The World Food Programme considers this epidemic to be the most dangerous migratory plague in the world. The current upsurge, which began in 2019, is the worst in 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia, and the worst in 70 years in Kenya.
The production of the May-June crops in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia is threatened by new waves of desert locust swarms, a situation that threatens the feeding of small farmers and their families.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned last February that locust swarms were spreading over a wide area, currently covering Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Southern Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.
According to the so-called Food Security Monitoring Index*, more than 13 million people in East Africa are suffering from food shortages, and not all of them are on the swarm route.
An estimated 9.7 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia and 3.2 million in Uganda and Southern Sudan could be affected.
Although the World Food Programme is not directly involved in locust control operations – which are led by the Food and Agriculture Organization – it is providing vehicles to affected governments to monitor locust swarms and will participate in assessment missions, which are expected to take place at the end of March.
He also recalled that it was much more effective to financially support existing government-led locust prevention and control efforts than to assist the population after the destruction of their crops.
It is estimated that the food security costs following locust attacks would be fifteen times higher than the costs of preventing the spread at present.
Impact on Southern Sudan
Since mid-February, locusts have affected four counties in the State of Central Equatoria. Although the swarms are smaller compared to those in Ethiopia and Kenya, they could continue to spread unless they are controlled.
The beginning of the rains during the period of March and April, which coincides with the regeneration of pastures and planting, allows a new wave of locusts to breed and spread. This situation could affect both the main and secondary harvest seasons and potentially spread further from the Rift Valley and other areas.
WFP believes that, in the worst case scenario and although it is unlikely, the locust infestation could lead to lower than average crop production this year and large losses of pasture in arid and semi-arid regions.
The humanitarian response plan for the African nation has been increased to five million people, but needs $208 million for an effective response.
What you need to know about locusts
- A normal swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre.
- One square kilometre swarm can consume an equivalent proportion of the crops to feed 35,000 people.
- The swarms move rapidly, covering 100-150 km per day, complicating control measures.
- More than half of Southern Sudan’s population – 6.5 million people out of 12 million – will face serious food insecurity at the height of the annual hunger season from May to July, according to a new estimate released Tuesday.
*Food insecurity is defined as “insufficient food intake, which can be transitory (when it occurs in times of crisis), seasonal or chronic (when it occurs continuously)