afrol News, 18 August - The locust crisis in Sahelian Western Africa is now worsening from week to week, according to new reports from FAO. In Mauritania, enormous swarms are moving towards the fertile south and Senegal. In Mali, crops and pastures are now at risk. New swarms are forming, reaching the Cape Verde islands in the west and Niger and Chad in the east.
- West Africa is facing a worsening locust crisis as more swarms arrive in Mauritania, Mali and Niger, according to the latest update issued today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Swarms have by now crossed the Sahara desert from the Maghreb and are rapidly invading the green, rain-fed fields of Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Niger and Chad. Even Cape Verde, Burkina Faso and Sudan are at risk as locusts have increasingly been observed here.
In Mauritania, swarms of locusts moving from the north towards the south were reported in the towns Tiris Zemmour, Adrar, Inchiri and the capital Nouakchott. According to FAO, "the first adult locusts of the summer generation could start to appear by the end of August."
In this desert country, which this season has experienced a favourable rainy season, promising crops are now at risk. Even worse for the economy of rural Mauritanians is the risk of pasture destructions by the locusts. Locust control operations are said to have treated only 6,029 hectares in Mauritania during the first 10 days of August.
In neighbouring Mali, with a fairly comparable climate and geography, the locust infection has not yet reached the scale as in Mauritania. FAO however holds that Mali's crops and pastures are now most at risk in Western Africa. Hopper bands earlier this month were observed at the Malian-Mauritanian border and groups of adult locusts are already present in the agriculturally important Niger River Valley.
In Senegal, FAO reports that swarms and hopper bands - newly hatched wingless locusts - were present along the fertile Senegal River Valley and were also in the Ferlo Valley at Linguere. About 16,000 hectares of infestations have been treated by Senegal from 8 July up to 13 August. From Senegal, locusts have also reached The Gambia.
Also in Niger, Sahara-crossing swarms arrived weeks ago from Algeria and Libya. Adult locust groups are observed in the impoverished country's most fertile areas. From northern Niger, locusts are crossing into Chad and may eventually reach Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
According to FAO, the main reason for the enormous numbers of locusts is that a series of good rains have fallen, first in the Sahel durin
Swarms (green) continue to arrive in West Africa and lay eggs that hatch after about 10 days causing hopper bands (yellow) to form within a large area of pasture and crops (red).
g the summer of 2003, and then in North-West Africa during winter/spring. "This created favourable ecological conditions for locust development in the region and allowed at least four generations of locusts to breed one after the other," the UN agency today explains.
Locusts are also reaching unusual places. On 5 August a few swarms reached, for the second time, the Cape Verde Islands of Boa Vista, Santiago, Fogo and Maio during another brief period of north-easterly winds. The swarms contained up to 50 adult locusts per square meter. Numerous dead locusts were sighted on the beaches. There did however not seem to be any significant danger of a large-scale locust invasion in Cape Verde.
In the Maghreb, where the Sahelian locust swarms originated, the situation has now nearly returned to normal. The situation in the first 10 days of August was becoming calm in Morocco and Algeria, where immature adult groups were only reported from a few locations.
Less than 7,000 hectares were treated in each country. "As the vegetation is drying out, no further development is expected in the coming weeks," FAO today concludes. This forecast also covered the situation of the previously infested countries Tunisia, Libya and Western Sahara.
The international work to control locust swarms is therefore now totally concentrated on the Sahel, where governments are less prepared to meet the crisis than in the relatively wealthy Maghreb. The locust threat to the Sahel has now been moved up to the highest political agenda in the region.
With this threat of serious damage hanging over several Sahelian countries, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, the former President of Mali, Alpha Omar Konaré, and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf are now visiting Mauritania for a first-hand look at the locust swarms and the damage they cause.
FAO has estimated the cost of controlling the locust upsurge at between US$ 58-83 million. So far, about US$ 14 million has been committed through FAO by donors, including the Arab Organisation for Agricultural Development, France, the Islamic Development Bank, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the US and FAO. Other funds from several more donors are in the pipeline, awaiting approval.
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