National Geographic : 1987 Aug
if billions of hungry insects were allowed to munch their way across the Sahel. The U. S. Agency for International Development called it an "astonishing, sudden assault." To other agencies, newspapers, and maga zines, it was a "plague of Biblical propor tions," and "God's worst punishment." In Dakar, Senegal, a group of Americans sat in the coffee shop of a hotel, eating break fast and talking about the day's work before them. Within an hour they would be flying four old DC-7 aircraft over Senegal, spray ing pesticide over the first segment of the nearly one million acres they would cover in a week. It wouldn't stop with that. It wouldn't even stop when one of the planes crashed, claiming the lives of three Ameri cans. They would continue until another million acres in Senegal and other parts of the Sahel had been sprayed. That was but one of the efforts that led to an announcement in October of last year that the locusts and grasshoppers had been stopped. Coordinated by the United Na tions Food and Agriculture Organization, the campaign, with donations that totaled some 35 million dollars, was a triumph of technology and cooperation, with perhaps a stabbing awareness that the insects would take the Sahel down to a point from which it could never rise again. Still, the danger has not passed. Eggs are sitting on the ground, waiting for this year's rains, waiting for the second chance in two years to bring to life the spectacle written of in the Book of Exodus, in the Old Hauling firewood, a vendor headsfor market in Senegal. Nine of ten rural Sahelians use wood forfuel. The search is a consuming one; a woman may spend halfher day scavenging twigs. As trees vanish, dung, used to fertilize crops, is burned,further impoverishingthe soil. Due to overcutting, the region has lost more than half its forest since 1950.