Swarms of desert locusts that have been causing havoc in East Africa could soon be history, thanks to a supercomputer.
The UK aid-funded supercomputer is based in Kenya and can track the movement of the devastating swarms — the worst outbreak in 70 years — through satellite data.
It also produces detailed forecasts that predict weather conditions — such as rainfall, high winds, and humidity — that create perfect breeding grounds for desert locusts.
These reports are then used to track the swarms’ movements and predict their next destination, with the support of UK aid and the UK Met Office.
The locust swarms initially began spreading into Kenya around Dec. 28, 2019. They then spread to Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, and Djibouti. They also started breeding in Sudan and Egypt in February.
A swarm can be made up of between 40 and 50 million locusts that can eat up to 192 million tonnes of plants daily — that’s enough crops to feed 35,000 people.
They can also travel up to 150km a day. When the swarms initially attacked the region, the United Nations warned that 25 million people could be affected by food shortages.
“The situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, specifically Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned in a statement this week.
“By improving early warning systems, we are helping charities and African governments to take rapid action to protect vulnerable communities,” said the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) in a statement.
#LocustInvasion— UGANDA ANIMAL (@of_husbandry) February 27, 2020
Desert Locust invasion in Uganda. Due to climate changes across the globe, a large swarm of locusts from Yamen crossed into Africa through Somalia and Ethiopia and went into Kenya. Over the last week, swarms of locusts have been spotted crossing into Uganda 🇺🇬 pic.twitter.com/T6JiaZPli7
The UK is also providing $5.9 million (£5 million) in funding from its aid budget to help the most vulnerable communities in East Africa prepare for locust invasions by funding surveillance initiatives and spraying aerial pesticides — which will protect 78,000 hectares of land.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK’s International Development Secretary, said: “The devastating locust outbreak in East Africa has paralysed communities that are already facing the daily threat of starvation.”
Trevelyan added: “With rising temperatures and increasing cyclones driving these infestations, Britain is stepping up to help vulnerable communities prepare for and adapt to the catastrophic impacts of climate change.”