Swarms of locusts ravaging crops all over East Africa reached South Sudan on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
The locusts, a species of short-horned grasshoppers, have destroyed hundreds of thousands of crops and farmland across East Africa, causing severe food shortages in the region.
At least 2,000 locusts crossed the border of the already food insecure nation, Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo told reporters.
While authorities in South Sudan have claimed they will attempt to control the outbreak, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has expressed concern over the locust infestation, calling the situation “extremely alarming.” The country is both vulnerable and ill-prepared, the organization said.
Over 5 million people in South Sudan are currently suffering from food insecurity due to years of civil war and around 860,000 children are malnourished.
In addition to South Sudan’s pre-existing food shortages, the sandy quality of the nation’s soil makes it easier for locusts to lay their eggs, which could lead to a significant increase in the locust population in the region. During their breeding cycles, desert locusts can hatch around 20 eggs each.
The country has also endured three consecutive years of droughts and floods.
The UN’s World Food Program called the nation’s food insecurity “dire” after floods disrupted the lives of over one million people in December.
“If we are not able to deal with them...it will be a problem,” Meshack Malo, South Sudan’s FAO representative, said.
A swarm of desert locusts can eat enough crops and greenery to feed up to 35,000 people per day. They can also travel around 150 kilometers in a single day.
The aerial spraying of pesticides is required to control the infestation, according to authorities in South Sudan. The UN has also urged other countries to donate $76 million in relief efforts.