The ongoing desert locust outbreak could further trigger serious food insecurity in east Africa as some 20.2 million people presently facing severe acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned on Wednesday.

“An estimated 20.2 million people are now facing severe acute food insecurity in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania,” the FAO said in its latest desert locust update issued on Wednesday, as it emphasized that amid the approaching main season, the locust invasion “threatens to drive this figure even higher.”

“Every effort must be made to ensure the current upsurge does not become a fully-fledged plague,” the FAO warned.

Noting that about 1 million hectares of land is targeted for rapid locust surveillance and control across the eight countries in the region, the FAO also appealed for about 138 million U.S. dollars for rapid response and anticipatory action in the eight countries from January to December 2020.

“Desert locusts have rapidly spread across the Greater Horn of Africa in the worst infestation in decades,” the statement read, adding that despite ongoing control efforts, the desert locust has affected about eight countries in the eastern Africa region.

Noting that the “highly mobile and capable of completely stripping an area’s vegetation” desert locust swarms can cause large-scale damage, the FAO stressed that “hundreds of thousands of hectares, including cropland and pasture, have been affected” by the ongoing desert locust infestation in the area.

“Desert locust poses an unprecedented risk to agriculture-based livelihoods and food security in an already fragile region,” the FAO said, adding that over the past few years, consecutive shocks, which include poor rainfall, flooding, macroeconomic crises and armed conflict, have contributed to a significant level of vulnerability.

“The arrival of a pest that in a day can eat the same amount as millions of people is the latest shock. This can be especially devastating in countries already facing food security crises, where every kilogram of food produced counts towards alleviating hunger,” the statement read.

It also stressed that led by the respective governments in the region, intensive surveillance and control operations are underway but fall short of the quickly escalating needs.

“If the desert locust swarms continue unhindered, the population could increase 400-fold by June. Scaled-up support is needed to quickly detect and reduce locust populations to avoid further spread,” the FAO warned.

According to FAO, interventions are also needed to protect the livelihoods of farmers and livestock holders, ensuring they have cash to meet their immediate food needs and inputs to restart production.

The FAO, who noted that it has revised its regional plan to take into account emerging needs, also stressed that it “urgently requires 138 million U.S. dollars to support locust control, safeguard livelihoods, and enhance coordination and preparedness.” Enditem

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