ADDIS ABEBA – Swarms of locusts that are sweeping across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could grow 500 times bigger by June and invade Uganda and South Sudan unless they are immediately brought under control, anti-poverty charity Oxfam said.
The plagues have hit the region at a time when it is already facing very high levels of food insecurity after countries there had been hit by huge droughts and in some areas flash floods.
“Currently, 25.5 million people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda are already suffering from hunger and severe malnutrition,” Lydia Zigomo, the Regional Director of Oxfam in Horn, East and Central Africa.
“These infestations of hundreds of millions of locusts need to be quickly contained before the next main cropping season of March to July,” she said.
A large desert locust plague can contain up to 150 million individuals per square kilometer, with half a million locusts weighing approximately one ton.
One ton of locusts eat as much food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.
The insects can destroy at least 200 tons of vegetation per day.
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimate that Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia need $70m between them to tackle the plague.
“Oxfam is calling on donors to fund this response immediately, in order to avoid more people falling hungry and using up whatever assets they have to buy food,” it said.
Oxfam is part of a network of local partner organizations that are monitoring how much further damage the locusts will cause to local food crops.
“We are making plans that include providing cash assistance to people most-in-need, particularly small-holder farmers and pastoralists, so they are able to buy food and fodder for their livestock,” said Zigomo.
Image Caption: Swarms of desert locusts fly into the air from crops