Desert Locust swarms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia threaten to ravage East Africa

Updated: Jan 20, 2020, 10:56 PM(IST)

Already in the unprecedented size and destructive potential, desert Locust swarms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia could swell exponentially and spill over into more countries in East Africa threatening the livelihood and food security of the region, UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned on Monday.

East Africa

Swarms of locusts in Ethiopia have damaged 200,000 hectares (half a million acres) of cropland and driven around a million people to require emergency food aid, according to the United Nations.

Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through much of East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan and Uganda.


'Could grow 500 times by June'

Recent weather in East Africa has created conditions that favour rapid locust reproduction. Left unchecked, the numbers of crop-devouring insects there could grow 500 times by June, the UN said.

Swarms potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual desert locusts can move 150 kilometres (90 miles) a day, devastating rural livelihoods in their relentless drive to eat and reproduce, FAO said.


Locust breeding activity in India and other regions

FAO also warned in particular of substantial locust breeding activity in India, Iran and Pakistan as well as Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

"In India, Iran and Pakistan numerous Desert Locust swarms have been present since June 2019 and have been breeding. Some of these swarms have migrated to southern Iran where recent heavy rains allowed them to lay eggs that could turn into swarms in spring 2020," FAO report said.


'Oldest migratory pest in the world'

According to FAO, Locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world. 

During plagues, desert Locust (most devastating of all locusts) can easily affect 20 per cent of the Earth's land, more than 65 of the world's poorest countries, and potentially damage the livelihood of one tenth of the world's population.

Three pests, the Italian Locust, the Moroccan Locust, and the Asian Migratory Locust, jeopardise food security and livelihood in Caucasus and Central Asia as well as in adjacent areas of northern Afghanistan and southern Russian Federation.


25 million hectare of cultivated areas under threat

If infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues can develop that often take several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to bring under control with severe consequences on food security and livelihoods. 

In Caucasus and Central Asia, 25 million hectare of cultivated areas are under threat and at least 20 million people at risk, including the most vulnerable rural populations.


'Lost everything in our village'

In December last year, a massive locust invasion has destroyed thousands of hectares of crops in northwest India, authorities said, with some experts terming it the worst such attack in 25 years.

The invasion had damaged crops in half a dozen districts in Gujarat, local government official Punamchand Parmar had said.

More than 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) was devastated in one district alone, Parmar said.

"We have lost everything in our village," said one villager.


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