Food fears grow as swarms of locusts flood East Africa, threatening millions of people in an already fragile region. The outbreak in east Africa is the most serious in decades and has already devastated crops across a swath of Kenya and Somalia.
Climate experts have pointed to unusually heavy rains, aided by a powerful cyclone off Somalia in December, as a major factor in the crisis. The locusts arrived from the Arabian peninsula after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.
With further rains expected in the region in the coming weeks, experts fear the number of locusts if unchecked could grow by up to 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected. The threat in east Africa comes from the desert locust, one of a number of species that form swarms. A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per sq km of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities said.
According to thehumanitarian.org, locusts can consume huge amounts of vegetation – a single swarm eating roughly the same amount in weight as 35,000 people. Some farmers in Somalia and Ethiopia suffered a total crop wipe out at the beginning of the year. There are already concerns for South Sudan, where almost half the country faces hunger as it emerges from years of civil war.
In December 2019, a locust swarm forced a passenger plane off course in Ethiopia. Insects smashed into the engines, windshield and nose, but the aircraft was able to land safely in the capital, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia and Somalia are already experiencing the largest locust swarms in 25 years, while Kenya hasn’t seen swarms the current size in 70 years.