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George 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 father’s 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 Mu’afa in Sana’a, Muhammad al-Jubari, who later worked for Dr Veneroni and then Professor Manfredonia, and Fu’ad 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.