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As the Desert Locust upsurge in the Horn of Africa threatened to provoke a humanitarian crisis, FAO director-general QU Dongyu appealed for urgent funding to tackle the outbreak and protect livelihoods and food security

desert locust 31The Desert Locusts could wipe out pastures and crops causing the deterioration of an already alarming situation. (Image source: christels/Pixabay)

FAO has mobilised US$15.4mn of the US$76mn requested for the five countries. However, the needs are expected to rise amid concern that the outbreak will spread to other countries, in particular, South Sudan and Uganda.

Qu told an informal briefing of FAO Member States' representatives at the UN agency's Rome headquarters that it has mobilised staff and resources to tackle the worsening outbreak and was working closely with governments and partners in a region where food security was already very fragile.

"Timing and location are crucial. I hope we can work hard day and night so people do not lose their crops," Qu said.

The Desert Locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world and a small swarm covering one sq km can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

Pasture and croplands have already suffered damage in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia and there are potentially severe consequences for the region where nearly 12 million people are coping with severe acute food insecurity and many rely on agriculture for their survival.

Threat looms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia

According to FAO's latest update on the Desert Locust upsurge, the current situation will be further worsened by breeding activity that will produce new locust infestations in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. FAO is working closely with these countries as well as their neighbours, Djibouti and Eritrea, while monitoring Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen for any developments.

“We need to act immediately because the locusts don't wait, they will come and they will destroy,” said Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director-general for climate and natural resources.

FAO's Desert Locust Information Service says the situation is extremely alarming and will be further exacerbated by new infestations expected in early April.

In Kenya alone, large swarms, up to 60km long and 40km wide, invaded all the country's northern counties and some central areas in less than a month, causing substantial damage to crops and livestock deprived of pastureland. A total of 13 counties have so far been affected in Kenya.

Sudan in danger-zone too

A new generation of locusts is expected to hatch in February and with new swarms expected in early April that would coincide with the next season of planting. At that time, the seasonal winds will have shifted to the north, which is likely to allow the newly formed swarms in Kenya to reinvade Ethiopia and Somalia as well as to migrate to new areas of South Sudan and Sudan.

The rise in numbers is causing serious concern about the swarms in northern Kenya as they are just 200km from the country's borders with South Sudan and Uganda. Both countries last faced locust invasions in 1961. In South Sudan, where food insecurity is already at an emergency level in many parts of the country, the Desert Locusts could wipe out pastures and crops causing the deterioration of an already alarming situation.