Billions of desert locusts pose a severe threat to vulnerable populations in East Africa and beyond, UN warns, threatening food stocks and livelihoods just as the coronavirus pandemic appears set to peak.
The current situation and forecast are alarming as locust infestations are expected to extend to other areas in the Horn of Africa and southwest Asia, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned. “The current situation in East Africa remains alarming as swarms continue to mature. The threat to food security is there and remains high,” Dominique Burgeon, a director within the FAO said.
Widespread rains fell in East Africa for the second consecutive month in April. Although control operations are reducing locust populations, another generation of breeding will cause locust numbers to increase further as new hopper bands and swarms form in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia during May and June. Swarms are expected to move further north in Ethiopia and Somalia with a risk that a few swarms may reach Eritrea and Sudan in mid-June.
“The situation is very worrisome in Yemen because several swarms laid eggs in the interior where widespread, heavy rains fell, which will allow hatching and hopper bands and swarms to form.” FAO said. “In the Arabian Peninsula, control operations continue against hopper bands in parts of Saudi Arabia, Iraq and UAE, and hopper and adult groups in northern Oman. Any swarms that form in about mid-May can move to the summer breeding areas in Yemen, Sudan and along the Indo-Pakistan border. Some swarms could perhaps continue to Chad and Niger in June if they arrive in Sudan prior to the start of the summer rains.”
Delays in obtaining pesticides, helicopters, and other vital supplies have set back efforts to combat East Africa’s worst desert locust outbreak in decades. Coronavirus-related travel restrictions have since reduced the number of cargo flights, causing delays in the supply of pesticides and helicopters.
“Although donors had pledged or provided most of the $153 million requested by FAO to help governments fight the outbreak, supplies purchased by the agency did not start to arrive until mid-March, when a second generation of the ravenous insects was beginning to hatch.” the New Humanitarian reported.
With a small swarm able to travel up to 150 kilometres in 24 hours and munch through as much food as 35,000 people would eat in a day in the process, the fear is that hunger will soon spread. Some 20 million people are already severely food insecure in the region, and countless more are struggling under COVID-19 lockdowns – not to mention recent droughts and floods.