(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

FAO warns of serious threat from desert locusts

[Afghanistan] Locust infestation in northern Samangan province.
UNDP/Kawun Kakar

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations warned again on Tuesday that much of the north and west of the region is under serious threat from a growing plague of desert locusts – the worst seen in the region for 10 years.

Crops in northern Mauritania have already been damaged by the flying pests with more breeding populations reported in Niger.

“This is the most serious locust situation in the region for ten years,” said Keith Cressman, FAO locust information officer in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The Atlas Mountains of Morocco and regions of Algeria were identified as the hot-spots for breeding, though the statement stressed the vulnerability of poorer countries to the south which were unable to carry out the preventative spraying measures necessary to stop the locust migrations.

“It is very difficult to find and treat all of the desert locust infestations because many of them are scattered in remote areas, Cressman said. “This is further compounded by insufficient resources being available in Mauritania and Niger, and a rapid drying up of funds in other countries.”

So far, countries affected across the Sahelian region of Africa have spent more than US$ 17 million on locust control since October 2003. Most of that money has come from national budgets.

But in this highly impoverished region, funds are running short.

The FAO has pledged US$ 800,000 for spraying operations in Mauritania and Morocco, but in total they estimate that US$ 17 million is needed to support an existing campaign through the spring breeding period and extend it across the affected West African region in the summer.

The last desert locust plague hit in 1987-1989 when more than US$ 300 million was spent over a period of a several years before the plague was brought under control.

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