UN warns locust swarms could move west

6 August 2020

Swarms of locusts could move west to one of the world’s most food insecure regions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The swarms in the Horn of Africa remained “an extreme concern” but some could head west to the Sahel, a region frequently impacted by severe climate shocks including droughts and floods, the FAO warned.

In a statement quoted by Xinhua, the FAO said: “We have witnessed the unprecedented desert locust threat to food security and livelihoods in East Africa, and we are doing everything we can to prevent a similar crisis repeating in the Sahel region, which is already experiencing several ongoing crises.”

Separately, the FAO said second-generation swarms that have infested Kenya have declined due to control operations but a new swarm has appeared in the southeast of South Sudan near Kapoeta.

Since March the insects have swarmed across Africa and Asia at the same time as the coronavirus pandemic leaving vulnerable communities facing dwindling food supplies.

“A few more swarms could appear in the coming days and transit South Sudan to reach the summer breeding areas in Sudan,” said the FAO update.

At the same time other immature swarms have migrated northwards to Ethiopia to join existing swarms in the northern Ethiopian highlands and northwest Somalia where control operations continue.

The pests are expected to breed in northern and eastern Ethiopia and make Ethiopia and Yemen the epicentre of summer infestations.

Meanwhile, the UK government support has pledged £17m support to tackle the locust outbreaks.

The funding will be divided between the FAO’s emergency appeal to help to control the increase of locusts across East Africa, Yemen and areas like the Sahel, as well as improving early warning and forecasting systems to help countries prepare for the arrival of swarms.

“This support, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and weather data from the UK Met Office, will help the FAO to target locust breeding sites and control outbreaks before they’re able to affect crucial crops and pastures,” said the British high commissioner in Nairobi, Jane Marriott.

The World Bank had estimated that the cost of supporting farmers and producers affected by locusts in East Africa and Yemen alone could rise to $8.5bn by the end of 2020.

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