Swarms of locusts
Palestine, Ottoman Syria
March 1915 (1915-03)–October 1915 (1915-10)
Higher food prices starvation
Higher food prices, starvation
From March to October 1915, swarms of locusts stripped areas in and around Palestine and Syria of almost all vegetation. This infestation seriously compromised the already-depleted food supply of the region and sharpened the misery of all Jerusalemites.
Historian Zachary J. Foster argues that the scale of the attack was far worse than anything Syria had witnessed in many decades. He suggests further that a huge percentage of the region’s major foodstuffs and sources of livelihood, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, fodder and a small but not insigniﬁcant amount of the cereals, were devoured by the locusts. “The attack diminished the 1915 winter harvest (wheat and barley) by 10-15 per cent,” he noted, “and completely wrecked the 1915 summer and autumn harvests (fruits and vegetables), in ranges varying from 60 to 100 per cent, depending on the crop.”
The crop destruction resulted in several increases to the price of food. On April 25, 1915, The New York Times described the price increases. "Flour costs $15 a sack. Potatoes are six times the ordinary price. Sugar and petroleum are unprocurable and money has ceased to circulate."
Djemal Pasha, who was the Supreme Commander of Syria and Arabia at the time of the locust infestation, launched a campaign to limit the devastation of the incident. He appointed an official to fight the infestation.
Many people believed that prayer and petition were required to end the plague, as they viewed the swarm of locusts as a punishment from God for their sins. Rav A.M. Luntz, who observed the development of the infestation said that "... Badatz decreed that on the following day there should be a Taanit Tzibbur and the whole day should be one of selichot, prayer and petition. After a few days the locusts left the Land ..." as locusts do after they have finished feeding. However, in the amount of time they nested there, the locusts replenished themselves with new larvae.
Midhat Bey, who was the official appointed to fight the infestation, helped enact a law which required every male between ages 15 and 60 in cities to collect 20 kilograms of locust eggs or pay a fine of £4.40. The New York Times reported that this law was strictly enforced. They said that people who failed to follow the law risked having their businesses closed. 800 had paid the fine by November 21, 1915.