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Swarms of desert locusts, as many as 360 billion insects has so far devastated East Africa before moving to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and India.

Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Kenya, 2020. (Image: Njeri Mwangi/Reuters)
Samburu men attempt to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Kenya, 2020. (Image: Njeri Mwangi/Reuters)

Swarms of desert locusts ravaging crops and grazing land across East Africa have reached South Sudan, already reeling from widespread hunger and years of civil war, the country’s agriculture minister said on Tuesday. Invasion is further food shortages in country struggling with drought and legacy of civil war.

Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti are battling the worst locust outbreak in decades, and swarms have also spread into Tanzania and Uganda. Oil-rich South Sudan is recovering from five years of civil war that plunged parts of the country into famine in 2017 and forced a quarter of the population to flee their homes. In December, the UN’s World Food Programme said the food security outlook was dire after floods affected nearly a million people.

Desert locusts can travel up to 150km (95 miles) in a day and eat their own body weight in greenery, meaning a swarm just one kilometre square can eat as much food as 35,000 people in a day, according to the United Nations. The invasion is worsening food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are suffering after three consecutive years of droughts and floods.

The Ministry of Agriculture in Jordan announced an “utmost state of emergency” as swarms descended on Saudi Arabia via Yemen. Minister of Agriculture, Ibrahim Shahadeh said that an emergency room had been set up with the cooperation of the Royal Jordanian Air Force, the Royal Badia Forces and the Jordan Customs Department, the Civil Defense Directorate (CDD), and Aqaba Region Authority to coordinate their response, Roya News reported. The Ministry is also closely monitoring regular reports issued by the Locust Forecast Center, situated within the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Israel is also preparing for the possibility of the first desert locust infestation in seven years, according to Channel 12 news. The infestation in 2013 caused hundreds of thousands of shekels in damage to Israel’s agriculture industry. In a recent situation evaluation, Agriculture Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said that there is currently only a low chance that the locusts will come to Israel, but stressed that the forecast could change and preparations should be made in advance.

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As desert locusts spread across East Africa, Uganda has deployed its army to battle the all-consuming horde. The pests are laying countless eggs that are expected to hatch within weeks, raising concerns among farmers that the worst is yet to come. Halima Athumani reports from Otuke district, in northeast Uganda. VOA is funded in whole or in part by the American government.

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