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Locust plague in East Africa prompts plea for help

14 February 2020

Parts of East Africa have been devastated, says United Nations


Loyce Mwendia, 25, stands in a field of sorghum in Kenya, last week. Locusts had fed on the field for two days, she said

Loyce Mwendia, 25, stands in a field of sorghum in Kenya, last week. Locusts had fed on the field for two days, she said

AS PARTS of East Africa face the worst plague of locusts for decades, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has made a plea for international help. It described the situation as “unprecedented” and “devastating”.

At the same time, the Christian relief and development agency Tearfund, which works with hundreds of rural self-help groups in the region, has urged people to pray for an end to the crisis.

In Kenya, the insect swarms are the worst for 70 years, destroying staple food supplies and farmers’ livelihoods. In Somalia, where the invasion is the worst for a quarter of a century, a state of national emergency has been declared. This week, locusts were reported to have reached Uganda. Tanzania and South Sudan have been added to a watch list.

In Ethiopia, the influx is the worst for 25 years. Tearfund’s Emergency Officer, Tewodros Ketsela, said: “The region is already struggling after several poor harvests, due to either drought or excess rain. As such, farmers are particularly vulnerable to this new threat. Anyone who is fortunate enough to have food reserves will have to use them up earlier than expected.

“Please pray for provision for people who are losing food and income as their crops are destroyed. Ask God to give the authorities in these nations wisdom to know how to tackle the plagues, and for sufficient funds to be made available for this. Pray that Tearfund’s work in the area, particularly with self-help groups in Ethiopia, will be able to continue without disruption.”

Ambassadors attending a UN briefing in New York on Monday were told that urgent action was needed. “In this region, where there is so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock,” the UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Sir Mark Lowcock, said. “We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. We’re running out of time.”

The UN FAO recently launched a $76-million appeal to control the spread of the locusts, but only about $20 million has been raised so far. Sir Mark said: “I’m calling on the countries concerned, the international community, the donors, to step up and to step up now. There is a risk of a catastrophe. Perhaps we can prevent it; we have an obligation to try. Unless we act now, we’re unlikely to do so.”

An average swarm of locusts contains up to 40 million insects, and can travel up to 90 miles, eating in one day enough food to feed 34,000 people.

Experts say that aerial pesticide spraying is the only effective control, but the locusts’ main breeding ground is in a part of Somalia dominated by the al-Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab, which makes spraying difficult or impossible.

There were famines in 2017 in both Somalia and Sudan, and the region has also endured poor rains, drought, and floods in the past two years. “It is these weather events which are creating the environment to facilitate the current locust outbreak,” Sir Mark said. “Unusually heavy rains and an increase in the frequency in cyclones in the Indian Ocean have created favourable conditions for the locusts to breed.”

On Saturday, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said that climate change was a factor in the crisis. “Warmer seas mean more cyclones, generating the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Today, the swarms are as big as major cities, and it is getting worse by the day.”


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