Millions Of Locusts Ravage East Africa In Largest Outbreak For 70 Years
Farmers in Kenya are struggling to cope as millions of desert locusts descend amid the worst outbreak in 70 years.
The UN is now calling for international help to fight the huge swarms, which are also wreaking havoc in Ethiopia and Somalia after heavy rainfall at the end of 2019 created ideal conditions for the insects to breed.
Locusts are feasting on crops and destroying farmland, threatening locals with devastating hunger and leaving farmers afraid to let their cattle out for grazing.
About 70,000 hectares (172,973 acres) of land in Kenya are already infested, the Independent reports, with even small swarms of the insects capable of consuming enough food for 35,000 people in a single day, according to Jens Laerke of the UN humanitarian office in Geneva.
Aerial pesticide spraying is said to be the ‘only effective means to reduce the locust numbers’, though about $70 million will be needed for the resources. It will be tough to target all infested areas, especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are in the grip of the al-Shabab extremist group.
The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) described the outbreak as ‘unprecedented’, adding:
The speed of the pests’ spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit.
The agency fears locust numbers could grow 500 times by June, after rain in March brings new vegetation across much of the region.
A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre of farmland – an area the size of almost 250 football fields. One particularly large swarm in northeastern Kenya is believed to have measured 37 miles long by 25 miles wide.
Abubakr Salih Babiker, a Nairobi-based climate scientist, has said climate change has contributed to ‘exceptional’ breeding conditions for the bugs.
The UN has urged for a collective campaign to deal with the crisis amid fears the swarms will spill into more countries in East Africa ‘if efforts to deal with the voracious pest are not scaled up across the region’.
In a press release, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said the agency is activating ‘fast-track mechanisms’ to support governments as the situation is now of ‘international dimensions’.
Authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so they can access the tools and resources required to get the job done.
East Africa isn’t the only region affected as numerous desert locust swarms have reportedly been breeding in India, Iran and Pakistan since June 2019.
Substantial breeding activity among the insects is also taking place in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
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