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UN Warns New Wave of Locust Swarms Threatens Food Security of Millions in East Africa

"We must not waiver. Locusts keep growing day and night and risks are exacerbating food insecurity for vulnerable families across the affected region."

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, locusts move through the Arabian Peninsula in Dhamar, Yemen on June 7, 2020. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, locusts moved through the Arabian Peninsula in Dhamar, Yemen on June 7, 2020. (Photo: Mohammed Hamoud/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Despite an "intense" international effort to combat a major, climate crisis-fueled invasion of desert locusts in Eastern African communities since January, a new generation of locust swarms is threatening the food security of millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, a United Nations agency warned Wednesday.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which has been coordinating the global response, said in a statement that pest control actions across 10 countries costing about $200 million have prevented the loss of an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of cereal, worth nearly $800 million—enough food to feed 18 million people for a year.

"However, favorable weather conditions and widespread seasonal rains have caused extensive breeding in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia," FAO explained. "This was worsened by Cyclone Gati which brought flooding to northern Somalia last month allowing locust infestations to increase further in the coming months. New locust swarms are already forming and threatening to re-invade northern Kenya and breeding is also underway on both sides of the Red Sea, posing a new threat to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, [Sudan], and Yemen."

"For Kenya, the threat is imminent, it could happen any time now," Keith Cressman, the FAO's senior locust forecasting officer, told BBC News, which pointed out that this year had already featured the region's worst locust invasion in 70 years—and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. "It could be as bad as what we've seen in the past year because the area of breeding ground in these countries is as big as 350,000 sq. km. (135,000 sq. miles)."

"We lost so much of our pastures and vegetation because of the locusts and as a result we are still losing a good number of our livestock," Gonjoba Guyo, a pastoralist in North Horr, Kenya, told the BBC. "I have lost 14 goats, four cows, and two camels because of the locust outbreak and now there is lots of fear that we may face similar or worse consequences."

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In a statement from International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday, Somali farmers shared how the region's locust crisis has similarly impacted them this year.

"Most of the farms in Jowhar town have been destroyed by floods in the last six months now. The water is stagnant on the grounds and no one can farm in this state. On top of this flood problem, we have had locusts destroying the few vegetables and fruits remaining," said farmer Yusuf Ahmed.

Muna Hussein, a 35-year old mother of 10, has lost two of her farms to the floods and locusts. "I have been a farmer all my life," she said. "That is all I know, and it is my lifeline. The situation is getting really difficult especially with the locust[s] eating all the food we were trying to grow and planning to sell."

Noting that pest control efforts could slow or halt early next year without additional funding, FAO is seeking $40 million to increase its locust-related activities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen in 2021. The agency warned that over 35 million people in total are already acutely food insecure across those five countries—a number that could rise by 3.5 million in the absence of urgent action.

"We have achieved much, but the battle against this relentless pest is not yet over," said FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu. "We must not waiver. Locusts keep growing day and night and risks are exacerbating food insecurity for vulnerable families across the affected region."

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