By Sharon Atieno

As numerous swarms of Desert locusts continue to destroy crops and pastures across the Eastern Africa region, countries have been urged to intensify efforts to control the invasion.

“We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion,” said David Phiri, Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations (FAO) Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa cautioned.

“As the rains start in March, there will be a new wave of locust breeding. Now is therefore the best time to control the swarms and safeguard people’s livelihoods and food security, and avert further worsening of the food crisis.”

Though the locusts are currently in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya; locust breeding and movements are taking place also in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan.  There is a high risk that the swarms could appear in northeast Uganda, southeast South Sudan and southwest Ethiopia thus necessitating an immediate and significant intensification of control activities.

Heavy and widespread rains since October 2019, alongside other rare weather and climate conditions have contributed to the spread. As favourable ecological conditions for Desert locust breeding prevails, more locust swarms are expected until June.

Dr. Guleid Artan (left), Bukar Tijani (middle) and Dr. Stephen Njoka during a press statement

Dr. Guleid Artan, Director of IGAD’s Climate Predictions and Applications Centre notes that 2019 has been a year of extremes and climate anomalies for East Africa, with the region receiving unusual cyclonic activity forming over the northern Indian Ocean leading to droughts, floods and locusts outbreak.

“Our climate is changing and it is already leading to hundreds of casualties and affecting livelihoods of millions of people in our region,” he said.

It is estimated that for the operation to be successful, around USD 70 million is required between now and June.

“It is not a lot of money when you compare with the amount countries would use to ensure food security if the situation is not controlled,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO’s Assistant Director General, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

“Urgent action is required to halt the spread of this devastating infestation and avert a worst-case scenario,” said Gemma Connell, Head of United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa. 

“The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Mark Lowcock, has released US$10 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to enable a massive and rapid scale-up in air and ground control operations to reduce locust numbers. However, much more is needed, and we call upon the international community to respond generously at this time of critical need. Inaction today will cost lives and livelihoods tomorrow.”

According to the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) most recent update, the East Africa region is already experiencing a high degree of food insecurity, with over 19 million people coping with Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or higher levels of hunger. Under a worst-case scenario, where the current locust upsurge is not quickly contained and becomes a plague by the next main cropping season, significant crop and pasture losses would cause food security in affected areas to worsen further.