Sven Torfinn

Locust invasion in Horn of Africa: CERF releases $10M to contain outbreak

UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock has released US$10 million from CERF to help scale up the response to the devastating desert locust outbreak in East Africa. The outbreak, which is affecting the Horn of Africa, Southwest Asia and the Red Sea, is the worst of its kind in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia – and the worst Kenya has seen for 70 years. The impacts in these countries are particularly acute as pastures and crops are being wiped out in communities that were already facing food shortages.

The desert locust is among the most dangerous migratory pests in the world. A single locust can travel 150km and eat its own weight in food – about two grams – each day. A small swarm can consume the equivalent of food for 35,000 people in one day. They reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June. The US$10 million allocation from CERF will go to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and fund an increase in pesticide aerial spraying operations which, given the scale of the current swarms, is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers.

Locusts 3

Credit: FAO/Sven Torfinn

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said: “This devastating locust outbreak is starting to destroy vegetation across East Africa with alarming speed and ferocity. Vulnerable families that were already dealing with food shortages now face the prospect of watching as their crops are destroyed before their eyes. We must act now. If left unchecked, this outbreak has the potential to spill over into more countries in East Africa with horrendous consequences. A swift and determined response to contain it is essential. This allocation from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund will fund a massive scale-up in aerial operations to manage the outbreak.”

The outbreak is exacerbating the impacts of climate change already being felt in this region. In Ethiopia, where floods had already affected the harvest, the locust infestation has destroyed hundreds of square kilometers of vegetation in the Amhara and Tigray regions. In Kenya, which was hit by back-to-back droughts and then floods in 2019, the past week has seen a significant and extremely dangerous increase in swarm activity, and eight counties are now affected.