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Concerns of calamity raised as locusts swarm eastern Africa

Scenes like those in the book of Exodus are unfolding in Eastern Africa, as millions of desert locusts swarm the region, in the worst infestation in 70 years.

The calamity is becoming a concern of the Catholic bishops in the region, who fear the infestation is adding a burden to the people who are struggling with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The locust plague is a concern for everyone,” said Bishop Giorgio Bertin, apostolic administrator of Mogadishu and the rest of Somalia, one of the countries affected by the pests.

The region’s locust infestation emerged around the time the first cases of COVID-19 were being discovered in China, but now the global focus has gradually shifted to the pandemic. This has triggered concerns among some church officials that existing disasters such as flooding, droughts, and the locusts may not get the required attention.

With lockdowns, curfews, and quarantines, the pesticides needed to fight the locusts are not readily available or do not arrive on time, according to church officials. The measures have also limited the time for interventions as people rush to beat curfews.

Agencies warned in April that the region should brace itself for a new wave that is 400 times bigger than the first one. In January and February the insects laid eggs, which began to hatch in March following favorable weather conditions. They later came together in swarms and started eating vegetation.

In four months they have gobbled and destroyed thousands of hectares of cropland and animal pasture, leaving thousands of farmers and herders desperate. At stake, according to experts and church agencies is the food security for thousands of people.

“The impact of the infestation on food security and livelihood of rural population in the region is of great concern to us,” said Martin Schomburg, Malteser’s international director in Kenya.

The worldwide relief agency of the Sovereign Order of Malta has responded to the massive infestation of locusts, with some of the swarms are covering areas as wide as 250 kilometers square.

“The communities we work with in Marsabit district (in Kenya) are directly affected,” said Schomburg, “and our priority is to help compensate for their losses and enable them recover from losses.”

According to FAO, the desert locust is considered the most dangerous of all migratory pests across the world. The organization says it threatens people livelihoods, food security, the environment and economic development.

An adult desert locust can consume roughly its own weight or two grams per day of green matter. A one-kilometer-square desert locust swarm contains about million insects. The swarm eats the same amount as 35,000 people per day, or 20 camels, or six elephants. The insects move with the wind and can travel as far as 150 kilometers per day.

Read more at Catholic World Report

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