- The current locust crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is "potentially worse than the 1987-89 plague" that cost US$ 300 million, locust experts today warn. Mauritania, Mali and Niger are now facing great damages to their agricultural output and pastures while international fund-raising still is slow.
The current locust invasion in the Sahel region of Africa bordering the Sahara is potentially worse than the last plague of 1987-89, with some experts warning of famine and death in rural areas, the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement today.
The UN agency had so far received only US$ 16 million in answer to its urgent appeals for international aid to combat the crop-devouring insects - less than a sixth of the US$ 100 million that has so far been sought, OCHA spokesperson Elizabeth Byrs told a press briefing in Geneva. The 1987-89 plague cost the international community a total of US$ 300 million.
Although the current crisis has not yet reached the level of the previous invasion, it differs from that one in that it is occurring at the time of seed planting instead of harvesting.
- If the international community fails to respond to the alarming financial and logistical needs to combat the invasion this crisis will have even more serious consequences than the previous one, OCHA quoted Ousseynou Diop of the Office for the protection of agricultural produce for Senegal as saying.
The UN agency added that a regional crisis was upcoming. "This locust invasion risks to produce detrimental consequences for food security for the population in the Sahel zone and some experts are warning of famine," OCHA said.
- Situations could be life-threatening for populations in the rural areas, leading to a possible impact on urban populations as rural exodus into cities would add pressure, decline in macro-economic performance and eventually more fragile social situations that could translate into political instability, the UN agency added.
According to the OCHA statement, the current locust invasion was in essence a "sub-regional threat against human security and only a regionally coordinated response can unite available resources and halt the invasion."
The OCHA report is the latest in a series of warnings by UN agencies. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reported last week that locusts had arrived in Mauritania, Mali and Niger, with the threat of serious damage hanging over several other countries.
Locust swarms had been observed all over the Sahel. In the west, swarms had reached the Cape Verde islands, Senegal and The Gambia. In the south, locust swarms are reaching the savannah areas in Burkina Faso and Northern Nigeria. In the east, swarms are observed at an increasing frequency in Chad and may soon enter Sudan's troubled Darfur region.
With a tiny fraction of the average swarm capable of eating as much food in one day as 2,500 people, FAO has throughout the year issued urgent appeals for international aid to stop the situation from developing into a plague. Since July-August 2003, favourable ecological conditions and the regularity of rainfalls in particular have allowed for a more rapid reproduction of locusts in the Sahel.
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