Claire Soares: Caught in the middle of a biblical plague

Eyewitness

Friday 30 January 2009 01:00
Comments

You could have mistaken them for snowflakes, had the mercury not been at 35C. In fact, what was hurtling towards the car windscreen was a flurry of tiny, winged insects. After weeks of anxious waiting by Dakar's inhabitants, the locusts had finally arrived.

Stepping outside, it felt as though the Senegalese capital was under attack, the air abuzz with the fluttering of tiny wings, as the swarms of yellow insects descended on the city, seemingly oblivious to human obstacles in their path and tangling themselves in people's hair.

Children raced on to the streets, squealing with delight as they competed to see who could collect the most locusts in their plastic bottles. It may have been an unexpected game for them, but the adults cursed the skies and eyed the new arrivals rather more anxiously.

It was no laughing matter. This was September 2004 and, for weeks, west African governments had been monitoring the progress of this biblical plague down from the Sahara.

Pots and pans were banged and clattered to scare the crop-munching insects away; fires were lit to choke them. Residents dug holes to bury them alive; others desperately swung black bin liners in the air hoping they might trap some of the voracious pests, who can polish off the equivalent of their own body weight every day.

Village chiefs were given calling cards so they could warn one another of the coming swarms, and mobilise people with insecticide.

In Mauritania, the locusts made short work of the national football pitch, chomping their way across it in seconds. And that was just an appetiser. They did not linger long in Senegal – the invasion disappeared almost as quickly as it had arrived. Moving eastwards to Niger, they ravaged thousands of square miles of cereal fields, helping to tip the country into a food crisis bordering on famine.

The news that scientists have finally cracked the secret of the locust swarms will be greeted with a collective sigh of relief across the African continent.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in