Imminent environmental disaster in Hudramout [Archives:2005/902/Health]

December 12 2005

Saeed Al-Batati
“Ah, It is a tragedy to lose a close mate”. Said Saleh Ahmed, a 67 years old farmer from a remote village in Doan valley, describing his emotional feelings when he realized that his small farm of palms has been affected by Dubas diseases. Tensely and desperately, he looked at the leaves of one of them glistening and turning yellow, realizing that the trees are slowly dying.

Salah's Farm is one of many farms that were affected by the new epidemic disease, which is resulted from an insect that produces sticky substances, which prevent the trees from getting its food from the interaction of sunlight on chlorophyll. Octogenarian farmer, Salem Bin – Talib, expressed his annoyance by his own way: “I wish it would affect my sons not the most cherished trees to me”. ” we cannot climb tree because of the gluey substances. This will destroy this year's crop”. He added.

What those two farmers have said are the symptoms of an epidemic that invaded date palm trees in Hudramout. The disease became an albatross around the farmers neck did nothing to stop it.

Ommatssus Binotatus lybicus De Berg is the scientific name of Date palm Dubas, a new serious disease that spread like fire in dry hay. It attacks trees and leaves them as if they were not irrigated for a long time. The disease appears first on the leaves and then moves to the adjacent ones until the tree looks shining. The disease moves on to the center and the palm dies. The palm may die at any time, a week, a month or more after the appearance of the first symptom. The evolution of the symptoms depends mainly on the tree persistence. The strong built trees can resistance more than a weak. According to agriculture sources, Dubas was first reported in 2003 in Al-Mahra governorate and little attention was given to it. The disease has practically affected Hudramout palm groves after two years.

In retrospect, when the epidemic was first noticed in Hudramout, it was the focus speech of the local radios, posters and newspapers. The affected areas were kept apart and the local authorities in Seiyun, capital of Hudramout, took serious measures against the transplantation of the trees. The media did well at first, but the disease became out of control, therefore, most of Hudramout date palm trees forests were threatened with extinction. Because of the importance of palm trees economically, immediate steps had been and spray units had been sent to the area. However, these procedures were not perfect. In Wadi Ain village, hundreds of trees were destroyed due to the wrong spray. This caused panic to the neighboring village that refused to allow the spray teams to do their job. The date palms were lucky and the scourge of disease finally eradicated due to heavy rain. The rain wiped out the disease, as a result, talks about the disease faded away.

Following the outbreak of the disease, the Prime Minister formed a committee to asses the rate of the Dubas .The committee came out with many concludes about the reasons behind the outbreak of Dubas. The committee blamed the government for not holding the disease when it first seen in Al-Mahra governorate, referring to the lack of cooperation between the local authorities and the offices of the agriculture in Hudramout. It also insisted on the shortage of the modern machines that are supposed to take part in the spray.

Widespread fear

Recently, the problem reared its ugly head again and the governorate has to re-declare emergency. Mohammed Salim, a teacher at a primary school in Doan and owner of a farm, is afraid of the reputation of the previous mistakes. “The problem with some spray teams was that they don't do their job well. They spent their time under trees, chewing Qat and chatting” he said.

His friend Omer demanded a swift aerial spray, describing the ground spray as useless “Chemical substances, used in the spray, cannot reach the leaves of long trees”

Hudramout University, office of the ministry of agriculture and agricultural experts gathered their efforts in an attempt to eradicate the disease. Prof Ahmed Bamashmous, rector of Hudramout University of science and Technology said: “I've been delegated by the Prime Minister personally to travel to Saudi Arabia and visit the Universities and agriculture research centers. The aim is to get use of their experience in this field”. “We agreed with our friend in Saudia Arabia to form a committee that includes the most experienced scientists of both countries. The Committee will survey the affected areas and take samples to be sent to the UK for Diagnosis”.

Prof. Bamashmous added that 4 millions Riyals are needed to cover the committee activities and we are waiting for the prime minister's response. Dr .Mohammed Hubishan, agricultural expert, pointed out that the disease swept 80% of Date palm trees and the 20% of the areas in Hudramot are susceptible to the disease. Dr. Hubishan dismissed the idea of the aerial spray by saying: “The aerial applications are more costly than those applied from the ground. To rent two aircraft, you need over than a million dollars just for three months”. He said that the amount of money that is required for the preliminary spray with the disease is 50millions YR. A proposal was written to the minister of agriculture in this regards, and no response yet.

Mr. Abdulqader Ali Helal, governor of Hudramout told the Yemen Times that he exhausted all possibilities to deal with the epidemic, but the required efforts are beyond the local authority's abilities. “We call upon the ministry of agriculture to make it a national campaign against the disease together with other fatal diseases campaigns”, He said.

An annual festival is organized in different areas in Hudramout aimed at raising the awareness among people about the importance of palms trees as a national treasure. Millions of YR is spent to cover the activities of the festival. The officials ask farmers to plant date palm trees and they will receive incentives in return.