Afresh in memory,an audacious incident involving an Ethiopian Airlines passenger plane had occurred. A month ago, news reports have indicated that an Ethiopian Airlines B737-700 (ET-ALN, built 2005) come across grasshoppers that slammed its engine, windshield, and noise. Wipers of the aircraft hardly helped efforts for a safe landing. Nothing left to do better than that, the pilots withdrew the approach averting flight number ET363 destination, which was intended to Dire Dawa from Djibouti but reroute the flight to Addis Ababa.
Such events have become more alarming to the point when the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) agency sought to issue warnings to countries that are grappling with locust invasions feared to face uglier food security impediments and economic setbacks unless the swarming army of the locust is not checked as quickly as possible.
The invasive insect is spreading into poor countries the latest hit being South Sudan, and forcing the likes of Somalia and Afghanistan declare a national disaster emergency. As of February 10, FAO has advised that USD 76 million is required to help three countries in East Africa namely Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia that are infested severely. Out of the required financial need, up until early February, USD 20 million was mobilized and half of that coming from the UN emergency coffers. With the changing weather conditions and wind directions, the locust infestations grasped 13 countries and the swarms are showing any sign giving up.
As of June 2019, desert locusts well affirmed as short-horned grasshoppers can easily form enormous clouds of insects which can potentially devour crops and vegetation to bring a grave peril to agronomic conditions, livelihoods, and food security and the devastation of the economy.
According to UNFAO, the invasion of the locust in East Africa mostly in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia was considered to be decisive in its devastating impacts. It has been estimated that the locust swarm in Kenya said to be the worst in 70 years. Both Somalia and Ethiopia are undergoing the worst plagues in 25 years. That will knock the crop production, food security and millions of lives to risk starvation.
According to reports of the UN, diplomats have been briefed about the size and likely devastations the invasive locust pose to countries that are prone to social and economic shortcomings. Spreading wings to Uganda, Tanzania, and others as an average swarm could consist of 34 million insects at any given time and with a traveling capacity of some 150 kilometers per day with a potential to consume an ample amount of food that can feed some 34 million people and that makes the locust an extremely distressing outbreak.
Reinforcing, the concerns echoed by officials of FAO and UN Humanitarian agencies, the World Food Program (WFP) has joined to stress the seriousness of the crisis. Twitting how much might be needed once the locust crisis turns into humanitarian concerns, David Beasley, executive director of WFP said that “FAO needs USD 76 million now to help end the plague and if [we] do nothing, WFP will need 15 times that (USD 1.2 billion) to feed 13 million or more people devastated by the loss of their crops and livelihoods.”
The WFP chief mocks by comparing the calls to USD 76 million against USD 1.1 billion would be required food assistance and says: “Which do you think is a better investment?” and hashtags Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Eretria, and Djibouti. The fear the locust invasion brought up on UN agencies chiefs resonates unless speedy actions are concerned a stock for a full-scale food crisis is seemingly in the making.
Mark Lowcock, the UN humanitarian chief earlier told diplomats, during a briefing at UN Headquarters that, East Africa’s affected region “where there are so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock. And that’s why we need to act quickly”, emphasizing the need for coordinated and swift efforts.
Warning about the seriousness of the locust crisis, Lowcock said, “we do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that’s not what we’re doing at the moment. We’re running out of time. There is a risk of a catastrophe. Perhaps we can prevent it; we should try. Unless we act now, we’re unlikely to do so.” Well, responding to the stern warnings and funding gaps, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during his two days visit in Ethiopia has pledged a USD eight million contributions to assist efforts of curbing the impacts of locust infestation.
In the face of such dreadful warnings, efforts to mitigate the locust crisis found to be disintegrated. From the Ethiopian early warning systems side, it is found out that lack of timely information sharing was one of the challenges that lend a hand for the locust to swarm and infest as many crops, pastures, trees and other vegetation unchecked.
Grappling to control and recuperate from the blows of Americas Fall Army Worm, another invasive and destructive insect that had left many regions of Ethiopia with distressing conditions on food crops and pastures, Ethiopia is facing another invader insect that could potentially harm its agriculture and food production, if not the country’s flora in general.
Back in August, East African Desert Locust Prevention and Controlling Institute reported that parts of Afar, Somali, Western Oromia, north Wello of Amhara as well as Dire Dawa city in eastern Ethiopia hit and the fear is that the locusts might have laid eggs and hatching is likely to be sizable before the rainy season begins.
Almaz Demissie, director of early warnings and response directorate with the National Disaster Risk Management Commission (NDRMC), told The ReporterMagazine that,the desert locust, which first migrated from Yemen and Somaliland to Ethiopia, has invaded more than 86 districts or woredasso far. Accordingly, the Southern Region has seen the highest number of infestations with 36 districts out of the 77 being swarmed by the locust outbreak, followed by Oromia Region where its 26 districts out ofthe 180 being affected according to the details the director has provided,
The list goes on to indicate that Amhara Region with 13 districts, Afar, Harari and, Somali Regions with four districts each have seen a scale of locust swarming and damaging food crops, livestock pastures and in some instances trees. For instance, in the Somali Region, 35 Kebeles (lower administrative tier of the government) have witnessed damaging impacts on graze lands where the huge number of livestock extremely depend on. Peculiarly, in Tigray, in a place called Qafta Humera, a distinctive tree swarming locust was identified overwhelming tree plants, Almaz said. Dire Dawa City Administration and quite a handful of places have met the surprising visitor which might stay for some time until the major rainy season comes. As a result, the locust has extended to cover some 8700 hectares out of which 4,800 hectares of crops and vegetation have been damaged.
Sticking the wound
In 2018, it was about the Americas fall army worm could root extensive maize yield losses, estimated between USD 3.6 billion and USD 6.2 billion per year across the 12 major African maize producing countries.Covering the majority of Africa with a fast span of 12 months, from 2017 towards the end of 2018, the Fall Army worm (FAW) was feared to spread fast and infesting major crops mostly maze farms and farmers were dreaded losing as much as half of their crops.
During that same period, as estimates indicated Ethiopia had lost between 30 to 60 percent of maize crops from its major producing regions. For instance, in Gambella and Benshangul- the Gumuz Regional States alone, where out of 1.1 million hectares of farms covered with maize, some 150,000 hectares were reported to be affected. Back then, Ethiopia was experiencing one of the dire food shortage cycles and some 8.5 million people needed emergency food assistance. The invasion of the American fall army worm was seen as sending a stick to a wound.
When this insidious insect invasion becomes routine, one would tend to ask whether there have been any effective early warning systems was in place to detect such daunting outbreaks in Ethiopia. Well, Almaz argues there is such a system in place and based on meteorological data, the early warning system provides assessments and predictions of the seasonal movements and distribution of rainfall and general weather conditions suitable for farming. The early warning and response system under NDRMC provides updated information on a bi-monthly and monthly bulletins. Despite such a system in place, earlier in January, FAO has cautioned that maturing swarms were present in eastern and southern in Ethiopia and additional swarms moved into the Rift Valley from the south and the northern areas. Since then, egg-laying and hatching swarms were underway for more infestations but in January that has not a detected outcome.
The UN agencies and FAO are warning plentiful desert locust swarms have been breeding and expanding further in countries, predominantly in India, Iran, and Pakistan since June 2019. Some of the armies of locust have voyaged to southern Iran where recent heavy rains have fostered a breeding ground that could generate swarms in the spring.Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen and now South Sudan are also encountering considerable breeding activity that could see locust bands enlarge into swarms in the coming months.