Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are suffering from the worst locust outbreaks in decades
By Nita Bhalla
Huge swarms of desert locusts are invading East Africa, destroying crops, destroying pastures and exacerbating a food crisis in a region where more than 25 million people are already starving.
Here’s what you should know about desert locusts:
What are the causes of locusts?
Desert locusts usually form swarms under heavy rain, creating a mass of hungry insects that can cross continents and seas in search of food.
It is found in the desert and semi-arid regions of 30 countries – from Mali and Niger in West Africa to India and Pakistan in South Asia – but it can also affect neighboring countries.
What is the size of the swarm?
Locust swarms range from about one square kilometer – which can contain 40 to 80 million adult locusts – to several hundred square kilometres.
One swarm was reportedly seen in northern Kenya, with an area of 2,400 square kilometres, more than twice the size of Paris or New York.
How much can a swarm eat?
A one-square-kilometre swarm, containing about 40 million locusts, could eat in one day the same amount of food as about 35,000 people, 20 camels, or six elephants.
A swarm the size of Paris eats in a day what half of the population of France eats.
How far can a travel location be located?
They usually fly with the wind and can travel more than 150 km per day.
Can you eat desert places?
The locusts are edible and a rich source of protein, but experts advise against eating them in East Africa for now because they may have been sprayed with pesticides as part of control measures.
While people and birds often eat locusts, they cannot eat enough to significantly reduce large swarms.
Are locust burrows dangerous?
The United Nations says the desert locust is the world’s most dangerous migratory pest because it threatens livelihoods, food security, the environment and economic development.
Desert locusts do not attack people or animals.
Is climate change causing greater disease in locusts?
Scientists say global warming may be behind the current outbreak in East Africa and South Asia.
Warmer seas have brought more cyclones to the Indian Ocean, causing torrential rains along the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa, creating ideal breeding conditions for locusts.
What countries have been invaded now?
The locusts crossed the Red Sea from Yemen and began to reach Somalia and Ethiopia in October. They have since spread to Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Eritrea. It could also strike southern Sudan in the coming weeks, with new swarms forming.
What can be done to stop websites?
The best way to control desert locusts is to spray them with insecticides or biocides from vehicles or the air.
Control by natural predators and parasites is so far limited because locusts can quickly turn away from most natural enemies.
Eventually, locust swarms decline due to natural mortality or through migration.
Sources: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO). United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla Tweet embed; Editing by Katie Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women’s, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)
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