MILLIONS of people in East Africa are facing an “unprecedented” threat to food as billions of locusts are expected over the coming months, according to the UN.
An upsurge in Desert Locust numbers is being reported in countries where roughly 20 million people are already suffering from acute food insecurity.
The locusts can number up to 80 million per square kilometre, but the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that this number could increase by 20 times throughout the rainy season unless measures are put in place.
Countries worst affected have been identified as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Yemen.
According to the FAO, the increase in locust numbers is being driven by extensive rainfall through March.
And it adds that there is a new generation of locusts emerging in Iran and Yemen, which the organisation describes as “worrying”.
In a statement, the FAO said: “The current situation represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods that could lead to further suffering, displacement and potential tensions.”
It is appealing for $153.2 million for its Desert Locust appeal, of which $111.1 million as so far been raised or pledged.
740 personnel are reported to have been trained to help control the swarms using ground control methods, but the coronavirus outbreak has affected the supply of pesticides and motorised sprayers.
Cyril Ferrand, Resilience Team Leader for East Africa at the FAO, said in a statement: “The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly.”
But he added there was no “significant slowdown”, and said “people engaged in the fight against the upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance, and air and ground control operations,” despite lockdown measures.
It is reported that over 240,000 hectares, or roughly 926 square miles, have been treated with pesticides so far across the area.
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Workers are being encouraged to use eLocust3 handheld data collection devices which transmit data relevant to the locust efforts to national centres and the FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service in Rome.
The FAO says that over 450 of these handheld tablets have been distributed to teams in Africa and Asia since 2015.
The effect of the coronavirus pandemic in Africa has not been as widely reported as the effect it has had in the West or Asia.
Total confirmed cases across the African continent currently stand at 15,346, with 835 confirmed deaths and 2,946 recoveries, according to the BBC’s Africa tracker.
Although this number is significantly less than what is being reported in Western or Asian countries, the effects are still being felt.
In addition to the impact that the virus is having on locust control equipment, elections have been postponed.
Al Jazeera reports that Ethiopia’s general election has been delayed because of coronavirus issues, and that a new date would be issued “when the pandemic is over”.
In addition, there are fears that the virus could affect Africa more severely as time goes on.
Professor Thumbi Ndung’u of the African Institute for Health Research said that there is not yet “a good answer” to explain Africa’s low virus statistics, but added that if transmission rates in Africa become as severe as those seen in Italy, “we could be staring at a catastrophe,” The Guardian reports.
Ndung’u added that the continent doesn’t have the hospitals or the ventilators to cope with a large number of cases, “so if the spread is comparable to that seen in Europe or China, the outcome could be devastating.”