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Food & Hunger

Swarms of Locusts Are Eating Their Way Through East Africa and Threatening Severe Food Shortages


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The United Nations has warned of impending hunger in East Africa after swarms of desert locusts descended in parts of Kenya, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, and Eritrea.

Desert locusts are considered the most dangerous locust species. They typically lead solitary lives but move as a swarm when breeding.

A swarm can be made up of between 40 and 50 million locusts that can eat up to 423 million pounds of plants daily; that’s enough crops to feed 2,500 people. They can also travel up to 150km a day.

“The locust outbreak is the worst to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and the worst infestation that Kenya had experienced in 70 years,” the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Qu Dongyu said in a statement on Monday.

Dongyu also said that Djibouti and Eritrea are now being affected by swarms, while the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) warned that Uganda is also at risk.

“This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion,” said Dongyu.

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East Africa is already facing severe food shortages, and it’s feared that the destruction left behind by the swarms will make a bad situation even worse.

The Famine Early Warning System Networks (FEWS), an agency of USAID, said in June 2019 that East Africa was facing severe food shortages as well as hunger and loss of crops and livestock. Meanwhile, the FAO reports that 19 million people in the region are currently experiencing food shortages.

The FAO has also warned of a possible attack by new swarms in April.

“A new generation of locusts is expected to hatch in February and with new swarms expected in early April that would coincide with the next season of planting,” the organisation said in a statement.

“The seasonal winds will have shifted to the north, which is likely to allow the newly-formed swarms in Kenya to reinvade Ethiopia and Somalia as well as to migrate to new areas of South Sudan and Sudan,” the statement continued.

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The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says unusual weather patterns — in the case of East Africa, excessive rains — are to blame for the swarms, and that the locusts are likely to move as a destructive unit until June.

David Phiri, FAO subregional coordinator for Eastern Africa, told an African union briefing session: “We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion. As the rains start in March there will be a new wave of locust breeding.”