The book of Joel describes terrible locust plague as judgement of God. In 2020, locusts have swarmed in large numbers in dozens of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, India, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen, Oman and Saudi Arabia. When swarms affect several countries at once in very large numbers, it is known as a plague.
Desert locusts, or Schistocerca gregaria, have often been called the world’s most devastating pest, and for good reason. Swarms form when locusts’ numbers increase and they become crowded. This causes a switch from a relatively harmless solitary phase, to a gregarious, sociable phase. In this phase, the insects are able to multiply 20-fold in three months and reach densities of 80 million per square kilometre. Each can consume 2g of vegetation every day – combined, a swarm of 80 million can consume food equivalent to that eaten by 35,000 people a day.
The locust invasion that swept over farms in rural Kenya from December 2019 has left farmers like Ndavu not only counting crop losses, but struggling with emerging environmental and health problems. The swarms have been the worst seen in Kenya for 70 years, and experts are concerned that swarms later in the year will be even larger.
In the Bible, God afflicts ancient Egyptians with ten plagues for their sins. One of them was the plague of locusts. Of the ten plagues, the eighth one was that of locusts. Moses warned the Pharaoh that God will send so many locusts that they will “cover each and every tree of the land and eat all that is there to be eaten”. Every time the Pharaoh refused, a fresh plague was inflicted upon his kingdom.
The other plagues were equally scary: The river Nile’s waters turning into blood, frogs, lice, flies, mass livestock die-offs, boils, hailstorm and fire, darkness for three days and finally, the death of every firstborn, human or animal, in ancient Egypt.
If we look closely, some eerie examples begin to emerge that reflect a crisis of Biblical proportion! Let me explain. There are the locusts, of course. Interestingly, their route into India has been via Africa. They have travelled with the winds from East Africa over the Red Sea (whose waters Moses parted) to the Arabian Peninsula; and from there over Iran into Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.
Like the river Nile’s waters turning red, the waters of two of the Ecuadorian Amazon’s most important rivers has turned black after two pipelines carrying crude oil burst. This has caused grave hardship to the indigenous people, who are already on a fire-fighting mode due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Ah…yes, how could we forget COVID-19. Just like the pandemic, one of the plagues that afflicted the ancient Egyptians mentioned people developing boils all over their bodies. And then, there was the plague of mass die-offs. The COVID-19 disease has also spread misery and death across the globe. Even the animals including tigers, dogs and cats are threatened by it.
There was also the plague of hailstorm and fire. The world in 2020 has already seen the fires of Australia and the Amazon in 2019. This year, it has seen the cyclone Amphan, which has devastated large parts of India and Bangladesh.
As for the three days of darkness, similar scenes were seen recently in the Sahara Desert in Africa. Niamey, the capital of Niger, turned red recently. Why? Because it is the Harmattan season when dry winds blowing across the Sahara pick up sand and leave behind deposits (of sand) across regions falling on their path. It may be seasonal, but the photographs that emerged from Niamey were nothing short of apocalyptic.