Locust swarms devastate East Africa

Feb 06, 2020
Swarms of desert locusts are ravaging countries in eastern Africa, covering 405,000 hectares of land (more than the combined size of Ottawa and Toronto) across parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, and threatening crops in nearby South Sudan and Yemen. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the region has not seen such a severe infestation in 70 years.

In January, the FAO called for international help in fighting the swarms in the Horn of Africa, warning that locust numbers across the region could grow 500 times by June.  

Somalia is facing the worst locust outbreak in over 25 years and has declared a national emergency. Many communities are still recovering from the prolonged drought from 2017, followed by severe flooding in 2019, and food security is deteriorating. 

a map of east Africa showing the areas affected by desert locust swarmsMap of East Africa indicating areas affected by swarms of desert locusts. Source: FAO

What do locusts do?  

Locusts cover entire fields of plants and agriculture and strip the plants of vegetation. The locusts not only cause an immediate threat, but food insecurity implications and what that means in terms of population movements, including in complex environments, must be considered. 

Climate experts and the UN say that the swarms came to East Africa from Yemen across the Red Sea. Unusual rains that hit the area in recent months led to flooding and caused the perfect breeding conditions for locusts. 

The FAO calls the situation in the Horn of Africa “extremely alarming,” and estimates that a swarm covering one square kilometre can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 humans.  

a farm yard covered in bugs
Desert locusts swarm a farmer's property in the Togdheer region of northern Somaliland. For several kilometres, World Vision staff could see farm after farm covered with locusts. Photo: Daria Musiienko  

What is happening in communities in East Africa? 

According to World Vision staff working in the affected areas, needs include intensive ground and aerial control operations to detect and reduce the locust populations and to prevent more swarms from forming and spreading. Farmers and livestock holders need tools to restart production and access to cash to meet their immediate food needs.  

As a region, we are currently working with our World Vision offices in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia to assess the locust infestation situation and look at solutions for and with communities. Our primary concern remains the welfare and protection of children, and what this means for them now and in the future

Communities will require food security support for at least the short term through the lean season especially if the upcoming harvest fails. World Vision is operating in many of the impacted areas and is responding as recovery support will be critical to help communities restore their livelihood. 

 The larger impact of the locust infestation will not be felt today, but in the coming weeks and months, when the loss of pasture and limited access to food commodities will be felt by affected populations, including millions of children.

a farm yard covered in bugs
Desert locusts swarm a farmer's property in Togdheer, northern Somaliland. Photo: Daria Musiienko 

Current situation on the ground:  

Somalia:  

  • 100, 000 hectares may require direct control interventions (double the size of Winnipeg).  
  • Teams in World Vision programming areas are preparing to provide unconditional cash transfers to targeted households and are planning recovery interventions.  

Ethiopia: 

  • Over 2,350 km2 of land has been affected (roughly half the size of Prince Edward Island). There are regional reports of crop losses in Amhara and Tigray areas.  
  • In 15 of World Vision’s programming areas, teams are providing logistical support to government lead response efforts.  

Kenya: 

  • About 70,000 hectares of land (double the size of Sudbury) has already been infested. 
  • Teams in World Vision programming areas are working on plans for preparedness and recovery.  

SOURCE: FAO, FSNWG, IGAD, WV 

Lindsay Gladding is World Vision Canada’s Director of Fragile and Humanitarian Programs. With more than a decade of experience in diverse humanitarian and emergency settings, she has deployed to emergencies around the world including Haiti, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Zimbabwe and Niger. Lindsay spent 18 months with World Vision Lebanon as the Humanitarian Director, establishing World Vision’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis. She is a strong gender equality advocate, and has served as a contract faculty member in humanitarian and development studies at Western University and Humber College. Lindsay holds an MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding at Royal Roads University, a Post-Graduate Diploma in International Project Management from Humber College, a BA in Socio-Cultural Studies from Western University, and a Diploma in Community Development from Brescia University College. 

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