Own Correspondent|Billions of locusts swarming through East Africa could prove disastrous for a region still reeling from drought and deadly floods, experts have warned, amid increasing calls for international help.
Dense clouds of the ravenous insects, each of which consumes its own weight in food every day, have spread from Ethopia and Somalia into Kenya, in the region’s worse infestation in decades.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated one swarm in Kenya at around 2,400 square kilometres (about 930 square miles) – an area almost the size of Moscow – meaning it could contain up to 200 billion locusts.
The locust invasion is the biggest in Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and the biggest in Kenya in 70 years, according to the FAO.
“Even cows are wondering what is happening,” Ndunda Makanga, who spent hours on Friday trying to chase the locusts from his farm in Kenya, told The Associated Press news agency. “Corn, sorghum, cowpeas, they have eaten everything.”
If unchecked, locust numbers could increase 500 times by June, spreading to Uganda and South Sudan, becoming a plague that will devastate crops and pasture in a region which is already one of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
This could lead to “a major food security problem”, Guleid Artan, from regional expert group the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), told a press conference in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Friday.
The locusts, he said, were the latest symptom of extreme conditions that saw 2019 start with a drought and end in one of the wettest rainy seasons in four decades in some parts – with floods killing hundreds across East Africa.
The FAO says the current invasion is known as an “upsurge” – when an entire region is affected – however, if it gets worse and cannot be contained, over a year or more, it would become what is known as a “plague” of locusts.
There have been six major desert locust plagues in the 1900s, the last of which was in 1987-1989. The last major upsurge was in 2003-2005.
“We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion. As the rains start in March there will be a new wave of locust breeding. Now is, therefore, the best time to control the swarms and safeguard people’s livelihoods and food security, and avert further worsening of the food crisis,” said David Phiri, FAO subregional coordinator for Eastern Africa.
About $70m is needed to step up aerial pesticide spraying, the only effective way to combat them, according to the UN.
Source: Al Jazeera/News Agents