• FAO says that new swarms will be forming in March and April when eggs will be hatching in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
• A locust swarm of one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food as 35,000 people in one day.
More than 10 million people in East and Horn of Africa face severe food insecurity as massive swarms of locusts continue wreaking havoc in the region, the United Nations has warned.
The swarms crossed into Uganda and Tanzania three days ago. In Tanzania, the swarms were detected in its northern border areas close to Mount Kilimanjaro, reaching Arusha and Moshi.
“Mature swarms reached within 50 km of Uganda border on February 6 and other mature swarms nearly reached Tanzania border on the 7th. On February 9, there were reports that desert locust arrived in north-east Uganda near Amudat,” said the Food and Agriculture Organisation in an updated report.
The situation is set to worsen in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, according to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a multi-partner initiative for improving food security and nutrition analysis and decision-making.
The agency is used by governments, UN, NGOs, civil society and other relevant actors to determine the severity and magnitude of food insecurity.
In Kenya, 17 counties have suffered locust infestation. New sightings were reported in Kajiado, Murang'a and Turkana on February 7.
Before then, swarms had invaded Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Samburu, Garissa, Isiolo, Laikipia, Meru, Baringo, Embu, Machakos, Makueni, Tharaka Nithi and Kitui.
The ravenous creatures were first reported on December 28, last year, at El Wak in Mandera as they crossed from Somalia. The first swarms had crossed into north-east Ethiopia and northern Somalia from Yemen at the end of June.
A locust swarm of one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food as 35,000 people in one day. The insects feed on all types of green vegetation including pasture.
FAO has confirmed that numerous immature and mature swarms continue to move throughout northern and central Kenya. It warns that new swarms will be forming in March and April when eggs will be hatching in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
“Elsewhere, above-normal breeding continues along both sides of the Red Sea coast where hopper groups, bands, adult groups and a few swarms are forming on the coastal plains,” FAO said.
The IFSPC said 3.24 million people in Uganda and South Sudan are already severely food insecure bringing to over 13 million the number of people under threat.
The locusts' destructive impact is likely to cause large-scale crop damage and worsen food insecurity in East and Horn of Africa countries.
Unusually favourable weather conditions have allowed the locusts to continue to breed and spread, despite control operations.
The key catalysts were two consecutive failed rainy seasons, drought, torrential rains, flooding and al Shabbab-induced conflict in Somalia.
With the rainy season fast approaching, the Horn of Africa is in the race against time to tackle the locust invasion, the UN warned on Monday.
The infestation in Kenya is the worst in 70 years, while Somalia and Ethiopia are experiencing their worst outbreaks in 25 years, putting crop production, food security and millions of lives at risk.
With the swarms now in Uganda and Tanzania, South Sudan is now on the watch list.
“In this region where there is so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock. And that’s why we need to act quickly,” UN official Mark Lowcock told ambassadors in New York.
“We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. We’re running out of time,” the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said.
Locusts are the world’s oldest and most destructive migratory pests.
An average swarm of up to 40 million insects can travel up to 150 km in a single day and can devour enough food to feed 34 million people within that time.
Kenya’s UN ambassador Lazarus O. Amayo noted: “The herders will have a real challenge of pasture, and this may also cause movement from one place to another in search of pasture, with the inherent risk of communal conflict over pasture or grazing land or passing territories.”
The locust threat comes as the region is recovering from what Lowcock described as recent “back-to-back shocks” which have undermined resilience, with millions of people at risk of experiencing severe food insecurity.
“It is these weather events which are creating the environment to facilitate the locust outbreak,” Lowcock explained. “Unusually heavy rains and increase in the frequency in cyclones in the Indian Ocean have created favourable conditions for the locusts to breed.”
FAO recently launched a $76 million appeal to control the locusts' spread. So far, only around $20 million has been received; roughly half of which came from a UN emergency fund.
“Without rapid action, we will be facing a rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis. The desert locust swarms are growing exponentially,” FAO director-general Qu Dongyu warned in a video message.
Lowcock cautioned: “There is a risk of a catastrophe. Perhaps we can prevent it; we have an obligation to try. Unless we act now, we’re unlikely to do so.”