UN effort to eradicate locusts in Afghanistan minimized crop damage

UN effort to eradicate locusts in Afghanistan minimized crop damage

Damage to crops in Afghanistan has been minimized thanks to an $800,000 United Nations initiative to battle the country's worst locust plague in three decades, according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which ran the effort.

Over 70 per cent of crop production across the north was judged to be at risk when FAO launched the campaign in March. Today, the agency estimated crop losses in the three most seriously affected provinces, which collectively form the "breadbasket" of the war-torn country - at about 7 per cent.

While hailing this progress, FAO stressed that control operations must start early next spring to avoid another locust emergency. "We can't afford to wait until the eggs hatch next year and develop into swarms before taking action," said FAO locust control expert Andrew Harvey. "We have to find out where the eggs are laid and kill the young hoppers as early as possible when they hatch out in the spring, before they can become adults and are able to fly."

The agency is conducting surveys to see where egg-pods are being laid, and will use the results to draw up contingency plans and preparedness programmes for the 2003 control campaign.

In another development, Afghanistan's commemoration of World Breastfeeding Week was officially launched in Kabul today at a ceremony led by the Deputy Minister of Public Health.

A spokesman for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told reporters in the capital that the Ministry was working with the agency and other partners to organize "a range of activities this week to stress the urgent need to protect the health and well-being of both babies and mothers through breastfeeding."

According to spokesman Chulho Hyun, religious leaders in Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif are being encouraged to include messages on the benefits of breastfeeding in their Friday worship sermons. In addition, special radio slots will air related messages for the rest of the week throughout the country. The campaign aims to spread information on how breastfeeding meets all the nutritional needs of a baby for the first six months of life, and can protect infants from diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia.