Much of eastern Africa is battling against swarms of locusts that have swept through the continent. In particular, Kenya faces its worst infestation in seventy years. Other countries impacted include South Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda. This new crisis is exacerbating the current food shortage that has already impacted countries in the same region. Locusts can travel a huge amount of distance each day, and the swarms – which can reach a density of nearly eighty million locusts in a square kilometer – consume the same amount of food that thirty-five thousand people would.
The impacts of this event are wide-ranging. The current infestation poses a serious risk to food security in the region – already, countries like Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia are facing high levels of food insecurity. The UN estimates that up to twenty million people are already facing food shortages; the locusts are worsening an already precarious situation. The cause of the current scourge is similarly wide-ranging. Conflict in areas like Somalia and Yemen prevent governments from controlling outbreaks when they are manageable and unseasonable rain, presumably caused by climate change impacts in the Indian Ocean, has meant that the locusts are well fed as they travel west. The infestation will do more than just cause famine – it could seriously impact economic growth in years to come and runs the risk of aggravating already-existing communal tensions over grazing land.
Countries that are being impacted poorly prepared. Yemen and Somalia do not have the state resources to control the outbreak which is spreading from their shores. Combined, Ethiopia and Kenya only have eight planes that are capable of spraying insecticides. As the world watches, Eastern Africa hurtles towards a serious crisis – even now, the scourge comes closer to one of the continent’s breadbaskets in Ethiopia.
A UN spokesperson, Cyril Ferrand said that “The locusts are a moving target and we are racing against time.” The head of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Bayeh Mulatu, has stated that the UN urgently needs at least seventy-six million dollars immediately to meaningfully address the crisis. He has also said that current conditions had created the perfect storm, “2020 – it is the year of the locust.”
The crisis does not show signs of receding either – extreme El Nino conditions have set the stage for a deepening crisis. Heavy rainfall is predicted for the rest of the year, which could lead to greater crop yields – but also an increased food supply for the incoming locust swarms. At the moment, the UN predicts that Ethiopia will be the hardest hit even as Kenya battles giant swarms already.
It is time for the international community to intervene. Many states do not have the resources to adequately control the locust swarms. The UN and the FAO have indicated that extra funding is needed to help protect countries in eastern Africa. A contribution to these bodies would be incredibly helpful. A similar swarm in the past plunged Ethiopia into a year-long famine in 1954 – it is not necessary to repeat the mistakes of the past. The world must act now to ensure that the swarms don’t set off numerous crises.