Locusts surge through East Africa

Locusts surge through East Africa

Communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda are fighting to save their crops from locusts devouring entire fields.

By Action Against Hunger

Feb 21 2020

Over the past few months, East Africa has been battling extreme weather conditions.  Severe droughts prevented crops from thriving, impacting communities and their livelihoods. 

With families just managing to get by with food and water shortages, unexpected floods then destroyed both crops and homes. Families had no choice but to leave their homes and rebuild their lives elsewhere.

Having faced months of torment, these communities in East Africa have been longing for a period of stability Instead, they’ve faced swarms of desert locusts driving millions of people into an even greater hunger crisis. 

WHAT ARE DESERT LOCUSTS?

Desert locusts are one of the most dangerous migratory pests in the world. Each cricket-like insect is the size of an adult hand. They feed on green vegetation, meaning rapidly growing swarms have been devouring fields of crops in a matter of minutes. 

THE REALITIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE

Communities in East Africa are dealing with the immediate consequences of climate change. Extreme weather patterns in the Indian Ocean encouraged the draught and flooding, creating the ideal conditions for locusts to spread and thrive.

THE IMPACT ON COMMUNITIES

With locusts invading endless hectares of crops and farmland, the impact on families could be catastrophic. The infestation now threatens to drive 13 million people across East Africa deeper into a hunger crisis and increase the risk of children dying from malnutrition. 

East Africa currently has high rates of undernutrition, with just over 30% of the population already affected. The locust emergency could make this crisis worse. 

For Somalia and Ethiopia, this is the worst outbreak of locusts in 25 years. In Kenya, communities have not faced an infestation like this in 75 years. 

FIGHTING LOCUSTS

Local communities are doing what they can to try and fight the locust swarms to protect their crops. Methods include blowing whistles and banging pots to scare the locusts away. But this is not enough. 

The most effective way to prevent the pests from spreading and stop eggs from hatching, is through ground and aerial pesticide spraying. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Ministry of Agriculture are already doing this throughout Kenya. 

But because of ongoing conflict and insecurity in Somalia, access to aerial spraying is almost impossible. As a result, the Somalian Government declared a national emergency in the country in early February. 

Spraying will be effective in stopping further spreading, but for some communities it is already too late. 

“[The locusts] cleared all the vegetation before they were sprayed. Now we have the young ones or hoppers that are eating the remaining vegetation, and they are very vicious,” says Henry Sangale, a community leader in Isiolo County, Kenya, one of the areas where Action Against Hunger works. 

RELIEF FOR FAMILIES

Action Against Hunger is rapidly responding to the crisis and is providing immediate relief for families suffering from hunger. 

Our teams on the ground are expanding cash assistance programmes, and stocking up on supplies to be able to manage the next rainy season. The locust outbreak could increase malnutrition in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda and we’re collaborating with governments to ensure we build more capacity to handle this.

“The scale of the locust infestation is like nothing that has been seen for decades,” says Hajir Maalim, Action Against Hunger’s Regional Director for East Africa. 

“What’s worse, it’s occurring in an area where millions of people are already experiencing crisis levels of food insecurity.

“We don’t yet have a handle on the scale of the destruction, but it is inevitable that this infestation will heap more misery on what is an already desperate situation.  Failure to respond effectively to this latest crisis could have catastrophic consequences in the  coming months.”

Our teams on the ground are closely monitoring access to markets, access to water for both people and animals, surges in cases of diarrhoea or other water-borne diseases and admission rates to community-based nutrition programmes. 

The damage caused by the locusts could become more apparent in a few months. Families will have lost vast amounts of crops, meaning there will be food shortages. With governments overwhelmed by the scale of the crisis, we need more funds and support to address the immediate and long-term needs of communities. 

“Even before the locusts arrived, aid agencies were struggling to meet the needs of the people,” says Hajir Maalim. 

“Record droughts, record flooding, record swarms. For the people trapped in this latest crisis, climate change isn’t a threat, it’s a waking nightmare.”

We've launched our East Africa Locusts Emergeny Appeal to help communities affected by the damage caused by locusts. Support us today.

A desert locust. Swarms of desert locusts are now affecting communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda.
A desert locust. Swarms of desert locusts are now affecting communities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Somalia and Uganda.

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Images: © FAO/Sven Torfinn. Editorial use only. Copyright FAO