Desert Locust Swarms Set to Invade North Africa amidst ‘Perfect Storm’

Human Wrongs Watch

Desert locust swarms are set to invade North Africa in the coming weeks, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today, as it highlighted ongoing efforts to raise almost $6 million still needed to cover regional control costs for the rest of the year.

Desert locusts eating vegetation. Photo: FAO/G.Diana

“Prevailing winds and historical precedents make it likely the swarms, once formed, will fly to Algeria, Libya, southern Morocco and north-western Mauritania,” said an FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, Keith Cressman, in a press release.

“Once there, they could damage pastures and subsistence rain-fed crops. They could also pose a threat to harvests in Chad, Mali and Niger.”

A 250-fold Increase in Locust Populations

This year marks a 250-fold increase in locust populations after “good” summer rains offered favourable conditions for two generations to breed in West African’s Sahel region, FAO noted in a press release.

Swarms, which can contain tens of millions of locusts, are currently forming in Chad, and are poised to form in Mali and Niger, the UN reported on 23 October 2012.

FAO said it has urged Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Morocco to be prepared to mobilize their field teams to detect the arrival of the swarms and control them.

Swarms can fly up to 150 kilometres a day with wind, while a single desert locust adult can daily consume roughly its own weight of about two grams in fresh food. Even a very small swarm can devour enough crops in a day to feed about 35,000 people, according to FAO.

Conflict in Mali has restricted FAO’s ability to monitor the locust threat there, with Mr. Cressman noting that security challenges and difficult access to some locust breeding grounds meant it was unlikely all locust infestations would be found and treated.

FAO added that ground teams began spraying in Chad in early October, while military escorts are assuring the safety of spray teams beginning their work in Niger.

The UN food agency said donor countries had met $4.1 million of a $10 million appeal to maintain and expand operations, and that efforts were currently underway “to obtain the remaining funds.”

Support from the governments of France, United Kingdom and United States, as well as bilateral assistance to Niger, had enabled field operations to continue throughout the summer in Mali, Niger and Chad, FAO noted.

It added that a regional meeting organized last month by the FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Western Region and the World Bank confirmed that the full appeal is sufficient to cover the costs of the control campaign in the region until December.

The Perfect Storm

On 26 September 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for urgent international support for the people and governments of West Africa’s Sahel region, warning that the area is at a critical juncture with 18 million people affected by a severe food crisis.

“Political turmoil, extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies are combining to create a perfect storm of vulnerability,” he told a High-Level Meeting on the Sahel held on the margins of the 67th UN General Assembly.

The Sahel region is currently facing a swathe of problems, which are not only political but also involve security, humanitarian resilience and human rights, the UN reported.

Political Turmoil, Extreme Poverty 

In addition to political turmoil and insecurity in Mali, the region also suffers from extreme poverty, with human development levels among the lowest in the world, porous borders that present significant security challenges, as well as human rights problems.

Added to all of that is the humanitarian crisis affecting the region this year, in which over 18 million people are estimated to be at risk of food insecurity and over one million children risk severe acute malnutrition.

“Terrorist groups, transnational criminal organizations and insurgencies threaten peace and prosperity,” Ban said. “There is a particularly disturbing rise in extremism, and human rights abuses are prevalent. Human trafficking is on the rise, along with drug trafficking and arms smuggling.”

Environmental Shocks

At the same time, development is under threat, with environmental shocks such as floods, droughts and locust swarms, combined with global food price volatility, eroding resilience, he added.

Ban noted that instability in northern Mali, where Islamic militants have seized control, has caused more than 260,000 refugees to flee to neighbouring countries, further straining the already fragile social and economic infrastructure.

But he cautioned that any proposed military solution to the security crisis in northern Mali should be considered extremely carefully. “This could have significant humanitarian consequences, including further displacement and restrictions on humanitarian access,” he stressed.

In July, the Security Council requested the Secretary-General to develop an integrated regional strategy for the Sahel, encompassing security, governance, development, human rights and humanitarian dimensions.

Ban said the UN is developing an Integrated Regional Strategy on the Sahel that will strengthen regional capacities to combat insecurity, prevent and respond to large-scale crises, and promote democratic governance and respect for human rights.

‘Terrorist Threat,” Organized Crime, Proliferation of Weapons

The strategy will help countries of the Sahel to stem the terrorist threat, fight organized crime and control the proliferation of weapons. This will include tackling money laundering and improving border management.

It will also promote inclusiveness, conciliation and mediation to decrease tensions within and between countries, seek to strengthen the short- and long-term ability of communities to cope with extreme climatic conditions and market shocks, and place great emphasis on environmental management.

Participants at the meeting, according to a chairman’s summary, reaffirmed their commitment to assist and support the people of the Sahel, including through the integrated strategy and through mechanisms already in place.

“The participants welcomed the regional nature of the strategy while anchored in national ownership, highlighting that the onus for solving the crisis in the Sahel, and in particular, promoting democratic governance, rested with the governments of the region.” They also welcomed the Secretary-General’s intention to appoint a Special Envoy for the Sahel.

On Mali, participants called for a clear transitional roadmap leading to a resolution of the conflict in the north and the holding of elections as soon as possible.

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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