Locusts swarm into Mogadishu’s pasture land amid resurgence in Horn of Africa

UN forecaster tells The Independent new generation of swarms expected in December, after months of devastating plague across East Africa, Middle East and Asia

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 10 November 2020 22:59
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Locusts swarm into Mogadishu's pasture land

Clouds of locusts have “invaded” the northern outskirts of Mogadishu, prompting concerns that fertile land around the Somalian capital could become “arid” amid a looming resurgence of the pest in the Horn of Africa.

“We woke up to a shocking sight,” said Abdiaziz Dahir, a local official with Daynile District Administration, situated in the Banaadir region.

“Desert locusts had invaded our land, claiming all spaces with pasture and vegetation,” he told The Associated Press (AP). “We have a serious problem on our hands that needs to be tackled immediately.”

This year, swathes of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have suffered some of the worst locust swarms in decades, prompting a vast international mission to prevent a drastic humanitarian crisis in nations already hit with high levels of food insecurity.

As a result of these efforts, the situation has “significantly improved” and some 2.3 million tonnes of cereal have been saved – enough to feed more than 15 million people a year, according to experts with the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), which has spearheaded the crisis mitigation. 

But due to climactic conditions, such as early rains and seasonal winds – which respectively trigger locust breeding and migration – a resurgence is expected in the Horn of Africa and Arabian Peninsula, the FAO’s desert locust forecaster Keith Cressman said in late October.

Indeed in Somalia, one of the countries hardest-hit by the locust plagues – which arrived on the back of two severe droughts, then flooding – FAO monitoring shows an increase in locust sightings from mid-October onwards.

The bands of locusts reported by the UN agency appeared to be mainly in central Somalia, where government employees and aid workers launched land and airborne efforts to cull the locusts using pesticides.

But news wire footage also showed herders grappling with clouds of locusts as far south as the capital, waving fabric and beating corrugated iron sheets in an attempt to disperse them.

“I have been fending off the locust swarms the entire morning as they are a threat to our pasture,” Sayid Abdullahi, a camel herder in Daynile, told AP.

“Now, we are fighting the locusts with our hands,” he added, urging the government to either “join the fight or extend support to us”.

Mr Dahir, the local official, added: “As this neighbourhood is known for its scenery, pasture and tourism, we are afraid that the locust invasion will damage large parts of this land and turn the entire area into arid land. This will affect the number of tourists that will come to this place during their spare time.”

The desert locusts near Mogadishu are “remnant swarms that moved south from northeast Somalia starting last month when the prevailing winds over that part of the Horn of Africa changed”, Mr Cressman, the FAO’s desert locust forecaster, told The Independent

“Recall that swarms migrate in the same direction as the winds,” he said. “During the summer, the prevailing winds were from south to north. Starting last month, they changed to come from the opposite direction (from the north) to allow them to move south to central areas of Somalia and to the area north of Mogadishu.”

This change was expected, he said, due to the wind changes being a seasonal phenomenon.

However, the looming resurgence in East Africa, is based on a new generation of locusts expected to become swarms in December, which will likely move into Kenya. 

“The current breeding in eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia has been anticipated and expected since this past summer,” Mr Cressman said. 

“At present, eggs are hatching and hoppers [young locusts] are forming bands within a widespread area that has received rainfall to allow favourable conditions. 

“The hopper bands will start to form a new generation of immature swarms starting in early December. Once the swarms form, they are expected to move southwards to southern Somalia and NE Kenya. Both countries are well aware of this threat and have been informed by FAO in advance.”

The threat locust swarms pose to often already food-scarce populations is grave, threatening earlier this year to plunge five million East Africans into levels of hunger that would have immediately put their lives or livelihoods at risk.

While it is unclear how many were plunged into starvation, Mr Cressman wrote in October that a “massive humanitarian disaster has been averted”.

He now believes nations are now “much better” prepared for the coming resurgence of swarms, with field teams, monitoring systems, pesticides – and the means to distribute them aerially and on the ground – all in place.

“In addition, they have nearly a year of additional experience and lessons learned,” he added.

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