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Locust swarms put Mali’s economic mainstay at risk

Imagen del UNICEF
© FAO/2004
An up-close look at locusts

MALI/NEW YORK, 27 August 2004 - Swarms of locusts have invaded Mali (along with Mauritania and other Sahelian countries) putting the economic mainstay of the country – agriculture – at high risk.

Mali covers a vast territory - the country is twice the size of France. The locust plague has affected the area north of  the 14th parallel, including the regions of Tombouctou, Gao and Kayes.

In Mali, agriculture accounts for about 40 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 80 per cent of the population is dependent on the rural sector. Mali was the top cotton producer in Africa in 2003, and cotton is the main source of income for millions of farmers, contributing up to 45 per cent of total exports.

Cattle, a source of wealth for many families, are also at risk if their pasturage is destroyed. Because of this, large scale damage to crops and pasturage may have severe macro-economic consequences. Levels of poverty could increase dramatically.

“If this locust plague is not controlled quickly it will have potentially catastrophic effects not only on food production, but also on agricultural exports and rural incomes,” said Frances Turner, UNICEF Representative in Mali. “Mali is situated in the summer breeding zone of the desert locust, which takes place from July to October.”

This means the locusts may continue to wreak economic and ecologic havoc on Mali for the next few months. It also means that thousands of children in Mali may suffer from malnutrition and starvation, if the locusts continue to ravage the land.

There is fear among officials that this plague could create a regional famine, similar to the one that occurred 1987-1989 in West Africa, with negative consequences for the children of Mali.

“Children in Mali start out with a fragile nutritional status - more than one third of all children suffer from malnutrition,” said Ms. Turner. “Thus increased food insecurity will have a devastating effect on these children. In the medium term, loss of income in rural areas may lead to migration and children being taken out of school. On top of that, resources would be diverted from development efforts to humanitarian aid, setting Mali’s development back, perhaps years.”

Imagen del UNICEF
© FAO/2004
Swarms of locusts fill the West African sky

UNICEF assists Minister of Agriculture to stop swarms

According to experts, locust-inflicted damage is patchy in geographic terms, owing to the nature of swarms - where swarms do not land, losses do not occur.  But where the insects do land and feed, losses can be overwhelming in just a few hours. Currently, the worst case scenario is a figure of up to several million people being affected, as well as the loss of millions of cattle.

“Fighting a plague of locusts is not the usual work of UNICEF,” said Ms. Turner. “However, this situation represents an imminent danger which will subsequently affect children if all necessary resources are not mobilized in time.  For this reason UNICEF has contributed to the national effort, providing a vehicle and driver to the Ministry of Agriculture as part of their treatment programme, as well as outfitting the teams with camping materials and protective gear for the sprayers. 

Mali is also under an additional threat

Besides the locust invasion, Mali is facing another kind of emergency:  polio.  Mali had been polio-free since 1999, but recently two cases have been confirmed in the country; one in Tombouctou and the other in Bourem.  The current rainy season is a period of high transmission of the polio virus, so vaccination activities are being organized in the location of these two cases. 

In addition, Mali is among the 22 countries in West Africa which will stage synchronized national immunization days in November and December, 2004, and again, in February and March 2005. During this time, some 3.3 million children under five years of age will receive polio vaccinations to protect them from this crippling disease. UNICEF is working closely with the government and other partners to prepare for this important immunization campaign.




Related links

Learn more about UNICEF's work in Mali

Locust invasion in West Africa will get worse

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