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Desert Locust crisis in the Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa is facing the worst Desert Locust crisis in over 25 years, and the most serious in 70 years for Kenya. The current situation – regarded as an upsurge with the potential to become a regional plague – represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region and could lead to further suffering, displacement and potential conflict.

Vast stretches of pasture and crops are under threat from the pest in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. Far worse than initially anticipated, the upsurge has been exacerbated by limited operational capacities in Somalia as well as heavy rain and floods from cyclone Pawan. Unless sustained measures are taken to control the invasions in these three affected countries, the outbreak will spread to other East African nations, in particular South Sudan and Uganda.

Countries affected

Ethiopia has been responding to the current swarm invasions since July 2019. To date, hopper bands have covered more than 429 km² of the country. Two generations of breeding have caused large numbers of swarms to form and move to Kenya and Somalia. In January 2020, the swarms were also seen moving towards the Rift Valley in Ethiopia and Kenya’s breadbasket. This would pose a serious threat, especially as Ethiopia already has an estimated 8.5 million people facing severe food insecurity (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification [IPC] 3 and above).

In Somalia, where 6.7 million people are now regarded as acutely food insecure (IPC Phase 2 and above), swarms bred in the north of the country and have moved mainly to central and southern regions. The pest is affecting pasture and threatening staple food crops in rural areas. Insecurity and a lack of national capacity have hampered control operations.

Since initial invasions were reported in late December 2019, swarms have continued to arrive in Kenya on a daily basis from Ethiopia and Somalia. With 3.1 million people projected to be severely food insecure in Kenya, the outbreak of Desert Locust among agro-pastoral communities in the north of the country is particularly concerning. A single large swarm was measured as 40 km by 60 km (an area of 2 400 km): a swarm of that size is capable of consuming the same amount of food in one day as 85 million people.

Response efforts

Response actions are already underway in Ethiopia and Kenya. Given the scale of the current swarms, aerial control is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers. In Ethiopia, ground teams and four aircraft are conducting control operations against swarms – nearly 8 000 hectares were treated in the first two weeks of January 2020. In Kenya, four aircraft are currently spraying, but operations have been limited due to available capacity or collective experience – Kenya last faced a Desert Locust invasion in 2007.

FAO has already mobilized USD 2 million from its own resources to step up control operations and ensure early action to safeguard livelihoods and avert a potentially devastating impact on the food security of already extremely vulnerable populations.

FAO is fast-tracking the rapid deployment of technical experts and field coordinators to the region to assess the situation on the ground and support national efforts. The FAO Desert Locust Information Service continues to assess the situation and provide early warning, forecasts and advice to affected countries and international partners.

FAO will harness USD 800 000 in early action funding from the Government of Denmark for pest control operations and livelihood support, helping to protect food security and prevent the locust spreading to the Rift Valley – the region’s breadbasket - and further on to South Sudan and Uganda.

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