African food supplies have suffered after billions of locusts invaded and feasted on crops, leading to a call for international help.
The unprecedented swarms of Desert Locusts have flooded Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, and have devastated the already struggling nations in the wake of hunger, droughts and floods. The UN has warned that the world “must act immediately” to assist the effected areas.
“This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion. The FAO is activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis,” the UN Food and Agricultural (FAO) Director-General QU Dongyu said earlier this week.
The FAO fact sheet states that locusts can travel up to 90 miles in a single day and consume enough food for 35,000 people. The Desert Locust also has the ability to reproduce rapidly, around 20-fold within three months.
One swarm plaguing Kenya is estimated to be around 930 square miles with a population of 200 billion locusts. Crops have been devastated, but also farm animals and basic agricultural operations have been disrupted.
Agriculture aside, airline passenger planes are also at risk, with one Ethiopian Airlines flight having to perform an emergency landing after colliding with the insects. The Boeing 737-700 was flying from Djibouti to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
A proposed $70 million dollar emergency action plan is being proposed by the UN, with plans to conduct aerial pesticide spraying. However, there are concerns with the conducting of this over Somalia, where the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group controls parts of the region.
The UN is expecting that if the problem is left too long, swarms will balloon by 500 times in June after rainfalls and will risk affecting Uganda and South Sudan. “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 FAO said.
East Africa isn’t the only nation facing unprecedented locust levels. India, Pakistan and Iran, as well as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen all face larger than usual spring swarms. The locusts are believed to have migrated across the Red Sea after originating in Yemen last August.
So far, the UN has released $10 million to combat the Desert Locust problem and a further $70 million is expected from a donor conference in Rome later next week.