Swarms of locusts in east Africa have devastated crops and sent a passenger plane off course, and now the UN is warning that without international intervention the voracious insects threaten the food security of tens of millions of people.
Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya are all struggling to deal with the food-munching insects and if efforts to eradicate them are not increased, the infestation will “threaten the food security of the entire subregion,” the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. said this week.
The swarms of insects are the worst seen in Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years, while Kenya has not seen a locust infestation on this scale this size for 70 years. Uganda and South Sudan are also under threat.
Last month a swarm of locusts smashed into the engines of a passenger plane in Ethiopia, sending it off course.
"The speed of the pests' spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit," the U.N. said in a statement.
The only option left, the U.N. said, to effectively control the locust swarms was spraying insecticide from aircraft.
But officials in Kenya say they are simply overwhelmed.
“‘Our resources are strained because the aircraft are serving all the affected counties,” Hamadi Boga, the principal secretary at the department of agriculture, told Africa News.
Boga also warned that the situation in Kenya is about to get much worse, when the locusts start laying eggs.
“Our officers are exhausted from battling the pests from the past weeks. The locusts have started copulating and will soon start laying eggs. We have tagged sprayed areas with GPS to help us in dealing with hatched nymphs.’‘
Worried about the locust swarms spreading across the border with Kenya, authorities in Uganda have urged locals to stock up on food.
The UN said it was “activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis,” but called for help to combat the crisis.
The UN warned back in November that a locust infestation in Ethiopia could spread into neighboring countries. Now it is predicting that locust swarms will continue to grow until at least June.
Some farmers in Ethiopia have already lost all their crops to the locusts, which can travel up to 90 miles per day and eat their own body weight in food. A swarm of desert locusts, which contains up to 80 million adult locusts in each square kilometer, can consume as much food crops in a day to feed 2,500 people.
Cover: In this photo taken Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, two Samburu men who work for a county disaster team identifying the location of the locusts, are surrounded by a swarm of desert locusts filling the air, near the village of Sissia, in Samburu county, Kenya. The most serious outbreak of desert locusts in 25 years is spreading across East Africa and posing an unprecedented threat to food security in some of the world's most vulnerable countries, authorities say, with unusual climate conditions partly to blame. (AP Photo/Patrick Ngugi)