ADDIS ABEBA – Microsoft founder Bill Gates has joined the fight against swarms of desert locusts ravaging parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
Through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates donated $10 million to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to support ongoing efforts by governments in the three countries to deal with the locusts.
The outbreak is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and the worst Kenya has experienced in 70 years.
Djibouti and Eritrea are also affected and swarms have spread to the southeast of South Sudan and the northern edges of Uganda and Tanzania and as far as the south-west coast of Iran.
Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman urged other donors to get on board the campaign to combat the desert locusts believed to have originated from the Middle East.
“We’re committed to supporting the FAO and governments in East Africa as they work to prevent a potential humanitarian crisis.
“We urge additional donors to join us now in helping communities respond to this threat,” Suzman wrote on Twitter on Monday, February 24.
The Gates’ contribution is expected to be channeled towards supplying pesticides and maintaining air-craft being used to spray the swarms which continue to ravage crops.
“The foundation’s support is intended to help FAO and national governments confront the critical need for rapid control of the infestation, including aerial control of large swarms,” a press release from the Gates foundation read in part.
FAO has raised its appeal to $138 million from the initial 76 million U.S. dollars sought a month ago.
“The upsurge is threatening people’s livelihoods and food security in a region that is already seriously food insecure,” FAO director-general QU Dongyu said.
“There is no time to waste.”
The desert locust is considered the most destructive migratory plant pest in the world and a small swarm covering one square kilometer can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.