The worst plague of desert locusts in a generation is ravaging crops and other vegetation across the Horn of Africa.
10 Things to Know About the Locust Plague
The worst desert locust outbreak in a generation has been decimating crops and other vegetation across the Horn of Africa. Since January, Kenya Ethiopia, and Somalia have been battling to contain the escalating crisis as the outbreak moved southward towards South Sudan and eastward towards Uganda. In recent months, swarms have spread to the Middle East as well as western Asia.
The swarms are expected to peak in July, as a wetter-than-normal monsoon arrives. Continued rains through October will only cause them to multiply at a faster rate.
Save the Children’s teams on the ground are working to help affected communities and vulnerable children who are facing increasing health, education and safety risks due to both the locust outbreak and the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s 10 important things to know.
- The last large locust outbreak lasted two years.
In 2003, a large locust outbreak across 20 countries in Northern Africa lasted until 2005. Studies found that children who grew up during the period were much less likely to go to school, and girls were disproportionately affected.
According to The World Bank, it caused an estimated $2.5 billion in crop damage.
- The current locust outbreak formed after cyclones dumped considerable amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
This created a perfect breeding condition for the locust, says Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms - and in the past 10 years, there's been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean." In 2019 alone, there was a total of eight cyclones, including Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth.
As Cyclone Amphan made landfall in India in May, swarms were also forming there as well as in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran. The crisis has affected 23 countries to date, from Pakistan to Tanzania.
- The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) a single swarm of desert locusts covering one square kilometer contains up to 80 million locusts. Even with a lifespan of only three months, under the right conditions, they can multiply up to twentyfold in just one generation, according to the FAO.
“Our staff in Kenya are battling swarms so thick they can barely see through them,” said Ian Vale, Save the Children’s regional director for East and Southern Africa.
- Swarms as large as 926.6 square miles—or more than three times the size of New York City—have been seen in northeast Kenya.
A swarm of this size, which can contain up to 192 billion locusts, is estimated to eat in one day the same amount as 90 million people.
- The outbreaks in Ethiopia and Somalia are the worst in 25 years and in Kenya the worst in 75 years.
Coupled with the impact of COVID-19 and a return of flood season, the locust outbreak threatens to devastate the chances of survival for malnourished children.
Across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, at least 5.2 million children under age five are already acutely malnourished. This includes nearly 1.3 million children who are severely malnourished and at risk of starvation.[i]
- Climate shocks remain a driving factor for acute food insecurity in the Horn of Africa.
“The impact of climate change on the lives of Ethiopians, Kenyans, and Somalis is becoming more intense every year,” said Vale. As a result of the current climate crisis, nearly 13 million people across the Horn of Africa are facing critical levels of hunger.
In Ethiopia alone, nearly one million people already require emergency food assistance as a direct result of the locusts.[ii]
Extreme temperatures leave many families living in poverty with less food, less clean water, lower incomes and worsening health. The UN warns that many will have to choose between starvation and migration.
- The climate crisis magnifies inequality, poverty, displacement and may increase the likelihood of conflict.
Conflict, coupled with drought and flooding, has led to the displacement of 1.47 million people in South Sudan. Across East Africa and Mozambique, armed conflicts and violence has forcefully displaced at least 20.1 million people.[iii]
These rising number speaks to the difficulty families experience in recovering from frequent climate crises in the region.
As families are forced to leave their homes in search of food, water and survival, children can be put in grave danger of trafficking and physical violence. The displacement of large numbers of people can lead to competition for resources like water and land with local communities, sometimes resulting in conflict, or escalating existing conflict.
- Women and girls face particular risk.
Girls around the world face lifelong gender inequalities, and gender inequalities are often exacerbated during times of crisis. This can pose grave risks for girls’ survival, learning and protection.
Women and girls in the Horn of Africa can face multiple protection concerns, such as their safety in new resettlement sites, fear of exploitation, increased social tensions and violence stemming from changes in gender roles due to the loss or injury of male family members.
Young girls are often tasked with walking long distances to search for water, putting them at risk of harassment, kidnapping and sexual violence.
- The swarms are expected to continue to reproduce and spread through the end of 2020.
The resurgence of swarms of desert locusts coupled with the impact of COVID-19 could lead to devastating circumstances. Government locust control operations, including training staff and spraying pesticides, are facing challenges due restrictions related to the pandemic.
“To say this is unprecedented is an understatement,” said Yvonne Arunga, Save the Children’s Regional Operations Director for East and Southern Africa. “We need resources. We need people. And we need global support. Even though the world is reeling, we cannot forget the most vulnerable amongst us.”
- Save the Children is responding to the climate crisis in the Horn of Africa and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Save the Children is helping families and health workers get through this pandemic by delivering life-saving supplies, information and care.
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, our teams are working closely with governments, the United Nations and partners across the Horn of Africa to give children the vital nutrition and healthcare they need.
We are strengthening our programs to provide health and education support, and responding to the unique needs of girls and women, as well as refugee, migrant and displaced communities.
We continue to work with parents to fight gender bias in families by encouraging shared household chores, so girls and boys have equal time to devote to education and play.
Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the Horn of Africa and our global response to COVID-19.
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