ADDIS ABEBA – UN humanitarian agency says it has released 10 million US dollars from its central emergency response fund (CERF) to help scale up the response to the devastating desert locust outbreak in East Africa.
The outbreak, which is affecting the Horn of Africa, Southwest Asia and the Red Sea, is the worst of its kind in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia – and the worst Kenya has seen for 70 years.
The impacts in these countries are particularly acute as pastures and crops are being wiped out in communities that were already facing food shortages, according to the UN.
The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world.
A single locust can travel 150km and eat its own weight in food – about two grams – each day. A small swarm can consume the equivalent of food for 35,000 people in one day.
They reproduce rapidly.
“This devastating locust outbreak is starting to destroy vegetation across East Africa with alarming speed and ferocity,” Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said.
“Vulnerable families that were already dealing with food shortages now face the prospect of watching as their crops are destroyed before their eyes,” Lowcock said.
“We must act now. If left unchecked, this outbreak has the potential to spill over into more countries in East Africa with horrendous consequences”.
The 10 million U.S. dollars allocation from CERF will go to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and fund an increase in pesticide aerial spraying operations which, given the scale of the current swarms, is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers.
The outbreak is exacerbating the impacts of climate change already being felt in this region.
In Ethiopia, where floods had already affected the harvest, the locust infestation has destroyed hundreds of square kilometers of vegetation in the Amhara and Tigray regions.
Its agriculture minister says on Thursday desert locust swarms will continue migrating into Ethiopia in five directions until the end of February.
The untimely rain during the past months has created a conducive environment to the swarms to re-migrate from Kenya, in addition to the previous ones from Somalia, Somaliland, Yemen, and Puntland.
In Kenya, which was hit by back-to-back droughts and then floods in 2019, the past week has seen a significant and extremely dangerous increase in swarm activity, and eight counties are now affected, says CERF.