In midst of pandemic, East Africa braces for another locust invasion

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 22, 2020 Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 300 kilomters (186 miles) north of Kenyan capital, Nairobi. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 June 2020

In midst of pandemic, East Africa braces for another locust invasion

  • Spurred by favorable weather conditions, the migratory pests have descended on East Africa in record numbers since late 2019
  • In Ethiopia between January and April, locusts destroyed 1.3 million hectares of grazing land

NAIROBI: East Africa is bracing for a third outbreak of desert locusts, with billions of the destructive insects about to hatch and threaten food supplies in a region already reeling from damaging rains and the coronavirus pandemic.
Spurred by favorable weather conditions, the migratory pests have descended on East Africa in record numbers since late 2019 and another wave is about to take to the skies despite the concerted use of pesticides.
“Tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture have already been damaged across the Horn and East Africa,” the International Rescue Committee said in a report this month, noting even a small swarm could devour the same amount of food in a day as approximately 35,000 people.
In Ethiopia between January and April, locusts destroyed 1.3 million hectares of grazing land and nearly 200,000 hectares of crops, resulting in the loss of 350,000 tons of cereals, IGAD, the East Africa regional organization, said in a June report.
But these initial estimates — corresponding to the first and second locust waves — do not fully capture the extent of damage as field surveys have been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Until we get extended figures, I would just say Ethiopia was definitely the most affected in terms of croplands, then Somalia,” says Kenneth Kemucie Mwangi from ICPAC, the climate monitoring program of IGAD.
Somalia, which like Kenya experienced heavy rains and flooding in recent months that left scores dead, had already declared a “national emergency” against the locust scourge in February.
So far East African neighbors Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have been spared the insects, which travel in huge swarms billions of insects strong, and can migrate 150 kilometers (90 miles) in a single day.

The World Bank in May approved a $500 million (445 million euro) program to help countries vulnerable to hunger in East Africa fight the pests eating their way across the region.
Pesticide spraying operations have been underway since February, helping wipe out staggering numbers of the insects capable of multiplying their numbers 20-fold every three months.
“About 400,000 hectares were controlled in the region between January and mid May. We estimate that 400 billion locusts have been exterminated,” says Cyril Ferrand, a Nairobi-based expert with the FAO.
“We can’t estimate the total population because we don’t have access to certain areas, especially in Somalia. But we know that it’s been seriously reduced.”
In Kenya, where swarms blotted out the sky for miles in recent months, locusts have retreated to just three semi-arid counties in the country’s far north.
Fortunately too, forecasts of dire hunger did not materialize as the first swarm to arrive from Yemen in 2019 spared the end-of-year harvest, as the crops were already too mature.
The insects, which can eat their body weight in food in a single day, strip the leaves but not seeds.
“We have not seen signs of a large scale impact on food security,” says Lark Walters of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a US-funded food security monitoring organization.
However that doesn’t mean the impact hasn’t been keenly felt on among vulnerable communities where access to food is fragile, and any shocks can cause immense hardship, he said.
East Africa has endured a string of disasters of near-Biblical proportions in 2020: surging rain and devastating floods, locusts and then amid it all — a viral pandemic.
“Somali pastoralist communities have had three years of drought, then the locusts, now Covid, which will prevent them from exporting their livestock,” said Ferrand of the FAO.
“For them it’s disaster after disaster, so their resilience is already very low. The slightest shock can push them into extreme poverty.”
These shocks can ripple too through the wider economy, where coronavirus lockdowns and border closures have already dragged on trade and caused financial hardship.
On June 11, the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings noted that while coronavirus was the primary factor affecting growth “the ongoing desert locust invasion represents significant downside risk to East Africa’s macroeconomic stability.”
The looming third wave still lies as eggs beneath the soil, but is predicted to hatch in coming weeks, just as farmers take to the fields.
“We have concerns for the June-July harvest,” said Waters.
Ethiopia’s croplands, most notably in the north, where 90 percent of its cereal harvest is planted, is at particularly high risk, he added.
Warmer weather, more rain and wind gusts are expected to direct the insects northwards, deep into the Horn of Africa and as far as Yemen, areas that will become more conducive to their reproduction in the coming months.

 


Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

Updated 24 October 2020

Suicide bomber kills 18 in Afghan capital

  • There has been an upsurge in violence between Taliban and Afghan forces in the country
  • The US signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February, opening up a path toward withdrawing American troops from the conflict

KABUL: A suicide bomber struck near an education centre in the Afghan capital on Saturday, killing at least 18 people in the latest attack to rock the conflict-wracked country.
Violence on the ground has spiked in recent weeks despite the Taliban and the Afghan government holding peace talks in Qatar to end the country's grinding war.
The suicide attack, which also wounded 57, happened late afternoon at the centre, which offers training and courses for students in higher education in a western district of Kabul.
"A suicide bomber wanted to enter the education centre," Tareq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, said in a statement.
"But he was identified by the centre's guards after which he detonated his explosives in an alley."
He said the attack had left at least 18 people dead and 57 wounded.
"I was standing about 100 metres from the centre when a big blast knocked me down," said local resident Ali Reza, who had gone to hospital with his cousin who was wounded in the blast.
"Dust and smoke was all around me. All those killed and wounded were students who wanted to enter the centre."
Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack.
Residents in several districts of western Kabul belong to the minority Shiite Hazara community, often targeted by Daesh militants. 
In the past, extremists have targeted several education centres and other facilities in the area.
In May, a group of gunmen launched a brazen daylight attack on a hospital in west Kabul that left several mothers dead. The gunmen were shot dead after hours of fighting with security forces.