Swarm of locusts decimates crops in Horn of Africa

Geerisa, Somaliland, Mar 19 (efe-epa).- Billions of locusts have decimated pastures, crops and threatened lives in the Horn of Africa in recent months.

Now they are preparing to take flight and once again jeopardise the livelihood of a region already battered by the climate crisis.

In late 2019, unusual storms and flooding on the shores of the Arabian Sea and five tropical cyclones linked to the rapid warming of the Indian Ocean served as a breeding ground for the insects to thrive.

Having travelled from war-torn Yemen, locusts invaded humid areas of Somalia, southern Ethiopia, and northern Kenya in medium-sized swarms spanning around 250 soccer fields.

As they flew across swathes of Africa they devastated crops essential to the survival of millions of nomadic herders.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in my 93 years of life,” Muuse Aarinte, a traditional chief of the town of Geerisa, said.

Aarinte recalled 20 days in January when locusts invaded the small Somali town located in the self-proclaimed independent state of Somaliland.

Its inhabitants call the region a “non-country” where unlike Somalia, from which it declared unilateral independence in 1991 after the fall of dictator Siad Barre and years of bloodshed, life is peaceful until locusts or drought arrive.

“They destroyed everything in their path,” said one Geerisa resident, who tried to chase the voracious insects away with saucepans while the pastures sewn for their animals were devoured by the locusts, which eat their body weight in food every day.

“It happens every year, but this time it has been much worse,” agriculture minister Ahmed Muumin Seed told Efe in the capital of Hargeisa.

The minister said if something is not done about the plague new swarms will form in April, reproduce and their eggs will hatch before June.

By then, the locust population could have multiplied by 400, before migrating again, drawn to the rains in India and Pakistan.

“The hoppers are in the second stage, about to fly, once they fly it will be out of control,” Muumin added.

“It will coincide with the planting season, that’s our biggest fear.

“Last year they arrived when we had already harvested, but this year is happening with the rainy season.”

A second invasion could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe in the Horn of Africa, one of the most vulnerable regions on the planet to climate shocks, according to various NGOs.

The area also depends on the primary sector and has 13 million people with scarce access to food.

Keith Cressman, senior officer for locust forecasting at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said: “A swarm of a square kilometre can have 40 to 80 million, each one of those eating two grams of food so you can understand the impact.

“A swarm the size of Rome can eat the same amount of food in one day as everybody in Kenya.

“A swarm the size of Barcelona will eat in one day the same amount of food as everybody in Barcelona eats in two days.”

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