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‘AP Explains: How climate change feeds Africa locust invasion’ – ‘Warmer temperatures are favorable conditions for locust breeding’

By CARA ANNAyesterday

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Locusts by the millions are nibbling their way across a large part of Africa in the worst outbreak some places have seen in 70 years. Is this another effect of a changing climate? Yes, researchers say. An unprecedented food security crisis may be the result.
The locusts “reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June,” the United Nations says.
Here’s a look at what’s going on and where the voracious insects might be going next.
The swarms of desert locusts hang like shimmering dark clouds on the horizon as they scour the countryside in what are already some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, including Somalia. Roughly the length of a finger, the whirring insects in huge numbers have destroyed hundreds of square kilometers (miles) of vegetation and forced people in some areas to bodily wade through them.
“A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer,” the East African regional body, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, has said. “Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometers (62 to 93 miles) in a day. An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people.”
Alarm and exasperation mix with curiosity as people try to shoo the locusts away by shouting, waving pieces of clothing or banging on sheets of corrugated metal. In rural Kenya, men dashed along a path waving leafy branches at the insects and laughing in astonishment.
“These things here, they came to us from Ethiopia and are destroying everything along the way including our farm,” said Esther Ndanu in the Kenyan village of Ngomeni. “We want the government to move very quickly to bring the plane to spray them with the medicine that can kill them, otherwise they will destroy everything.”
“I am seeing a catastrophe,” local official Johnson Mutua Kanandu said.


Heavy rains in East Africa made 2019 one of the region’s wettest years on record, said Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker. He blamed rapidly warming waters in the Indian Ocean off Africa’s eastern coast, which also spawned an unusual number of strong tropical cyclones off Africa last year.

Heavy rainfall and warmer temperatures are favorable conditions for locust breeding and in this case the conditions have become “exceptional,” he said.

Even now rainfall continues in some parts of the vast region. The greenery that springs up keeps the locusts fuelled.

“Countries are trying to prepare but this took them by surprise,” Babiker said.

The further increase in locust swarms could last until June as favorable breeding conditions continue, IGAD has said. But Babiker said it is hard to say for sure when this outbreak will be over.

“This has become psychologically pressurizing,” he said, delicately.