Minyat Al Saeed, Egypt: For several weeks, Sobhy Abdul Gani has not set foot in his rice paddy in the Delta village of Minyat Al Saeed.
For him, his farmland is a no-go area.
The 42-year-old farmer fears to be bitten by rampant snakes that have already killed a neighbour and injured five others.
“The rice crop is withering as a result of negligence, but I can’t risk my life and go there because of this snake invasion, which we have not seen before,” Abdul Gani said as he squatted outside his house despite scorching summer heat.
“The heatwave has prompted snakes, serpents and scorpions to leave their dens and creep even into our houses,” he told Gulf News.
Abdul Gani, a father of four, said he had sent his family to stay with relatives in Cairo for fear that venomous snakes would attack them if they stayed in the village.
“I am not the only one who did this. Many people in the village have already sent their families away to guarantee their safety until the government finds a solution for us.”
He decided to stay behind in the hope that things will improve soon and allow him take care of his field.
Last week, the Cairo-based government sent a team to assess the situation first-hand in this village of around 5,000 people.
“They came and went, but the danger is still there,” said Mahrus Khater, a local grocer. “We could not wait until we die of a snake bite or a scorpion sting. Therefore, the village folk have decided to act.”
Several locals were seen torching weeds where snakes could hide.
“We have also sought help from snake charmers in hunting and killing snakes and serpents. Some of these charmers have volunteered to do the job for free because they know that the village’s people are poor,” added Khater.
“In one day, the villagers with help from the charmers killed 25 snakes. This proves how massive their spread is. Some of them were about three metres long.”
In a sign of dissatisfaction, a group from the village, located around 180 kilometres north of Cairo, lodged a legal complaint against ministers of agriculture and health as well as local authorities in the province of Beheira of which Minyat Al Saeed is part.
“Our village has been left alone to face this attack without executive agencies lifting a finger,” said Osama Al Najar, one of the local signatories to the complaint. “In our report, we have accused government and provincial officials of laxity that has led until now to the death of a young man and the injury of four others.”
Deputies representing Beheira in the parliament, meanwhile, presented urgent queries, demanding the government to explain its emergency plan for addressing the situation in Minyat Al Saeed and adjacent villages where snakes have reportedly started to strike.
Beheira authorities have denied accusations of negligence. “We have intensified our efforts to face the crisis,” said Hosni Mansur, a local council official. “This includes a campaign to remove thick weeds as well as cleaning water ditches in the village in order to deprive snakes of hiding places,” he added.
Governor of Beheira Nadia Abdou has ordered increasing anti-venom vaccine supplies at local hospitals to treat potential victims. She also formed a committee comprising representatives of veterinary, health and agriculture agencies to work out a contingent plan for Minyat Al Saeed. The panel has agreed to inject poison into 5,000 eggs to lure snakes. The eggs have been deployed along edges of farmland and ditches.
Abdul Gani, the farmer, questioned the effectiveness of this measure. “The type of snakes here do not eat eggs. More than a week has passed since the eggs were spread and we haven’t seen a single snake dying due to the poisoned eggs,” he fumed. “The executive agencies have to come up with real solutions to the catastrophe that has struck us and our livelihood. They must tell us what is wrong.”
Some environmentalists agree.
“The problem started when the local agencies killed large numbers of dogs, wolves and foxes that feed on snakes,” Nadia Zulfakar, an environmentalist, told private newspaper Al Watan.
“This cull has caused an imbalance in bio-diversity and resulted in a proliferation of snakes. Now they [local authorities] handle the crisis by the use of poisonous eggs. But snakes do not feed on eggs alone. Evidence is that the situation has not improved. Worse, these eggs are within children’s hands and unsuspecting people. This spells further dangers.”