While everyone is talking about COVID-19 (understandably so), Africa is facing a locust plague that puts some 30 million people at risk of starvation. These unimaginable swarms are spreading across East Africa spelling disaster for local people and economies.
In early February, the first media reports of desert locust plagues in East Africa began to trickle through. But since then, we’ve hardly seen a thing. Not least because of, well, COVID-19 (obvs). However, the plague continues to spread at an alarming rate and requires urgent action. According to Business Insider scientists warn that the insects may even reach Southwest Asia and the Middle East.
How did it happen?
What else… climate change. National Geographic reports that over the last 18 months unseasonal weather patterns and human activity have led to a dramatic increase in the temperature of the Indian Ocean. In turn, this has caused several rare cyclones in East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The unusually wet weather created a thriving environment for desert locusts which has subsequently morphed into a biblical-esque plague. We’re talking billions of flying insects covering a space 1.5 times the size of New York City. The locusts live up to five months and once mature, lays eggs. Under the right conditions, a population can grow twenty-fold in one generation. According to the BBC, “the main threats are in East Africa and Yemen, as well the Gulf states, Iran, Pakistan and India”.
What’s the impact?
The number one threat is food security. Affected countries are already struggling with food supplies, and the swarms are ruining their crops. The FAO of the United Nations estimates that this massive plague can consume the same amount of food as approximately 35 000 people, per day. CNBC reports that coffee and tea plantations in Ethiopia are also infested, which is devastating for an industry that accounts for up to 30% of national exports. In East Africa alone, 170,000 acres of crops have already been destroyed, and the FAO is anxious the number will increase 500 fold by June. No crops mean no harvest; a devastating blow for East Africa’s agriculture-dependent economy.
What can be done?
Affected countries require urgent humanitarian aid to fight the pests. The only way to combat the locusts is by chemical invasion distributed by planes. Scientists are also developing a supercomputer model to predict breeding areas that have been potentially overlooked, reports The Guardian. But all of this costs and The FAO estimates that USD138 million is needed to fight the crisis. According to the BBC, only USD52 million has been received so far (USD10 million of which came from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).
As the world battles crisis after crisis, can someone please call 2020 and tell them we’ve had enough? Cheers.