Day in the life of locust campaign headquarters
Rabat, Morocco - A regular schedule doesn't exist for the men in a small room with a long working table at an air base in the Moroccan capital. They stay until the work is done, grab some sleep and return to duty. The map-filled room is the nerve centre of a desert locust control campaign that coordinates logistics for 2 000 people, hundreds of vehicles, planes and sprayers and millions of litres of pesticide.
The daily cycle starts when survey teams from along the "red line" of defence across the south of Morocco start phoning in their reports late each evening.
"Last night we had to make a decision on a really large locust sighting in Ouarzazate," says Oulghazi Driss, treatment coordinator. "After a discussion that included the meteorologist and pesticide coordinator, both sitting around this table, we decided to move another plane from Tata, 174 kilometres away."
"Drums of pesticide were dispatched by truck from our depot in Agadir and the loaded plane took off around 4 or 5 this morning to spray," he says. "We just got a report that the spraying was completed successfully, which goes into our operations report for today."
Other coordinators return this morning to confront new problems.
Captain Nabil Taymi has lost so much weight from working nine months without a day off that his uniform looks two sizes too big. This morning he finds three messages from the east of the country, all about vehicle breakdowns.
"We have vehicles from 1988. You try to start them and they just sputter," he says. "We do have 60 new vehicles, but the others are an average of 12 years old. We need another 100 four-wheel-drive pickups to do this job properly."
Dr Taoufik Ayouche is responsible for the health of all campaign personnel. This morning he is coordinating the staffing of five new field survey camps with medics, and calculating distances between these camps and the nearest hospitals. Pesticide poisoning is the big danger, kept under control through protective clothing, masks and goggles and regular blood tests. The doctor must make sure survey teams are well fed and protected from everything from car crashes to scorpion bites.
An accountant counts the costs. A biologist studies survey reports. The pesticide coordinator checks that a new shipment has made it through customs. The air officer checks that planes at 60 airstrips across the country will have fuel for the coming days.
Finally, an archivist keeps track of operational details for posterity. While no one can predict when this upsurge will die out, whoever fights future battles against this ancient pest will want to know what has gone on in this room today.
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