Locust invasion: FAO seeks $138 million for Africa — double of what it sought in January

Swarms present in 9 east African countries; unseasonal rain adds to worry

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Thursday 27 February 2020
Locusts have spread to nine countries in east Africa Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The funds sought by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to combat locust outbreaks in east Africa nearly doubled in a month to $138 million for February 2020. The situation may worsen, given the recent spate of heavy, unseasonal rain.

The funds were sought by FAO, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in a joint statement on February 25, 2020.

Locust swarms spread to Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in February. Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia were already affected in January, when the FAO sought $70 million. The UN arm raised an alarm over the risk of the swarms spreading to South Sudan and Uganda, with concerns for Eritrea and Sudan.

In February, locusts reached strife-torn South Sudan and the eastern boundaries of DRC, which hasn’t seen such an infestation since 1944, according to the joint statement.

The countries were asked by Kenya's agriculture ministry to prepare for a second invasion in four-eight weeks.

Mature swarms of locusts — in vast areas across Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia — laid eggs, many of which are going to hatch, according to the joint statement.

The action to control and contain locusts in the period between new swarms taking flight and farmers’ crops breaking soil is “critical”.

Wide funding gap

Of the $138 million needed, only $33 million has been received or pledged by donors, according to the statement. Funds will be needed in the next four months to help governments control the pests. Aerial and ground spraying and consistent tracking of locust swarms on the move were just some of the measures needed.

The affected countries were short of funds to buy equipment and hire personnel. Aeroplanes, drones, sprayers, personal safety equipment and GPS units were needed as well. The FAO also needs funds to help people whose crops are already affected and to protect families and their livelihoods as well, said the statement.

The weather in east Africa is conducive for locusts to reproduce and if kept unchecked, their numbers could grow 500 times by June 2020, the FAO warned in January.

Failure to prevent the spread of locusts will prove to be more expensive. The impact on food security alone would be at least 15 times more than current costs, according to the statement.

Worse in store for East Africa

Another cause for concern is unseasonal rain. The rain was linked to a weather phenomenon known as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole, expected to increase in occurrence as climate changes.

Desert locusts will continue to invade Djibouti, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s Climate Prediction and Application Centre (CPAC) predicted in its seasonal forecast for March to May 2020 for eastern Africa. Flooding in the southern and western parts of the country were also predicted, which could lead to an increase in locusts.

An impending threat on the food security in Kenya and Somalia's north and western regions would continue due to weather changes. Burundi is also likely to be at risk, according to CPAC.

Monitoring and surveillance of locust movement and provisions of pesticides is critical to control their increase, said CPAC in its seasonal forecast.

But resources to control the outbreak were slow in coming, according to the statement.

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