East Africa’s huge locust outbreak now spreads to Congo

KAMPALA, UGANDA (AP) — A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the Central African country since 1944, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Agency said on Tuesday as UN agencies warned of a “major hunger threat” in East Africa from the flying pests.

Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been battling the swarms in the worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years. The UN said swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea and Tanzania and recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war.

A joint statement on Tuesday from FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock and World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley called the swarms of locusts “a graphic and shocking reminder of this region’s vulnerability”.

The FAO said mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert in eastern Congo last Friday near the town of Bunia. The country has not seen locusts for 75 years, it said.

“Needless to say the potential impact of locusts on a country still grappling with complex conflict, Ebola and measles outbreaks, high levels of displacement, and chronic food insecurity would be devastating,” the UN officials said in the joint statement.

Locust swarms can reach the size of major cities and can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals.

Experts have warned that the outbreak is affecting millions of already vulnerable people across the region.

Uganda’s government said on Tuesday it was trying to contain a large swarm and will need more resources to control the infestation that has spread to over 20 districts in the north.

Desert locusts seen in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. PHOTO: AP