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Updated Apr 15, 2020

As the worst locust infestation East Africa has seen since the 1970s continues to wreak havoc, the United Nations has warned that a second, significantly larger swarm originating in Somalia poses a grave threat to food security for millions of Africans.

 

Consuming the Food of 3.5 Million People in a Day

At the end of February, swarms were already devastating crops in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, and continued to spread to Tanzania, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A swarm of desert locusts typically can occupy 100 square kilometres, and it’s estimated a swarm this size could consume crops in a day that would feed 3.5 million people.

 

A community volunteer uses a motorised spray to disperse pesticide on February 25, 2020 at a hatch site near Isiolo town in Isiolo county, eastern Kenya, where locust nymphs have hatched en masse. Millions of locust nymphs have emerged from eggs left behind by swarms that invaded the region last month and the situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding last month is now giving rise to new swarms. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
A community volunteer uses a motorised sprayer to disperse pesticide on February 25, 2020, at a hatch site near Isiolo, eastern Kenya, where locust nymphs have hatched en masse. Millions of locust nymphs have emerged from eggs left behind by swarms that invaded the region last month. The situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), specifically in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, where widespread breeding last month is now giving rise to new swarms. (Tony Karumba / AFP)

 

Combating the locust spread was already proving a monumental challenge before COVID-19 led to the implementation of restrictions that have hampered the infestation response. Even with satellite technology to better track and optimize what limited resources African governments and volunteers have at their disposal, the effects of climate change have created prime breeding conditions for the locusts.

 

The Second Wave Could Be Twenty Times Worse

The second wave is expected to be twenty times worse than the first, posing a serious threat to food security as the voracious young adults seek out newly planted crops. Many smaller farmers depend on foreign aid to supplement their income, aid that is now threatened as international efforts are focused on the COVID-19 response.

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