Massive Locust Breakout in East Africa Poses Threat of Plague
Feb. 11, 2020 (EIRNS)—The massive locust outbreak in East Africa could turn into a locust plague, UN officials warned in a Feb. 10 press conference in New York. The locusts have struck Uganda, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. “There is the risk of a catastrophe,” UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told the New York press conference, pointing out that 13 million people already face severe food insecurity, 10 million of them in places affected by locusts, the Guardian reported.
Dominique Burgeon, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) emergency and resilience director, warned that another 20 million people in the region are in danger of becoming food insecure. Without enough aerial spraying to stop the swarms, the locust outbreak could turn into a plague, “and when you have a plague, it takes years to control,” he said. Burgeon explained that current locust invasion is an “upsurge”—when an entire region is affected; however, if it gets worse and cannot be contained, over a year or more, it would become a “plague” of locusts. There were six major desert locust plagues in the 20th century, the last of which was in 1987-89. The last major upsurge was in 2003-05.
According to Associated Press, Uganda is struggling to respond to the arrival of the biggest locust outbreak seen in decades in that part of East Africa. In Kenya, swarms of billions of locusts are destroying crops, as well as in Somalia and Ethiopia. Wet conditions, resulting from months of rain, allow locusts to proliferate. Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN Lazarus Ombai Amayo, also warned that the locusts are eating vegetation that supports vibrant herder communities in the region, raising the “inherent risk of communal conflict over pastures.” The outbreak is so severe it could even disrupt crop planting in coming weeks, he said.
FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer Keith Cressman, explained in New York that Kenya has received “waves and waves of swarms” since the beginning of 2020, from the Horn of Africa, and “over the weekend they moved on the side of Mount Kilimanjaro across the border into Tanzania.” Immediate action is required, UN officials say, before more rainfall in weeks ahead will provide new vegetation to attract “new generations” of locusts. If left unchecked, their numbers could grow up to 500 times before drier weather arrives.
The UN has asked for $76 million in immediate aid. So far just under $20 million is in hand, including $10 million released by Lowcock from the UN emergency relief fund and $3.8 million from FAO, officials said. The United States said Feb. 10 it has released $800,000 and the European Union has released $1 million.