The U.N. Food and Agriculture Agency said Tuesday, warned of a “major hunger threat” in East Africa from the flying pests.
A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time since 1944 as devastating plague of the insects continues to spread across Africa.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said the cluster of desert locusts arrived on Friday on the western shore of Lake Alberta near the town of Bunia.
Plagues of desert locusts have threatened agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries.
Following the looming food security threat posed by the desert locusts which have already invaded Kenya, Somalia and Uganda. The U.N. said swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea and Tanzania and recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war.
FAO director-general Qu Dongyu, U.N. humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, and World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley called the swarms of locusts “a scourge of biblical proportions” and “a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability,” according to a joint statement on Tuesday.
The FAO said mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert in eastern Congo on Friday near the town of Bunia. The country has not seen locusts for 75 years, it said.
“Needless to say the potential impact of locusts on a country still grappling with complex conflict, Ebola and measles outbreaks, high levels of displacement, and chronic food insecurity would be devastating,” the U.N. officials said in the joint statement.
Locust swarms can reach the size of major cities and can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals. The range of the migratory locust (Locusta migratoria) is wider than that of any other acridid.
Experts said the livelihood of at least one-tenth of the world’s human population can be affected by this voracious insect.
The U.N. recently raised its aid appeal from $76 million to $138 million, saying the need for more help is urgent.
“This funding will ensure that activities to control the locusts can take place before new swarms emerge,” the U.N. officials said, noting that to date only $33 million has been received or committed.
Experts have warned that the number of locusts if unchecked could grow 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected in the region.
“WFP has estimated the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone to be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now,” the U.N. officials said in the statement.
Desert locusts have a reproduction cycle of three months. Today, mature swarms are laying eggs within vast areas of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, many of which are already hatching, according to the U.N. officials.
“In just a few weeks, the next generation of the pests will transition from their juvenile stage and take wing in a renewed frenzy of destructive swarm activity,” the joint statement said.
This is a time when farmers’ crops begin to sprout, which could devastate East Africa’s most important crop of the year, the U.N. officials said.
“But that doesn’t have to happen,” they said. “The window of opportunity is still open. The time to act is now.”