabia
Locusts have been plaguing Africa for several years, generating a dire famine, has now crossed the Red Sea and entered Saudi Arabia, covering more than 300 miles of coastline from Jizan to Lith.
The swarm crossed the border into the United Arab Emirates. The Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority (ADAFSA) control teams sprayed over 21,000 acres of infested regions using the recommended pesticides, to reduce desert locust’s impact on crops and production.125 engineers and 144 workers participated in control operations, while 72 vehicles were used in spraying locusts.
Similarly, in January 2019, a swarm of locusts covered Mecca, the holiest city in Islam, covering the Great Mosque and its focal point, the Ka’bah.
Locusts: The Plague That Won’t Go Away
Despite the efforts of the top experts to stem the infestation, locusts struck on three continents in 2020. A swarm estimated at 40 million creatures passed through Argentina, spreading to other countries as well. Another swarm hit Asia.
Desert locusts are always present in the region but are typically solitary. Favorable breeding conditions generate swarms and their behavior changes as they form groups that can be miles long and contain a billion individuals.
Swarms are often tens of square kilometers in size. A swarm of just one square kilometer eats the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. The swarms also can travel 93 miles a day making efforts to control an outbreak even more difficult. Officials warned that further rains in the region could lead to an even larger outbreak.
The infestation of grasshoppers occurs in the area every few years but is markedly different than the more destructive locust. Though all locusts are grasshoppers with no taxonomic distinction made between them, not all grasshoppers are locusts. Locusts are a certain species of short-horned grasshoppers that have a swarming phase, usually in response to overcrowding.
Yemenis Waiting for the Locusts, Knives and Forks At the Ready
If the swarm spreads south, this may come as a boon to the neighboring country of Yemen. Yemen had been suffering a growing famine crisis as a result of the civil war. More than 85,000 children have died as a result of the famine as of 2018. In May 2020, UNICEF described Yemen as “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”, and estimated that 80% of the population, over 24 million people, were in need of humanitarian assistance.
Though locusts consume crops, previous infestations have been utilized to ease the famine conditions. In the summer of 2019, locusts invaded Yemen just prior to the month-long Ramadan fast. The insects were snatched up by the Yemenis who traditionally eat them roasted as a protein served with rice and vegetables. Farmers were seen selling their fresh catch at roadside stands. Yemenis claim that eating has health benefits which including easing diabetes and hypertension.
Despite human consumption of insects being strictly forbidden by the Torah, locusts are the notable exception and are kosher.
Of these you may eat the following: locusts of every variety; all varieties of bald locust; crickets of every variety; and all varieties of grasshopper. But all other winged swarming things that have four legs shall be an abomination for you. Leviticus 11:22-23
An Israeli startup called Hargol is now marketing the bug as “Biblical protein.”
Locusts Preceding the Final Redemption
It is interesting to note that last week, Jews in synagogues all around the world were reading Parsha Bo, the section of the Torah describing the plague of locusts that struck Egypt before the Exodus. This current incarnation very much resembles the Biblical plague, coming as part of a wave of catastrophes that left the land of Egypt bereft of any food.
Locusts invaded all the land of Egypt and settled within all the territory of Egypt in a thick mass; never before had there been so many, nor will there ever be so many again. They covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened, and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left. Not a green thing remained, neither tree nor plant of the field, through all the land of Egypt. Exodus 10:14-15
Jewish sources predict that all of the plagues will reappear in the final Redemption but in even more powerful forms. It is written in Midrash Tanchuma, homiletic teachings collected around the fifth century, that “just as God struck the Egyptians with 10 plagues, so too He will strike the enemies of the Jewish people at the time of the Redemption.”
This concept was explained by Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, a 13th-century Spanish commentator, who wrote, “In Egypt, God used only part of His strength. When the final redemption comes, God will show much, much more of His power.”