Africa

East Africa Coping With Famine Threat Thanks To Locust Infestation

East Africa has been enduring one of the largest infestations of locusts that the continent has ever seen. The swarms recently made it to the countries of Uganda and Tanzania, which is posing a major threat for the people living in those regions. Africa has already been trying to get this year’s extreme locust season under control, as it’s posing a major hunger threat for the millions of people living throughout the eastern part of the continent. Now, with both Uganda and Tanzania under that same threat, a new sense of urgency is sweeping Africa. 

Tanzania has been detecting, and anticipating, that the locusts would migrate to their neck of the woods eventually, so in preparation government officials from the country hired three planes to spray pesticide throughout the region; pesticides have been the most effective means of combating the locust issue in the past for other residential areas of Africa. Uganda has also begun implementing similar measures throughout the areas of their country where locusts are beginning to overpopulate. Both countries have also mobilized thousands of troops to help as well. 

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“We are using motorized sprayers, a drone and manual sprayers. They [locusts] are spreading like wildfire, so they are a real, major threat. The outbreak in east Africa is the most serious in decades and has already devastated crops across a swath of Kenya and Somalia,” Stephen Byantwale, the commissioner for crop protection at the ministry of agriculture, said.

As Byantwale stated, this outbreak is the worst Africa has seen in a long time, and like most natural disasters that have grown exponentially in intensity throughout the past decade, the reason is climate change. For this locust outbreak specifically, experts believe that the swarms are due to climate conditions created by a large cyclone that hit Somalia in December 2019. The cyclone would have brought on extremely heavy rains in an otherwise arid desert environment, creating the perfect breeding environment for the locusts. 

This is a problem because swarms of locusts are massive in size; this year one swarm in Kenya was 30 miles long by 25 miles wide. Experts state that even a small swarm of locusts can eat enough food to feed over 35,000 people in a day. A lot of the territories that the insects are travelling to are also occupied by certain extremist groups, making it near impossible to spray large blocks of land with pesticides via aircraft. Because of this, and the fact that meteorologists are predicting even more rainfall for east Africa within the next few weeks, scientists are worried that the locust swarms could multiply up to 500 times if not properly taken care of. 

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Scientists are also concerned with South Sudan and their recovery from the ongoing infestation, as Sudan in general is already facing a major hunger problem. A single swarm of locusts can contain up to 150 million individual insects per square mile of farmland. This is a major issue especially for South Sudan where over 20 million people were already facing the threat of famine. 

These “plagues” of locust aren’t uncommon in Africa, however, how frequent and long the periods of infestations are lasting, is. In east Africa specifically, there have only been six major locust plagues since the 20th century. The most recent being in 2003 and 2005; and again, the cause is due to an increase in natural disaster and climate conditions that allow for locust breeding to occur.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean. Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.” said Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.

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