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Locust invasion in West Africa will get worse

© Courtesy of the BBC
Goats run from a swarm of locusts in Mauritania.

By Micael Johnstone

NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania/New York, 21 September 2004 – The desert locust problem in northwest Africa is likely to become more severe in October, with fresh swarms predicted to invade the region in the next month.

“The situation is worsening and we are preparing for a nutritional emergency,” said Hervé Périès, UNICEF programme officer in Mauritania, one of the hardest-hit countries.

“Planes are starting to spray affected areas, but animal pasture has been affected, with over 1.6 million hectares contaminated by locusts and the impact on crops is still to be evaluated. A national vulnerability survey by the Food Security Commission [Commissariat à la Sécurité Alimentaire – CSA] will be completed by the end of October 2004 and most affected areas will then be mapped for appropriate response.”

The Government of Mauritania, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), UNICEF and other partners are preparing for the expected emergency. UNICEF has prepared a proposal for early response, to be based on the results of nutritional surveys in most affected areas.

© Courtesy of the BBC
Light aircraft are used to spray pesticides in affected areas

“This is a national emergency situation, and the last quarter of this year must be devoted to the problem. The locusts are everywhere, even in our office. Trees are turning from green to brown within two hours,” said Mr. Périès.

UNICEF is monitoring the potential nutritional impact on West African children of the spreading locust invasion. Many countries in the region already suffer from food shortages and malnutrition, and the attendant devastating effects on mothers and children.

Heavy rainfall has been blamed as a major contributing factor for the worst locust infestation in West Africa since 1988. Rainfall predictions, however, may not be the answer to preventing future invasions.

“Some predictions with close monitoring would go a long way, although I would say that we cannot expect that global warming will mean high rainfall becomes the norm,” says International Research Institute for Climate Prediction research scientist Dr. Alessandra Giannini.

“I would caution against any form of climate determinism – a colleague of mine mentioned that last year climate conditions were really ripe for a locust invasion in India, but nothing happened.”




9 September 2004 : The Sound of Locusts
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