Feb 28, 2020 - World

Swarms of locusts in East Africa put millions at risk of starvation

A swarm of desert locusts in Kenya

Photo: Xinhua/Zhang Yu via Getty Images

Billions of locusts have swarmed East Africa, consuming harvests and putting 20 million more people at risk of starvation, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Why it matters: The swarms have hit more than 10 countries across 2 continents. If the locusts aren't soon combatted quickly and effectively, the number of people at risk of starvation in East Africa alone could rise to 33 million over the next few months. The swarms of locusts could grow exponentially and reach new countries, WSJ writes.

The big picture: Millions are already struggling with food shortages resulting from droughts, flooding, and insurgencies. The locusts could exacerbate the current situation.

The state of play:

  • Swarms the size of cities can consume 1.8 million metric tons of vegetation every day — enough to feed 81 million people.
  • Locusts have eaten 40% of the harvest in some parts of Pakistan, WSJ notes.
  • Locusts consumed corn, cotton, and wheat that were almost ready for harvest in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populated country, according to the WSJ.

Other countries plagued by locusts, per UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO):

  • Kenya
  • Somalia
  • Uganda
  • South Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Democratic Republica of Congo
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Yemen
  • Kuwait
  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Iran

How the world is reacting: The FAO has appealed for $138 million in urgent funding to assist afflicted countries but has only received $52 million so far, CNBC reports.

  • Much of the equipment used against the locusts is outdated and unable to handle the scale of the issue.

What to watch: Keith Cressman, the United Nation's senior locust forecasting expert, told the Journal, “We are expecting much greater impacts when the seasonal rains start and the next planting season begins in about a month.

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