By Sharon Atieno

With March, April, May  being a significant rainfall season in East Africa, forecasts by the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), indicate that early rains are expected over most parts of the region with late onset in central and north-eastern Ethiopia, northern Somalia and southern Tanzania. These areas are also likely to have prolonged dry periods a few weeks after the start of the season.

Northern Tanzania, northern Uganda, western and north-eastern Kenya, south-western Ethiopia, and southern Somalia are expected to receive earlier than usual onset of rains.

The forecast further reveals a high likelihood of a wetter than usual season in western Kenya, south-western and eastern Uganda as well as eastern Rwanda and western parts of South Sudan. On the other hand, drier than usual conditions are expected over central and north-eastern Ethiopia and southern Tanzania.

In addition, higher than usual temperatures are expected over much of the region, in particular, eastern Tanzania, eastern Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, south-western Kenya, western Rwanda, much of Eritrea and Burundi as well as eastern and south-western Sudan.

The March-April start of the long rains, coinciding with a regeneration of rangeland  and the start of planting activities, will enable a new wave of breeding and further spread of desert locusts, ICPAC predicts.

The desert locust upsurge has already spread to eight countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan and Eritrea.

According to a report by the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG), “Most affected areas are currently facing Crisis or Stressed food insecurity.”

Based on the current and projected analyses by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), more than 10 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, who are already facing severe food insecurity in Crisis or worse, are located in areas currently affected by the desert locusts infestations.

A further 3.24 million severely food insecure people in Uganda and South Sudan, are also under threat, bringing the total number of the population at risk to over 13 million.

The infestations could spread further into the Rift Valley (especially in Ethiopia), as well as to South Sudan; affect the 2020 main and secondary staple cropping seasons; and continue to affect rangeland across the region, the FSNWG says.

Control operation to repond to the desert locusts upsurge have been scaled up, however they are still insufficient. During the month of January 2020, the following number of hectares have been treated by country: Ethiopia: 22 550 ha; Kenya 20 000 ha, Sudan 18 714 ha; Eritrea 15 068 ha; and Somalia 15 000 ha. In parts of the region, access constraints due to conflict and instability has complicated control operations.

The IGAD Heads of State and Government during their 34th Extraordinary Summit, called for increased coordination given the fact that the locust invasion transcends the IGAD region, affecting also neighboring gulf states and countries in the Arabian Peninsula.