Scientific comment on risks to locust monitoring from GERD tension

By | Rachel Brooks

March 13, 2021  

As Sudan, Egypt, and Ethiopia’s tensions increase over the “Blue Nile” region of the Nile that surrounds the GERD Dam construction zone, there are many compounded risks to the region. Republic Underground News sought out the opinion of locust control specialists who gave some insights on the halt to scientific response to these plagues in the region if the political conflict continues to escalate into greater tension. 

Science and innovation has already changed the narrative on the crisis in regions such as Kenya, where locust plagues were turned into animal feed for local farmers. Yet, a disruption of scientific research regarding desert locust swarms is a major risk associated with increasingly volatile GERD, Blue Nile region politics. 

Image credit: “File:Locust (153755458).jpg” by Alastair Rae from London, United Kingdom is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This week, tensions increased in the continued Nilotic political pressure between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. The three countries are the nexus of the Upper Nile and rely heavily on the equal transfer of Nile waters throughout the semi-arid regions of the Horn and Sub Sarahan Africa. The UNHCR reported in late February that thousands of Ethiopians are flocking as migrants to Sudan’s Blue Nile state as a civil conflict within Ethiopia continues to displace thousands of civilians. 

Egypt and the European Union have met to discuss the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis, Arab News reports. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stated Thursday that it was “essential to resolve” the Renaissance Dam issue before the next flood season. 

Shourky met with the High Representative of the EU Joseph Borelle Fontelles on March 11. 

“I spoke last evening with #Egypt FM Shoukry. Good and open discussion on regional developments incl #GERD, Libya & bilateral relations given the new Agenda for the Mediterranean. EU will keep working closely engaging with #Egypt for a prosperous neighbourhood@MfaEgypt,” wrote Fontelles. 

The peril for the food crisis 

Conflicts have a typically negative impact on the food stability of the region in which they occur. Research by Dr. Allan T. Sholwer of the USAID, and Dr. Michel Lecoq of CIRAD, both experts on locusts and other plague vermin highlights the ramifications of armed conflict in regions where locust plague has been an imminent threat. 

Republic Underground obtained a copy of the research paper published in Agronomy from Dr. Showler, who otherwise declined our request for comment. 

Locust swarms continue to plague Africa. This video was shot in Namibia, southern Africa, a country approximately 3,191km from Uganda, a region of the White Nile.  It highlights that swarms of locusts are a grave concern for the entirety of Sub-Saharan Africa. Research paused in one location then may have ripple effect repercussions elsewhere. 

The research highlights the impairment and “many obstacles” presented to the progress of locust control and surveillance. The most prominent of these risks is regional insecurity. Scenarios include rebellions, insurgencies, civil and international war, banditry, terrorism, and minefields. 

A breakdown of the locust plague stressor 

Showler’s co-author, Dr. Michel Lecoq of CIRAD, spoke with Republic Underground regarding his experience tracking the control process of regional locust plagues, a major stressor of the Nilot conflict zones.  

He first explained his background with regards to the region. 

“In West Africa, where the EMPRES program has been implemented progressively since 1997 and has been fully operational since about 2006, cooperation between the countries concerned (Maghreb and Sahel) is much better in terms of locust control,” said Dr. Lecoq, in a response to email correspondence. 

 “I follow the EMPRES program in the region and I can say that the locust control system is now much improved compared to what it was before EMPRES. Many measures have been taken both technically and financially. As well as to improve the co-operation within the various countries. These countries are grouped within the CLC PRO, which plays a fundamental role in maintaining regional cohesion on the subject, as each country independently (and even more so the key countries of the Sahel) is unable to deal with the threat in isolation.” 

He then detailed the issues of conflict stress and how they jeopardize research scientists’ work to combat locusts in the general vicinity. 

“But of course, the security situation in the region has deteriorated considerably with the Islamist threat, the Tuareg movements, etc,” he said. 

 “This poses a significant risk to the region if the locust swarms that originated in East Africa spill over to the western region. This is not impossible, as it has already happened in the past at the beginning of the 1949-1962 invasion. This is what we feared last fall. It didn’t happen, so much the better, but it’s a bit of a matter of luck and favorable winds at the right time.”

Lecoq then made comparisons with other nations that had controlled locust breakouts, but due to delayed response to the threat by allowing the anti-locust services to erode, they were unable to adequately meet the recent “biblical” proportions of locust swarms. 

“As for the eastern region (Iran, India, Pakistan), these countries managed to eliminate the plague, but they did not react quickly enough, their anti-locust services having eroded with time, the last great upsurge having affected these countries going back about 25 years,” he said. 

“In the face of a deteriorating security situation, it may become impossible to effectively monitor and control certain key areas where locusts can develop. Cooperation between states is therefore essential, as is the establishment of risk management plans, on a regional scale, taking into account these security constraints and implementing palliative measures to address them.”

