ADDIS ABEBA – New swarms of desert locusts are threatening the livelihoods of millions of people in East Africa despite a year of control efforts, the United Nations has warned.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says there have been good breeding conditions in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia, with Kenya also at risk.
This was worsened by Cyclone Gati which brought flooding to northern Somalia last month allowing locust infestations to increase further in the coming months, the agency claims.
And breeding underway in Red Sea countries including Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Yemen has posed a threat.
“We have achieved much, but the battle against this relentless pest is not yet over,” said the Director-General of FAO, QU Dongyu.
“We must not waiver. Locusts keep growing day and night and risks are exacerbating food insecurity for vulnerable families across the affected region,” Dongyu added.
Between January and August this year, East Africa saw billions of the insects destroying crops across the region.
But the agency said countries in the region are now much better prepared than for the last invasion. They say surveillance is high, and preparedness – such as spraying pesticides on the ground or from airplanes – is much better, with over one million acres of land treated for infestations in 10 countries.
“Control operations have prevented the loss of an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of cereal, worth nearly $800m in countries already hard hit by acute food insecurity and poverty,” the FAO said in a statement.
But it says more funding is needed to match the challenge.
The UN agency is now seeking a further $40 million to increase surveillance and control activities in the most affected countries – Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Yemen – in 2021.
More than 35 million people are already acutely food insecure in these five countries.
“This number could increase by another 3.5 million, if nothing is done to control the latest outbreak,” FAO says.