Popov MBE (1922-1998)
George Popov, who died
on 22 December 1998, was one of the least known but most experienced travellers in the
Arabian Peninsula. He was born of Russian parents in Mashhad, Iran, where his father
worked for the Imperial Bank. After his fathers death in the early years of World
War II, his education was necessarily curtailed, but using his facility with languages
(Farsi, French, English and Russian) he worked for a time as an interpreter with the
Russians. He came to the attention of Dr (later Sir Boris) Uvarov and was recruited into
the Middle East Anti-Locust Unit in 1943 for work initially in southern Iran. Thus began a
lifelong career in locust research with future travels throughout the desert locust
breeding areas from Senegal to Bangladesh, and from Georgia to Tanzania.
He first visited Yemen in the autumn of 1948, travelling by road
from Jedda via Jizan and Midi to Hodeidah, while working for the Middle East Anti-Locust
Unit. In 1951 he was awarded the MBE, and his name became increasingly well known and
respected throughout locust affected regions.
In 1962 he again visited Yemen as Head of an FAO team to examine
potential outbreak areas. The information which he obtained formed the basis of a special
atlas on locust habitats later published by the FAO. He made further visits to Yemen in
1972, 1978, and 1985 as part of the newly formed Field Research Section of the Anti-Locust
Research Centre in London, with the task of fostering and training anti-locust units in
developing countries. In 1978 he formed a team of Yemenis, some of whom had previous
locust experience, notably Nasir Muafa in Sanaa, Muhammad al-Jubari, who later
worked for Dr Veneroni and then Professor Manfredonia, and Fuad Ba Hakim in Seiyun.
His remarkable travels in the Middle East and Central Asia were
recognised by the award to him of the Lawrence of Arabia Memorial Medal by the Royal
Society for Asian Affairs in 1995, and of a special medal by the FAO in 1997 to mark his
fifty years of locust control service.
Since his retirement in 1984 he was engaged in numerous
consultancies on behalf of FAO, IFAD, USAID and specialist firms, despite suffering in
recent years from increasing pain and discomfort from more than one form of cancer.
He had a few distant relatives in Latvia and Russia but had close
links with the Maiga family from Mali now living in London, to whom he was devoted. Their
affection and his own courage and sense of humour combined to prolong his active life well
beyond medical expectations.