By Will Bugler
Billions of locusts swarming through East Africa are the result of extreme weather swings and could prove catastrophic for a region still reeling from drought and deadly floods, according to experts.
While desert locusts are not uncommon in the region, this years’ exceptionally high numbers have been driven by a dangerous mix of extreme weather events. At the end of 2019, the extremely wet conditions and a series of typhoons created favourable conditions for locusts to breed, and enter Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
Affected countries have tried to contain the swarms by spraying chemicals, but the sheer number of locusts thriving in the wetter conditions are overwhelming their efforts. Desert locusts eat their own weight in food every day. So far, experts estimate that the swarms have caused considerable damage to grazing areas and animal pastures. Many of the food crops were already mature by the time the locusts hit, which meant that they fed mostly on the green leaves. Much of the harvest was therefore saved.
Further studies are being conducted to estimate the true cost of the swarms on food security in the region. However, experts from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) expressed their considerable concern. Saying that the invasion poses an “unprecedented threat to food security in the entire sub region”, where more than 19 million people in East Africa are already experiencing a high degree of food insecurity.
Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior locust forecasting officer said that “If locusts are left untreated by control measures, swarms can potentially grow 400 times larger by June.” The desert locust is the most destructive of all food-eating locust species because of its speed and ability to multiply rapidly. A swarm the size of Paris can devour as much food as half the population of France.