afrol News, 24 February - The locust plague in Mauritania and Western Sahara is now threatening to get out of control. Unless urgent and costly action is taken, Mauritanian harvests are threatened and the swarms could soon move into Morocco and Algeria, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) now warns.
FAO says that it "urgently seeks US$ 9 million" to prevent the locust plague in North and West Africa from developing into a disaster. The Rome-based agency warns that the plague is about to "hit the whole of West and North-West Africa" unless urgent control and preventive measures are implemented.
After exceptional rains last year allowed generations of locusts to breed sufficiently to produce swarms, the UN agency called on international donors to provide US$ 6 million to support desert locust control operations in Mauritania and in the Moroccan-occupied territory of Western Sahara, where "the situation is deteriorating."
According to the latest update from the UN's 'Locust Group', there is now a "severe shortage of pesticide in Mauritania" at the same time as "new swarms continue to form in the north-west" of the country. "Widespread hatching is in progress in the north" and locust swarms "were seen moving northwards." In Western Sahara, the group had observed swarms "from the Mauritanian border to El Aaiun."
FAO adds that swarms are now concentrating in the northern border region of Mauritania and Western Sahara, but their increased density leads observers to believe they soon will move northwards. Those locust swarms that escape control "are likely to move into Algeria and Morocco within a matter of weeks or even days, where a further cycle of breeding may take place in spring," FAO cautioned.
But also swarms in the eastern parts of Mauritania may soon be on the move. "Swarms that are not sprayed will move south in June/July and, if this year's summer rains are good, a plague affecting the whole of the Western Region [West and North-West Africa] could follow," the UN agency noted, calling for a rapid reinforcement of control operations "to try to break this cycle of events."
Therefore, the agency sought a further US$ 3 million for Mali, Niger and Chad, in order to prevent the early stages of the current upsurge from developing into a plague.
According to the UN, the governments of Algeria and Morocco came rapidly to Mauritania's assistance with qualified staff, vehicles, pesticides and light aircraft in an operation valued at more than US$ 2 million and organised by FAO with a US grant. But large populations of desert locust are still present as swarms and hopper bands, covering an estimated 500,000 hectares in Mauritania and Western Sahara.
With a movement of swarms to the north being imminent, Algeria and Morocco have to keep their remaining resources ready to eliminate any threat to their own agriculture. In Mauritania, resources are running out, FAO warns. This is now threatening to halt further operations, while ecological conditions continue to be favourable for breeding.
A locust outbreak is also in progress on the Red Sea coast in Saudi Arabia where swarms are forming, some of which are expected to move into the interior of the country where a further generation of breeding could occur in the coming months. A few swarms could reach adjacent areas in Jordan, southern Iraq and Western Iran after that, the agency said.
Locust swarms can travel for thousands of kilometres between summer, winter and spring breeding areas and are capable of causing devastating damage to crops. On several occasions, locust swarms have crossed continental borders, moving from Africa into Spain or into the Middle East.
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