One of the worst outbreaks of locust swarms in decades has been steadily making its way across the eastern regions of Africa. Left unchecked, the locust population could grow up to 500 times by June, according to the United Nations. This recent scourge is the result of changing climate conditions, threatening food security for tens of millions of Africans.
Authorities reported an “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity last week. One of the swarms, originating in Kenya’s northeast, measured sixty kilometers long by forty kilometers wide. A typical swarm can contain as many as 150 million locusts per square kilometer, able to destroy enough food crops to feed 2,500 people. The swarms have affected crops in neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia, too, which already face food insecurity due to ongoing violence from terrorism and recurrent droughts. Uganda and South Sudan are also expected to be hit by the swarm.
East Africa has experienced heavy rains, spurred on by rapidly warming waters in the Indian Ocean. The year 2019 became one of the wettest on record, which also prompted a higher than normal number of tropical cyclones off the East African coast. The combination of warm weather and heavy rain creates perfect conditions for locusts to breed, and the increased vegetation that grows thanks to the persistent rains keeps the swarm moving. To mitigate and control the locust swarms, authorities are monitoring the outbreak via satellite data, stockpiling pesticides, and conducting aerial spraying. The United Nations allocated $10 million for aerial spraying on Wednesday, January 22. Still, government bodies and humanitarian agencies on the ground are facing Biblical levels of locusts that could decimate billions of dollars’ worth of harvests and plunge the region into chaos as millions struggle to sufficiently feed themselves after the swarm has passed.