Millions at risk of starvation — Locust plague

FAO  Sven Torfinn

The United Nations has warned that the ongoing locust crisis in eastern Africa could become a major humanitarian plague.

The swarms of billions of locusts have been destroying crops in Kenya, which has not seen such an outbreak in 70 years, as well as Somalia and Ethiopia, which have not seen this in a quarter of a century.

Millions of locusts have taken over farms in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, feasting on the crops. So far just under $20 million is in hand, including $10 million released by Lowcock from the United Nations emergency relief fund and $3.8 million from FAO, officials said. Though pesticides are used to control the swarm, it is hard to assess their effectiveness due to rapid and constant movement.

The United Nations warned that "we simply can not afford another major shock" to an already vulnerable region.

The body's latest desert locust situation update of February 10, shows that there is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region. According to officials from the intergovernmental organization, it is possible that the outbreak could turn into a plague, particularly if nothing is done before future rains bring about new vegetation for desert locusts to devour. "This current invasion of desert locusts is significantly larger in magnitude and scale than previously experienced in Kenya and across East Africa, " said Dr. Stephen Njoka, the Director-General of Desert Locust Control Organization.

"We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that's not what we are doing at the moment".

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Pest-control sprayers demonstrate their work on the thorny bushes in the desert that is the breeding ground of desert locusts for a visiting delegation of Somali ministry officials and experts from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in the desert near Garowe, in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia on February 4, 2020. "In the next three or four weeks, these nymphs, as we call them, will develop wings", Barca said on Thursday. "We are running out of time". "We're expecting any day they will move across the border into the southeast corner of South Sudan", where another several million people face hunger as the country struggles to emerge from civil war.

Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a day.

It is noted that locusts are the world's oldest and most destructive migratory pest. United Nations reports indicate that locusts can reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, current numbers could grow 500 times by June.

And it's asked for $76 million in aid to help control the outbreak.

Al-Shabaab's control of some locust breeding grounds in Somalia is said to have made aerial spraying there virtually impossible.

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