Republic Underground obtained an unpublished academic paper from Dr. Lecoq, written by Lecoq himself and colleagues, which highlights the significant importance of scientific knowledge in combating locust surge events. The academic research argues that, despite the scientific community’s idea that scientists are only just beginning to understand the desert locust, scientific research spanning a century contributes to a logical combating of locust surges. 

The research enunciates the significance of science informing responses across species. The review found that the progress researching one species of desert locust might not be efficient when forming methods for combating the gregarisation and outbreaks of another species. This is why scientific research must continue in the region. It is also why it is a significant complication to the overall well-being of the region that research cannot continue on the course due to conflict. Should the Nilotic conflict escalate, research at the source of the 2020-era gregarisation of desert locusts may halt for extended periods. 

This sets the precedent for a future compounded with issues of intensified food and vegetation scarcity, erosion, and regional mudslides that result from locust swarm vegetation consumption and regional drought-to-flood season. Compounding these issues, the regional conflict would also drive the intensification of water politics in a region where water itself is a precious commodity and a precocious one to keep privileged trade rights of. 

Tigray conflict 

The escalations in the Nilot conflict have the potential to spill over into all of the above. In the case of Ethiopia, the country is engaged in a politicized civil conflict between the Tigray to the north, the region that was once the predominant political party, and the Ethiopian recognized government. 

The Tigray conflict has been documented as becoming an international crisis as Sudan, affected by the spillover from refugees of the war, seized disputed land along the Sudanese-Ethiopian border in the wake of civilian displacements. This was reported by Reuters on December 26.  

Showler and Lecoq’s research examined 35-years of scenarios in which conflict across 13 nations exacerbated conditions surrounding locust control projects. The African countries included were Chad, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, the Western Sahara region of Morocco. It likewise included adjacent territories Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The food crisis in these regions has since escalated exponentially due to regional conflicts. In addition to this fact, the scenario of a newly developing conflict in the Blue Nile region is one of the profound stakes, as of the countries mentioned above, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia are either directly or indirectly linked to a vested interest in the conflict outcome over the Ethiopian dam crisis. The issues that the Egyptian foreign minister expressed concern over, regarding water, are a coinciding instance of compounding the human food crisis in the region. 

Tribal conflict in Darfur, and recent politics of Sudan 

In January, Al Arabiya News reported tribal clashes in Darfur, Sudan that had led to the deaths of some 48 people. This was citing the state media networks. 

In more recent developments, Thomson Reuters reported on March 11 that the Sudanese militia leader Musa Hilal has been pardoned and freed from incarceration in Khartoum. Hilal was accused of committing atrocities in Darfur during the prolonged civil conflict in Sudan. Hilal’s release comes over a year after the leader of the military-civilian council, former President Omar al-Bashir, was overthrown and jailed. 

The release of Hilal, the powerful Janjaweed leader, see AfricaNews, sparks new political discussions as to his relevance in the future of Khartoum. While the release of Hilal has reportedly been a move toward “peace efforts” the potential for political backfire is present. The war prisoners have returned to their homes, citing Hilal’s spokesperson. 

Criticism has already begun in the press. Mant Nashed, a journalist with New Humanitarian, CodaStory, and others, posted a long thread to Twitter on March 8 that highlights the intensity of politics within Sudan. 

“Attention please: Here is a long thread about my recent reporting trip in Sudan. In January, I visited Khartoum to detail the soft power activists of the Rapid Support Forces, a group that committed countless atrocities under former dictator Omar Bashir,” tweeted Mat Nashed, referencing his Coda Story article from January.  The article references the weaponization of COVID-19 for the politics of the region. 

He then broke down the circumstances of his January visit to Sudan. 

“On the trip, I had an exclusive interview with the deputy commander of the RSF, Abdel Rahim Hamdan Dagalo to talk about the group’s charity work and its quest to rehabilitate its image both domestically and abroad,” tweeted Mat Nashed. 

As the spotlight hits Sudan head-on, the kettle roils for the political situation between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt. All have domestic crises complicating their stakes in maintaining direct contact with the Nile. 

RU VP speaks at Yemeni Coalition meeting on Ethiopian Migrant burning


Traumatized Yemen dragged into the conflict 

Yemen has been dragged into the Blue Nile conflict in the indirect sense that refugees of the regional crises in Ethiopia have fled to the seas, in hopes of setting a course for Saudi Arabia. They instead have landed in Yemen, a nation traumatized by the continued civil conflict between the Yemeni government and the IRGC-backed Houthi rebellion. 

On Sunday, March 7, a brutal example of the realities Ethiopian refugees face in Yemen was driven home, as Ethiopians in Houthi detention were fatally set fire to. 

An influx of refugees spilling from a Blue Nile conflict scenario has the potential to compound the crisis in Yemen. That would likewise drive the political response from regional mediators of the Gulf nations, who have attempted to deescalate the growing tensions of the Houthi conflict and the rising threat of IRGC international enterprising. 

There are implications for the entire MENA region in terms of human rights from the GERD politics issue. Republic Underground follows closely these events.