A predicted return of desert locusts in East Africa is triggering concerns among Catholic leaders and experts in the region, where communities are still recovering from the destruction by the first wave early this year.
The concerns follow a UN Food and Agricultural Organisation warning that a new wave is imminent. The agency cited increasing breeding in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and the movement of the winds across the Red Sea into East Africa.
“This is a major cause of concern. The message needs to reach the concerned authorities. We need to prepare the people before the insects return,” Mgr Isaac Ibrahim Racho, vicar general of the Diocese of Marsabit, told reporters. His diocese is one of the Kenyan regions where the locusts destroyed crops and animal pastures.
At stake are the food security and livelihoods of millions in the region, according to clerics and agency officials. In May, the World Food Programme said 20 million people in Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Djibouti and Eritrea were facing acute food shortage. The situation was blamed partly on the locusts and environmental disasters, including flood and droughts.
Experts say the rise of locusts in Africa and the Middle East is linked to rapidly warming waters of the Indian Ocean due to a climatic condition called the Indian Ocean Dipole, or Indian Niño. The phenomenon – amplified by global warming – has led to heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures, favourable conditions for breeding locusts.
According to the FAO, bands and swarms continue to form in Yemen, substantial hatching is also occurring in northeast Ethiopia, and the numbers and swarms are increasing in Somalia.
The swarms could increase 20-fold until next April, said David Owino, the partner project manager in the Kenya office of Malteser International, the relief agency of the Order of Malta.
“We are very concerned about this projection in the wake of expected below-average rainfall projection” for October to December, said Owino, whose organisation is helping 1,000 households Marsabit County buy food for families and livestock, following the locust surge earlier this year.
Some countries – including Kenya and Ethiopia – are still battling the insect, following the hatching of eggs laid in the last wave.
Photo: A woman from the Turkana tribe walks through a swarm of desert locusts in early July in the village of Lorengippi, Kenya. Predictions of a return of desert locusts in East Africa are triggering concerns among Catholic Church leaders and experts in the region, where communities are still recovering from the destruction by the first wave. (CNS photo/Baz Ratner, Reuters)