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As African locust crisis worsens, UN faces huge funds shortfall to prevent plague

As African locust crisis worsens, UN faces huge funds shortfall to prevent plague

Desert locusts are particularly voracious
With the desert locust crisis in West Africa expected to worsen over the next few weeks, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today that it only had in hand less than a tenth of the crucial funding needed to prevent the crop-devouring insects from becoming a plague.

As of today, donor countries have approved a total of $24 million of the estimated $100 million needed to control the widespread outbreaks, including pesticide spraying, but the agency has actually received only $4 million, and has provided a further $5 million from its own resources.

“The success of control operations in West Africa is crucial if we want to reduce the new threat to the Maghreb (North African Arab) countries,” FAO locust information officer Keith Cressman said in the latest warning issued by the Rome-based agency.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned last month that the crisis is potentially worse than the last plague of 1987-89, with some experts warning of famine and death in rural areas. The 1987-89 plague cost the international community $300 million to eventually bring under control.

With a bumper harvest expected in West Africa this summer, “a substantial portion of this harvest is at risk because of the unusually high locust infestations,” Mr. Cressman added. According to country reports up to 40 per cent of pastures and 10 per cent of vegetables have been damaged so far.

A large number of swarms will form in coming weeks in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali and Niger, and the extent of a new invasion in the Maghreb depends on the success of control operations in West Africa and the frequency of rainfall in the coming months.

Locust swarms often stretch over dozens of kilometres containing billions of insects. A swarm moves with the wind up to 200 kilometres in a day. One ton of locusts, a very small portion of an average swarm, eats as much food in one day as about 2,500 people. Locusts live between 3 and 6 months. There is a tenfold increase in locust numbers from one generation to the next.

Some of the new swarms may reinvade Senegal and move southwards, to Gambia, Guinea Bissau and possibly Guinea by the end of the year, while the majority is expected to move to west and northwest Mauritania and breed there, with a real threat of a reinvasion of Northwest Africa on a larger scale than that in the spring of 2004.