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Africa’s Locust Crisis Worse Than 1987/89 Plague

Africa’s Current Locust Crisis Potentially Worse Than Devastating 1987-89 Plague

The current locust invasion in the Sahel region of Africa is potentially worse than the last plague of 1987-89, with some experts warning that famine and death could result from the devastation wrought by these crop-devouring insects, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said today.

UN agencies have so far received only $16 million in answer to urgent appeals for $100 million to combat the scourge, OCHA spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs told a news briefing in Geneva. The 1987-89 plague cost the international community $300 million.

Although the current crisis has not yet reached the level of the previous invasion, the damage could be far worse because of timing – with the insects now descending at seed planting time instead of at the harvest.

“If the international community fails to respond to the alarming financial and logistical needs to combat the invasion this crisis will have even more serious consequences than the previous one," OCHA quoted Ousseynou Diop of the Office for the protection of agricultural produce for Senegal as saying.

This locust invasion could be dire for food security, with some experts warning of famine. If the situation grows life-threatening in the countryside, there could be an exodus to cities, which would then suffer economic pressure, according to OCHA. Only a coordinated response is viewed as capable of halting the invasion.

The OCHA report is the latest in a series of warnings by UN agencies. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported last week that locusts had arrived in Mauritania, Mali and Niger, with the threat of serious damage hanging over several other countries.

With a tiny fraction of the average swarm capable of eating as much food in one day as 2,500 people, FAO has throughout the year issued urgent appeals for international aid to stop the situation from developing into a plague. Since last year, favourable ecological conditions and regular rainfalls in particular have allowed for a more rapid reproduction of locusts in the Sahel.

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