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'Catastrophe': Huge locust swarm triggers dire warning amid biggest outbreak for decades in East Africa

Insects threaten food insecurity and millions of lives in region

Rory Sullivan
Tuesday 11 February 2020 12:16 GMT
Swarm of locusts descend on Ethiopia and Kenya

Uganda has deployed soldiers to help combat one of the worst locust infestations in the region for decades, with the UN warning the international community about a possible catastrophe.

After the locusts were first seen in Uganda on Sunday, an emergency meeting of the government decided to use military forces to help with efforts to protect crops through pesticides.

Two planes will also be used to spray pesticides from the air.

Locusts have already destroyed crops in Kenya in the country’s worst infestation for 70 years. The swarms also pose a threat to other countries in the region, including Ethiopia and Somalia.

According to the UN, an average swarm of 40 million insects is able to travel 150 km in a day and eat enough food to feed 34 million people.

Mark Lowcock, the UN’s top humanitarian official, said: “In this region where there is so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock. And that’s why we need to act quickly.”

Mr Lowcock added “unusually heavy rains” and cyclones had been favourable for locust breeding.

It is estimated that 19 million people risk suffering severe food insecurity in east Africa.

Lazarus O Amayo, Kenya’s UN Ambassador, warned there might be a risk of conflict as herders moved in search of new pasture.

“The herders will have a real challenge of pasture, and this may also cause movement from one place to another in search of pasture, with inherent risk of communal conflict over pasture or grazing land or passing territories,” he said.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently set up a $76 million appeal to control the problem. So far, around $20 million has been donated to the fund.

Half of this figure comes from a UN emergency fund. The US and the EU gave contributions of $800,000 and $1,091,295 (€1m) respectively.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said: “Without rapid action, we will be facing a rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis. The Desert Locust swarms are growing exponentially.”

Additional reporting by AP.

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