Are Today’s Locust Swarms an End-Time Plague?

By Mark A. Kellner
Posted February 04, 2020

Rarely since the Exodus of Hebrew slaves from Egypt has the African continent seen such a sight: locusts swarming throughout Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, with South Sudan and Uganda also at risk. Reports indicate that the heavy rains in Yemen and Ethiopia at the end of 2019 created ideal breeding conditions.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the crop-destroying insects move quickly and cause immense devastation: “Locust adults can eat their own weight every day, i.e., about two grams of fresh vegetation per day. A swarm the size of Bamako, Niamey or Paris will consume the same amount of food in a single day as half the population of Mali, Niger and France respectively.” 

In the past, locusts have usually been combated with aerial pesticide—sprayed over infested areas by aircraft. But in Somalia, with its current military situation, that is not a viable solution. Alternative methods are limited and ineffective. As a result, Somalia’s government “has declared a national emergency as large swarms of locusts spread across east Africa. The country's Ministry of Agriculture said the insects, which consume large amounts of vegetation, posed ‘a major threat to Somalia's fragile food security situation,’” the BBC reports. It’s feared the locusts might not be brought under control before Somalia’s farmers begin to harvest crops in April.

Another large issue at hand is the cost. Several small planes dropping pesticide in the adjacent countries of Ethiopia and Kenya are not enough to combat against a multiplying horde. The 2003–2005 locust outbreak in Africa, the Wall Street Journal notes, cost $600 million to control, including $90 million of food aid for the affected areas. More than $2.5 billion in post-harvest losses were reported by farmers.

As for Kenya, the locusts are the newest in a growing pile of economic issues. “For Kenya, sub-Saharan Africa’s second-largest exporter of fruits and vegetables after South Africa, the stakes are high. Effects from a 2018 drought followed by flooding last year slashed Kenya’s main grain harvest by around a third, pushing up food prices and stirring unrest in poorer pastoral communities. Economic growth slowed to 5.8 [percent] last year from 6.3 [percent] in 2018, weighed down in part by the decline in agricultural output,” the Journal reports. 


An International Threat?

An additional article from the BBC indicates that the plague could even spread to another continent: “[T]he problem could get worse as the year goes on. Aside from growing numbers in east Africa, locusts have also been breeding in India, Iran and Pakistan, which could turn into swarms in the spring.”

The Journal additionally quotes FAO director general Qu Dongyu on the crisis: “This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion.” Dongyu also cites the need for international funds in order to avert the disaster.

Moreover, the report from AccuWeather.com offers this bleak news: “It’s been 25 years since people in Kenya and Ethiopia have seen swarms of this magnitude and 70 years since Kenya last encountered such an invasion of locusts. FAO officials warn that the locusts are rapidly heading toward Ethiopia's Rift Valley, known as the country’s ‘breadbasket.’” 

What’s behind this? The Associated Press says scientists hold climate change responsible: “Heavy rains in East Africa made 2019 one of the region’s wettest years on record, said Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker. He blamed rapidly warming waters in the Indian Ocean off Africa’s eastern coast, which also spawned an unusual number of strong tropical cyclones off Africa last year. … Even now rainfall continues in some parts of the vast region. The greenery that springs up keeps the locusts [fueled].”


Another Perspective

The Bible, however, may offer an important explanation. Scripture tells us that we are living in the last days, and during that period, “nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:7, 8).

Famines and pestilences? Sounds like what’s happening in East Africa right now—or what soon may take place. While we pray that such a disaster is limited, if not avoided altogether, we also know from the Bible that these troublesome events will not cease as we approach Christ’s second coming.

The news may be full of dire threats, but God tells us not to let our hearts be troubled (John 14:1). He gives us warnings for the last days not to frighten us, but to prepare us spiritually. Pastor Doug Batchelor discusses what lies ahead in an engrossing Bible study, “The Gospel from Patmos.”  “No matter what the future brings, God is in control,” he assures us. “Consequently, Revelation’s prophecies have two practical purposes: to teach us how to live today and to prepare us for the future.”

Also worth considering is Pastor Doug’s message “A Famine in the Land,” which discusses an important preparatory step for all believers: “The Bible tells us there will be famines in the last days, cultural and spiritual famines. If we are prepared, we can weather the famines and storms with God's help. We need to be storing the Word of God in our minds now.”

Whatever happens in Africa, whatever happens in North America, one thing is certain: Staying close to God and His Word is necessary during the times of trouble that lie ahead!

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