Getting worse: East Africa’s locust problem moves further south and west

A woman runs through a swarm of locusts in Kenya. The swarms, now in the billions, is the worst seen in parts of East Africa in decades—with no signs of improving any time soon. (Photo: The Daily Beast)

A small group of desert locusts has reached the eastern edges of Congo, the Food and Agriculture Organisation declared on Tuesday (Feb. 25), signalling a worsening situation for the African heartland amid the crisis.

According to the United Nations (UN) agency, it is the first time since 1944 the voracious insects have made it to parts of Central Africa.

In a statement, the FAO indicated further that the mature locusts, helped partly by wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert last Friday (Feb. 21) near the town of Bunia.

The locust infestation is a growing crisis for East African countries, some of which haven’t seen swarms this devastating in 70 years, as the insects in their billions, invade Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.

Battle-torn South Sudan, a country with half its population already faced with food insecurity, recently reported swarms of the desert locusts.

The swarms are massive, with billions of the insects blackening the sky, and governments say they are running out of options to control locusts when they are the size of cities.

The extent of the desert locust infestation, as at Monday, February 24. (Photo: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations)

Limited resources are proving to be the Achilles’ heel for the UN in the fight against the locusts, having raised its aid appeal from US$76 million to US$138 million. The FAO implored that the need for more help is urgent.

In the meantime, the Ugandan government said it would continue in its attempts to contain a large swarm, however, like the UN, it will need more resources to control the infestation that has spread to over 20 districts in the north.

Soldiers have been battling swarms using hand-held spray pumps, while experts have said aerial spraying is the only effective control.

Experts have warned that the number of locusts if unchecked could grow 500 times by June, when drier weather is expected in the region.