Tiny Termites Prompt State of Emergency in Egypt

The Associated Press

Tiny termites are causing big damage in parts of Egypt's Luxor province.

In the village of al-Aqalta, more than 500 kilometres (313 miles) south of Cairo, the amount of termite destruction has skyrocketed. Many houses are near to collapse as termites consume wood at an alarming rate, forcing some residents onto the streets.

Roofs and doors are often made of wood, some parts of the houses are built with palm trunks and leaves.

Saad Mohammed Hassan and his family are currently homeless after termites destroyed his house.

"For a week, parts of the house have been demolished day by day," he says.

A ceiling with termite damage in the village of al-Aqalta, Egypt (Screenshot/AP)
A ceiling with termite damage in the village of al-Aqalta, Egypt (Screenshot/AP)
"The day before yesterday, we went into the street and the whole house was demolished. My wife and I have been sleeping in the street. We could not sleep and we could not stay at home. The whole house has been demolished."

State of Emergency Declared

In August, local media reported that the authorities declared a state of emergency in parts of Luxor and Aswan because of largescale termite infestations.

Authorities in Luxor stepped-up campaigns to clear out termites from infected areas—eliminating the insects from 215 houses in just 48 hours, according to local media reports.

They're using preventive measures including the use of chemically treated wood in building construction.

But that's little help to those whose homes are already destroyed.

Um Shaban no longer has a roof on her home and says she is too poor to purchase pesticides.

"The insecticide is expensive and we are unable to buy it. My belongings, my clothes...(were worn out by termites). We live in the street. What do we do?"

In Hamdi Abdel Hamid Hassan's home, it's the beds and doors that are being eaten away.

"Termites have worn out my furniture very easily. Why? This is haram, forbidden. I have been facing a problem. I tried to tackle it, but I cannot."

Authorities have reportedly blamed some residents for not treating soil before they started building their homes.

Some residents are starting to replace wooden doors and roofs with those made from metal.

Omar Tamam, professor of Natural Protectorates and wildlife at University of Sadat City, says when an imbalance occurs in the natural order, termite numbers increase.

50 Year Lifespan

"When a defect occurs in natural enemies (ants and termites), termite numbers increase. When numbers increase, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Termites come out and start to attack houses that include wood",  he explains.

Termites are able to survive for long periods if they find a good piece of wood to nest in.

This sometimes means they can be easily be transported in shipping crates, boat timbers, lumber, and furniture.

"The termite queen lives an average of 50 years, unlike any other insect species," explains Tamam.

Other 'worker' termites live around one to two years.

"The world's oldest insect is the termite queen. Termite insects produces massive amount of eggs. The existence of termites in an environment, that does not include natural enemies (e.g. ants), has a negative effect on the environment."

"Tackling it in a technical way leads to the use of pesticides. We spray pesticides which can have a negative effect on humans."

For now it seems termites are ruling the roost.

Related Topics