- Despite massive control operations, the desert locust situation is now becoming "extremely serious" in north-west Africa, according to authorities and UN agencies. While efforts to control their spread earlier were focusing on Mauritania and Western Sahara, locust swarms are now observed breeding further north, at the Moroccan-Algerian border.
According to the latest update by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), earlier attempts to stop the swarms in Mauritania and Western Sahara therefore have failed. "There are signs that the situation is moving towards the early stages of an upsurge. International donor assistance is urgently required to prevent a plague from developing," today warns FAO's Locust Group.
In Morocco, intensive aerial and ground control operations, treating up to 20,000 ha per day (49,420 Acres), are in progress against swarms that are laying eggs in the spring breeding areas in the Draa Valley on the southern side of the Atlas Mountains. The Draa Valley forms the Moroccan-Algerian border and is also the last desert area before the locusts reach fertile agricultural lands on the north-western side of the Atlas Mountains.
According to FAO, it is "likely" that similar infestations extend into western Algeria, near the Moroccan border. From here, locusts could continue their spread north-eastwards, passing through the oasis towns around Béchar before reaching the fertile coasts of the Mediterranean.
- In the next few weeks, more swarms are expected to arrive in Morocco and Algeria from northern Mauritania and Western Sahara, FAO warns. The swarms originating in Mauritania and Niger in general are moving northwards, one following the other.
In Mauritania, widespread hatching and band formation continue in the north near the borders of Morocco and the Western Sahara, FAO specialists had observed. Adults are forming swarms in parts of the north and north-west where vegetation is drying out, and some of these swarms have been seen moving northwards.
In north-western Niger, adult densities are increasing in the southern Air Mountains, where egg-laying and hatching are in progress. Many small swarms were also seen moving northwards in early March, FAO says. "They may appear in southern and central Algeria," the UN agency adds.
While regional governments and the UN so far have been unable to stop the locusts' steady march northwards, control operations however are in progress in the affected countries. National resources are however rapidly being drained, FAO warns.
During the first half of March, more than 250,000 ha (617,800 Acres) were treated in Morocco, compared to about 2,000 ha (4,942 acres) in Mauritania, where a severe shortage of funds for pesticide and operations continues to limit the ability to reduce the number of swarms that will eventually move towards the spring breeding areas.
According to the UN, the governments of Algeria and Morocco in February came rapidly to Mauritania's assistance with qualified staff, vehicles, pesticides and light aircraft in an operation valued at more than US$ 2 million. Algeria and Morocco however had to keep their remaining resources ready to eliminate the threat to their own agriculture. In Mauritania, resources were running out and halted large-scale operations, while ecological conditions continued to be favourable for breeding.
Last month, FAO had launched an appeal to donors for US$ 6 million urgently needed to support and maintain operations in Mauritania and another US$ 3 million for Mali, Niger and Chad in order to avert a plague. "The last plague in 1987- 89 lasted several years and cost more than US$ 300 million before it came to an end," FAO recalls.
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