East Africa’s huge locust outbreak now spreads to Congo

By Rodney Muhumuza

A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time they have been seen in the Central African country since 1944 as parts of East Africa battle swarms of the voracious insects, the UN said.

The agency’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said the mature locusts, carried in part by the wind, arrived on the western shore of Lake Albert on Friday near the town of Bunia.

The worst locust outbreak seen in parts of East Africa for 70 years also recently reached South Sudan, a country where roughly half the population already faces hunger after years of civil war.

Aerial spraying is thought to be the only way of controlling the swarms (AP)

Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have also been battling the locust swarms, which can reach the size of major cities.

The insects can destroy crops and devastate pasture for animals, and experts have warned that the outbreak is affecting millions of already vulnerable people across the region.

Uganda’s government said on Tuesday it is trying to contain a large swarm and will need more resources to control the infestation that has spread to more than 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.

The swarms threaten to bring fresh suffering to places already disrupted by famine and warfare (AP)

The UN recently raised its aid appeal from 76 million dollars (£59 million) to 138 million dollars (£106 million), saying the need for more help is urgent.

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

A changing climate has contributed to this outbreak as a warming Indian Ocean means more powerful tropical cyclones are hitting the region.

A cyclone late last year in Somalia brought heavy rains that fed fresh vegetation to fuel the locusts that were carried in by the wind from the Arabian Peninsula.

A new generation of the locusts has been growing up in the Somalia desert in recent weeks, preparing to take flight as the next wave heads towards Kenya, Ethiopia and beyond.