- Desert locusts have been observed concentrating themselves into groups characteristic of an outbreak in three parts of the Sahel. An outbreak would threaten food production in the entire region, the UN food agency FAO warns today.
- Desert locust outbreaks in Mauritania, Niger and Sudan may locally threaten crops, FAO said in a statement today. The agency has issued an urgent alert to inform affected governments and the international donor community.
Locust outbreaks were reported in areas of north-western Mauritania, northern Niger and north-eastern Sudan, FAO said. The affected areas border to Algeria, Western Sahara, Mali, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and these five countries could also become victims of a locust invasion if the current outbreaks are not brought under control.
Swarms of the migratory insect can devastate crops as they fly in great numbers in search of food. "The situation has the potential to develop rapidly and it could be a matter of weeks," said the FAO's Locust Group in a statement.
- The number of locusts is increasing rapidly, the Locust Group added. "They are beginning to concentrate themselves into groups characteristic of an outbreak. We need to address the problem now, before the situation deteriorates."
Desert locusts are normally solitary, scattered insects but when climatic conditions are favourable, for example after good rains and a mild temperature, they can rapidly increase in number.
As the rainy season ends and green areas shrink locusts tend to group together in the few remaining green vegetation and start to change appearance and begin behaving as a group.
- After several years of drought, exceptional rains in Mauritania have allowed the desert locusts to breed and increase in number, FAO said. Vegetation had dried out much quicker than expected in the country, causing locusts to concentrate in three main areas in western and central regions.
When they start grouping, the young, wingless locusts, also known as "hoppers", march together in search of food. They then develop into adult, winged insects that form swarms which may contain tens of millions of insects, stretch across kilometres and travel great distances, crossing international borders.
The FAO Locust Group warns that action now is urgent to avoid large damages on crops in the Sahel region. "We must immediately boost the number of surveys, the level of monitoring and prepare for expanded intervention," the group said.
In Mauritania, control operations have already covered several hundred hectares of land so far and additional teams have been sent to the field, bringing the total to five survey teams including two motorised control teams with pesticide-spraying capacities.
In Niger, locusts have been reported at a density of up to 20 hoppers per square metre and in Sudan, where five aircraft are on standby, mature adult locust swarms have been seen along the Atbara river, close to the Eritrean border. Some of the locusts were already observed laying eggs.
A forth area of potential locust outbreak has also been isolated by FAO. The situation was reported "to be of concern" in northern Mali where locust densities increased in early October and "could eventually threaten southern Algeria." Solitarious adults, at densities up to 900 per ha, were maturing at 30 places close to the Algerian border.
If the situation worsens, this migratory pest "may move northwards across northern Mauritania into Morocco [i.e. Western Sahara], from Sudan towards the Red Sea and from Mali and Niger into Southern Algeria," the Locust Group warned.
The highly migratory pest even can cross the sea when wind conditions are right. A 1987-89 outbreak starting in Sudan crossed both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf and reached India. Several locust plagues have also crossed the Mediterranean into Southern Europe.
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