The worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years needs some $76 million to help control and the money is “required by, actually, now,” the United Nations said Thursday.
So far just $15 million has been mobilized to help stop the outbreak that threatens to worsen an already poor hunger situation for millions of people in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and elsewhere, Dominique Bourgeon, emergencies director with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, told a briefing in Rome.
“You can imagine that a country that has not seen such a thing in 70 years is not well prepared,” he said of Kenya, East Africa’s economic hub.
The outbreak, blamed in part on a changing climate, now threatens to spread to South Sudan and Uganda and new rains in the weeks to come will fuel fresh vegetation and a new wave of breeding. The outbreak might not be under control until June when drier weather arrives, authorities have said.
But by then the number of locusts, if left unchecked, could grow 500 times, experts have warned. “If after April the money has come, it’s somehow useless,” FAO chief Qu Dongyu told the briefing. “So the timing, location, is crucial.”
Already the locusts, moving in swarms of hundreds of millions, have stripped some crops bare. An Ethiopian representative at the briefing told the FAO that some farmers in Africa’s second most populous nation have lost 90% of their production.
A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities say. One especially large swarm in northeastern Kenya measured 60 kilometers long by 40 kilometers wide (37 miles long by 25 miles wide).
“We depend a lot on this season and we worry that the locusts will destroy our harvest and we end up remaining hungry through the rest of the year, waiting for October for the next cropping season,” one farmer in Kenya’s Kitui county, Esther Kithuka, has told the FAO.
Even before this outbreak, nearly 20 million people faced high levels of food insecurity across the East African region long challenged by periodic droughts and floods.
Somalia declared the invasion of locusts as a national emergency Sunday.
Locusts have devastated food supplies in one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the world.
A statement by Somalia’s Agriculture ministry said the move is due to current upsurge of locusts, which constitute a major threat to the fragile food security in the country.
The statement added that food sources for people and their livestock are under threat.
Somalia is the first nation in East Africa to embark on a national mobilization drive to combat the swarm of locusts.
Experts say the appearance of the hungry locusts could be linked to extreme climate variations.
The invasion of the insects is a first in 70 years. Totaling several billions, locusts have been destroying large areas in East Africa for several weeks, with fears of a catastrophe for an already drought and flood stricken region.
Somalia’s government said it will raise funds to try to contain the locusts before harvest in April. An army of locusts spread from Ethiopia, Somalia to Kenya late last month.
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Author: Moses Echodu
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