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UN agency issues new locust warning for northeast Africa

UN agency issues new locust warning for northeast Africa

A locust swarm
In a new offensive against locusts, the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today called on countries in northeast Africa to intensify surveys and control operations against the crop-devouring insects, particularly on the Red Sea coast of Eritrea and Sudan and in northwest Somalia.

If the swarms are not controlled on the Red Sea coast, they are likely to migrate to cropping areas in the Tokar Delta on the coast of Sudan and to the Eritrean Highlands where it will be difficult to stop them from attacking pastures and crops.

“Once the locusts invade the Highlands, there is a slight risk that some swarms could migrate towards the summer breeding areas in the interior of Sudan before the rainy season starts,” FAO Desert Locust expert Keith Cressman said. “In this case, they could continue westwards in search of favourable green vegetation in Chad, Niger and Mali.

“Swarms could even reach Mauritania next June, in time for the beginning of the summer rains,” he added, recalling that a similar movement towards West Africa from the Red Sea occurred in 1993.

FAO and the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) have already launched aerial control operations on the Red Sea coast near the Sudanese and Eritrean border to eliminate small swarms forming from a local outbreak that has been underway since the end of last year. Ground control operations against hopper and adult infestations have been in progress in both countries for several months.

DLCO-EA aerial operations will also start this week on the coast of northwest Somalia near Djibouti. This new offensive against an old enemy is being conducted in close cooperation with local anti-locust teams.

FAO urged all concerned countries to keep monitoring the situation carefully, especially in the coastal plains in northwest Somalia as well in neighbouring areas in Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen.

Small immature swarms that escape control operations in northwest Somalia could move in any direction – up the escarpment towards the Ethiopian border, northwest towards the Eritrean highlands, east along the coast, across the Gulf of Aden to southern Yemen, or simply stay on the coast and eventually breed once the long rains commence. So far, a few swarms have crossed the Ethiopian border and were seen near Jigjiga.

FAO is also following the situation carefully in two other important areas, the Red Sea coastal plains of Saudi Arabia and in the spring breeding areas of Southwest Asia. Local breeding occurred on the Saudi coast south of Jeddah and, earlier this week, reports were received of small swarms. National teams have been deployed to the infested areas to conduct the necessary control operations.

Unusually good rains fell earlier this month over a large area of northern Oman, southeast Iran and western Pakistan, and locusts are expected to increase due to breeding during the spring. There is a slight risk that if more swarms form in northwest Somalia, some could reach these breeding areas. Iran and Pakistan are conducting a joint ground survey on both sides of their border in Baluchistan during April to clarify the situation.