Before the current pandemic that the world is battling, East Africa and neighbouring regions of the globe experienced the biggest locust infestation in the past 70 years. That event was devastating. Then the Covid-19 pandemic started to move across the globe. And just as a viral plague can resurface if adequate measures are not taken and sustained for a long enough period of time to interrupt the spread of the virus, the locusts have returned. The locust plague has reappeared in East Africa and is said to be 20 times the strength of the earlier infestations.
The Fight for Food
Billions of young, hungry locusts are swarming across the continent from their breeding grounds in Somalia. As the summer season is fast approaching, fresh, young vegetation is starting to flourish with the help of the seasonal rains.
Rural people are in a double whammy situation, needing to protect their crops by whatever means are available while the spread of coronavirus is over-shadowing them as well. The fight for food will win out over the fight for prevention of the virus. Its another catch-22 where humanity suffers from infection or dies of starvation. These are impossible situations in which to have to make choices. The most destructive impact obviously wins out.
The nations affected include Kenya, Ethiopia, South Sudan. The swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania and the Congo.
Village farmers have very limited means of defeating the locusts and driving the swarms off their lands onto neighbouring lands. The farmers even resort to bang metal pots and pans, throwing stones, and whistling and shouting. Others merely watch and stare. Their main crop is a starch-food, cassava that helps ward off the village people from starvation.
The Role of Climate Change
The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) attributes the locust infestations partly due to the change in the regional climate. In other words, climate change. New swarms keep appearing because of the ideal breeding conditions. These favourable conditions could last through May, meaning that more swarms of the locusts could appear during the harvest months, June and July.
To counterattack the locust swarms, the UN is appealing for financial aid to be freed up and made available for combat measures. The young or juvenile locusts are far more voracious that the mature adult locusts. The scientists, satellite information analysts to be precise, at the Nairobi-based Climate Prediction and Application Centre are analyzing satellite imagery.
The Difficult Fight Against Locust Swarms
The ability to fight the swarms with the spraying of pesticide is severely restricted by the Covid-19 regulations that have significant restrictions on travel and delivery of the much needed pesticides. The dilemma is which infestation takes precedence. Field verification of the severity of the locust swarms is also hampered majorly. Overall, the world is stretched to its limits dealing with the global pandemic that other regional plagues are not receiving the attention that they also need in terms of combating the devastating situation.
The extent of these swarms is vast, that aerial top-spraying is the best option but there are border control issues as well as the challenges of securing aerial flight crews and delivery of pesticides via road or air. There is major concern, that the importation of pesticides from suppliers around the globe is also hampered by the interruptions in international cargo shipments during this pandemic.
The food security in East African nations are seriously threatened by crop devastation, loss of pasture cover used as fodder for livestock and forest cover could also be denuded. The final note of gloom is that these swarms are appearing in regions previously not subjected to locusts.
The solutions are not obvious while the situation is dire for all concerned individuals. Researchers prefer to write on situations and propose solutions or at least recommendations. In this case, nature is proving stronger humankind in its ability, not to control, but even to work with nature.