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Concern in West Africa as locust crisis worsens

© FAO/2004
Children are using sticks to try to ward off the desert locusts.

By Micael Johnstone

DAKAR/NEW YORK, 3 September 2004 – A 12-country emergency meeting in Dakar, Senegal has decided to use national armed forces to help combat the devastating spread of desert locusts in West Africa.

Ministers at the meeting have agreed to set up  ‘operations bases’ for this effort, in Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Chad, Niger, Cape Verde, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Gambia. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that additional funds of $60 million are still needed to combat the infestation, which is the most damaging and widespread one in this region in 15 years.

The situation is likely to deteriorate throughout September, as the swarms proliferate, particularly in Senegal, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Governments in the region largely lack the necessary equipment to tackle the pests.

Farmers and soldiers are working together to spray crops with pesticide, but have so far only managed to spray three per cent of an estimated 2.3 million hectares at risk. Aerial spraying will be necessary over the next two weeks in order to stem the infestation, but there may be a lack of sufficient aircraft to carry out the work.

In desperation, some farmers are mobilizing children to bang empty tin cans, wave sticks and clap their hands in a futile attempt to scare off the insects. Traditional healers have suggested that people make sacrifices of curdled milk to drive away the swarms, while Senegalese radio station ‘Sud-Fm’ is offering listeners a 50 kg sack of rice if they can kill the equivalent weight in locusts.

© FAO/2004
An up-close look at locusts.

On 31 August UNICEF undertook a joint visit to Gao in Mali with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to assess the situation, and to meet with Government and NGO representatives to discuss the response.  Lacking equipment and pesticides with which to kill the hopper swarms, villagers and children resort to scooping up the locusts into plastic bags , or to digging trenches into which the nymphal bands fall and then get buried.  WFP Representative Pablo Recalde estimates that up to a million tonnes of food production could be lost, and that over 2.9 million people could face food shortages in the country. 

In certain affected West African countries, UNICEF is participating in weekly national committee meetings that have been set up to manage individual countries responses to the locust invasion, including the stockpiling of food and high energy biscuits for children. The organisation is also planning a joint nutritional risk evaluation with The World Health Organisation (WHO).

In The Gambia, a locust invasion is believed imminent; the government has declared a state of emergency. “Everyone is panicking, it’s such a precarious situation,” said UNICEF Programme Officer Guenet Francois. “This year has been a good year for rain, and now the locusts are coming. It’s devastating for the people here – they’re helpless. The whole of West Africa is very disturbed.”




9 September 2004 : The Sound of Locusts

Related links

Locust invasion in West Africa will get worse

Locust swarms put Mali’s economic mainstay at risk

Swarms of locusts pose serious threat to food supply for children in West Africa

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