The outbreak of desert locusts is reportedly the worst that Kenya has seen in 70 years, according to the Associated Press. The insects have been flooding the country from Ethiopia and Somalia, leaving destroyed farmland in their wake in a part of the world that already suffers from hunger, drought, and flooding warned the UN.
“We must act immediately,” David Phiri of the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said.
“This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion. FAO is activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said in a statement earlier this week.
Phiri called for aid to “avert any threats to food security, livelihoods, malnutrition.”
According to an FAO fact sheet, a swarm of locusts the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food as half the population of France in just a single day. The UN states that even a small swarm of locusts can eat through enough food for 35,000 people in a single day and can travel more than 90 miles.
The FAO estimates one swarm in Kenya to be around 930 square miles, suggesting it could contain up to as many as 200 billion locusts.
Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are all struggling with “unprecedented” and “devastating” swarms of the insects, the FAO has said. And the locusts are not only eating crops but disrupting farm animals and basic farming operations, according to the agency.
Beyond that, the locusts can even disrupt passenger planes in the region and may have already done just that. In fact, earlier this month an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Djibouti to Dire Dawa performed an emergency landing after the insects collided with it. A report states that the locusts were trapped in the engine and others hit the aircraft’s windshield.
The UN proposed a six-month emergency action plan estimated to cost $70 million. The cost would include aerial pesticide spraying, which they say is the only effective way to combat the insects. However, that task won’t be an easy effort especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group.
The United Nations said that the problem could increase in March when rainfall picks up in the region.
FAO expressed fears that if the problem is left uncontained when new vegetation grows, the swarms could grow 500 times by June of this year. If the infestation is not controlled, the agency warns that South Sudan and Uganda are also at risk.
Ethiopia and Somalia have not faced an infestation on this scale for 25 years while Kenya has not seen a locust threat this size for 70 years, the FAO said earlier this week.
In November of last year, Ethiopia issued a call for “immediate action” to deal with the problem affecting four of the country’s nine states.
In northern Amhara state some farmers have lost “nearly 100%” of their crop of the staple grain teff, the FAO said. The FAO estimate that the insects were eating 1.8 million tons of vegetation a day across 135 square miles of Ethiopia.
“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 FAO said.
Besides locusts in east Africa, the insects have also been breeding in India, Iran, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan which could turn into massive swarms in the spring. The locusts in East Africa are believed to have originated from Yemen last August, having traveled across the Red Sea.
A donor conference in Rome next week will be asked to pledge $70 million to deal with the plague of desert locusts that are threatening where tens of millions of people already face extreme hunger. The UN has so far released $10 million from its Central Emergency Response Fund to combat the invasion according to to VOA who spoke to Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.