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The Crisis of Locust Swarms in Africa: The Money is Set, and it Starts with Ethiopia

After weeks of indecisiveness, the United Nations confirms a reaction plan for the locust invasion in Africa with a fund of one billion dollars.

A swarm of desert locusts fills the sky near a farm. (FAO/Giampiero Diana)

While the world is worrying about the Coronavirus and other socio-political issues, the countries in East Africa are fighting a crisis that is degenerating day by day. Along with hunger and climate change, the locust crisis in Ethiopia is “a graphic and shocking reminder” of the region’s vulnerability, confirmed Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mark Lowcock, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, and David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP). “This is a scourge of biblical proportions”, the statement says. “Yet as ancient as this scourge is, its scale today is unprecedented in modern times.”

The cost of action to sustain the governments for the control of this devastating scourge increased to 138 million dollars. The money would finance the activities to fight the locusts before new swarms emerge, provide help to people whose crops or pastures have already been affected, and protect families and their livelihoods. The United Nations have finally released a supportive response plan, especially for Ethiopia, with a fund of one billion dollars. The spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN explained that part of the humanitarian response plan from FAO and WFP will deal with the locust crisis. (See video from minute 8:30) The plan will also offer the possibility of helping the country with food and security displacement, which is necessary because of the hunger and conflicts that are present in Ethiopia.

Unfortunately, this is not a new situation, Ethiopia has been battling the locust plague since last year. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) believes that the heavy rainstorms in East Africa have contributed to the proliferation of locusts in the affected area. The risk of these locusts is worrying 80% of the population that depends on agriculture for its livelihood. The swarms follow the wind’s direction and their antennae can detect smells and signals for food. Additionally, the swarms are able to move up to 150 kilometers a day.

Although the request for financial assistance to control the locust plague had been launched in January from the United Nations Agency for Agriculture, the resources arrived too slowly. Since FAO launched its first appeal to help the three countries that at that time were affected, the swarms of locusts have been moving rapidly to various distances, and since February 12th they have been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. Last week a swarm traveled across South Sudan, one of the countries in Africa that is most at-risk and fragile, thanks also to its civil war. And just this week, a swarm has reached the eastern borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has not seen a locust raid since 1944. The impact of locusts on a country that is still dealing with complex conflicts, displacements, epidemics and outbreaks of measles, along with food insecurity, could be devastating.

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