Plague of desert locusts in Africa: an international threat

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Carlos Faneca
  • Is the worst plague of desert locust in Kenia in 70 years.
    Is the worst plague of desert locust in Kenia in 70 years. Source: CC.
  • Ayuda en Acción is monitoring the situation.
    Ayuda en Acción is monitoring the situation. Source: Hugo Palotto.
  • Authorities in each region have initiated control actions.
    Authorities in each region have initiated control actions. Source: Hugo Palotto.

FAO warns that insect swarms could increase their size and destructive potential, as well as they could spread to other countries in the continent if they are not intensively controlled.

An unprecedented plague of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia is jeopardizing food safety in these regions. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) considers the situation as a “threat of international dimensions” and warns that insect swarms could grow “exponentially, as well as spread to other East African countries if efforts to control the plague are not stepped up”.

Experts assure that recent weather conditions in Oriental Africa, such as unusually warm weather and heavy rains have created favourable conditions for the reproduction of these insects. The swarms can travel 150 kilometres per day, destroying the rural livelihoods as harvests.

It is the worst plague of locusts in 25 years for Somalia - that has declared a national emergency - and Ethiopia, while Kenya is facing an outbreak that has not been seen in 70 years. South Sudan has not yet been affected, but it is in danger.

International aid

“This is a threat of international dimensions that endanger food safety across the subregion”, says Qu Dongy, CEO of FAO, “a plague of locusts that already has a significant size and an enormous destructive potential”. Hence, the organization is activating urgent mechanisms to support governments and organize a collective campaign to cope with the crisis.

Although authorities in each region have initiated control actions, FAO assures that, given the urgency, “additional financial support from the international donor community is mandatory”. As FAO points out, if efforts are not made to control de plague, the number of harvest devouring insects could increase a 500-fold in four months.

FAO estimates that $70 million are needed to urgently support plague control operations and livelihoods protection.

Organizations: prepared

Organizations working on the field in the countries of the Horn of Africa are already prepared to face the arrival of the plague. Ayuda en Acción (Aid in Action) believes that in the Ethiopian areas where its projects are implemented, the situation is not yet severe, though the phenomenon exists. “We are afraid that invasion could spread and affect the harvests, mainly of fruit and cereals”, says Roberto Giuliotto, CEO of Ayuda en Acción – Ethiopia.

The organization is constantly monitoring the situation and coordinating with government institutions while taking forward actions of preparation and control. “Once established, Ayuda en Acción will coordinate with the local offices of the Ministry of Agriculture for its implementation”, claims Giuliotto.

Ayuda en Acción acknowledges that both at an institutional and production level in the territory, they are not prepared nor have the means to control the difficulties. “Currently, the community is traditionally controlling the phenomenon, or rather making noise to chase the locusts away”, states the CEO of Ayuda en Acción – Ethiopia.

The pneumonia outbreak in China caused by the coronavirus which has already left 1,380 dead, is capturing media attention over the situation lived in the Horn of Africa. Nevertheless,Ayuda en Acción does not consider the issue to be invisibilized. “Affected countries, as well as those where the plague could arrive, are covering the emergency and governments are organizing themselves to respond and reduce the potential negative impacts”, explains Giuliotto.

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