CLIMATE CHANGE

Locust invasion: Early warning did not lead to action

It is eminently evident that a crucial window for cooperative, coordinated action was missed.

In Summary

• The locust invasion, the incapacity of national governments to respond and the associated food crisis is a perfect illustration of the multiple and complex dimensions of the global climate crisis.

• What is the purpose of early warning if it does not trigger early action?

Locusts invade Mwingi North, Kitui county
LOCUST INVASION: Locusts invade Mwingi North, Kitui county
Image: LINAH MUSANGI

The Food and Agricultural Organization warned of a looming outbreak of desert locust in the Horn of Africa as early as June 2019. According to FAO, the locust was likely to invade Kenya by the end of last year.

It was clear by July that control measures mounted in Iran and Saudi Arabia to control the desert locust could not prevent swarms from forming and spreading and moving to traditional summer breeding territories of Yemen, Sudan, Somali, Ethiopia and southwards into Kenya.

By the end of December, the desert locust had descended on the counties of Mandera and Wajir. The swarms of locusts have since spread to Garissa, Moyale, Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu, Meru, Laikipia, Kirinyaga, Baringo, Kitui, Turkana and Embu. There is every likelihood they will head southwards from Garissa into Tana River county. This, according to experts, is the worst invasion in 70 years.

 

It is highly likely that the anomalous rainfall and temperatures caused by the Indian Ocean Dipole, is responsible for creating favourable conditions for the proliferation and spread of the desert locust into the Horn of Africa. The scale of the current invasion is grave and represents a critical risk to food security and livelihoods across the Horn of Africa.

Studies of previous swarms of this scale suggest that the locust populations could be in tens of billions. If uncontrolled, according to FAO experts, the swarms could potentially grow 400 - 500 times larger in the next six months.

Clearly, the scale; the speed and size of territory infested by the locust is beyond the capacity of the pest's spread and the size of the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya to cope with. A donor conference convened by FAO in Rome later this week will be asked to raise about $70 million to deal with the unprecedented locust invasion that could touch of a regional humanitarian crisis in a region where tens of millions are already stalked by poverty, malnutrition and hunger.

The locust invasion, the incapacity of national governments to respond and the associated food crisis is a perfect illustration of the multiple and complex dimensions of the global climate crisis.

Last week in Davos, world leaders, including Prince Charles, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, underscored the need for all nations to fight climate change. Carbon neutral energy systems must be the minimum collective goal. While optimism is crucial, as US President Donald Trump urges, it must be backed by decisive de-carbonisation investments.

It is eminently evident that a crucial window for cooperative, coordinated action was missed. The likelihood of a locust invasion in the Horn of Africa was clear as early as April-May 2019 when the Gulf countries were hit by the worst locust invasion in 40 years.

National, regional and international agencies slept on the wheel. I think the Rome conference later this week is important but amounts to too little too late. What is the purpose of early warning if it does not trigger early action?

 

Alex O. Awiti Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s