- Going back on its earlier statements, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) today warned that the locust emergency in West Africa's Sahel region is "not yet over." In Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, favourable rains in breeding areas could trigger new infestations. Up to 2.5 million acres could be infested, in the worst case.
The UN agency however still is relatively sure that a large-scale locust invasion of the Sahel "has been averted." Nevertheless, vast areas needed "to be closely monitored" to avoid local outbreaks of the pest and following food scarcity. Monitoring and operations in particular needed to be continued in the next months in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, FAO said today.
- The locust emergency is not yet over because favourable rains in breeding areas in the Sahel could allow scattered populations to breed successfully, triggering new outbreaks in some countries, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf, addressing donor representatives at a meeting in Rome.
Several desert locust swarms that had remained in Guinea in West Africa up to April 2005 had moved gradually across the Sahel infesting Chad in early May, the conflict-ridden Darfur region in Sudan in late May, and northern Ethiopia in June laying eggs on the way. "The situation remains critical in Chad and western Sudan where an outbreak could still develop," FAO said.
On the other hand, traditional locust breeding areas in Mauritania as well as in Algeria and Morocco were now "generally free from locust infestations," FAO said. Spring breeding in the Maghreb was much reduced by extensive control operations that were conducted for six months, by the unusually cold weather and by the current drought there. As a result, few locusts had so far moved back into the Sahel at the beginning of this summer.
In Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, local locust breeds however still could make a massive damage to crops and pastures. "FAO is prepared for the probable scenario with locusts infesting between 125,000 and 620,000 acres of land in the next months," Dr Diouf said. "The worst case scenario, with infestations over 2.5 million acres, can be ruled out," he added.
FAO locust experts were now on site in four of the front-line countries in the Sahel and helicopters will be used in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger for monitoring the situation. Spray aircraft will be on standby if the locust situation worsens. Pesticide stocks are more than adequate. Algeria has provided survey teams and helicopters to Mali and Niger. "Barring any unexpected developments, the outlook for returning to a normal locust situation by the end of the year is good," Dr Diouf said.
FAO last month in particular was alarmed by a possible locust infestation in Sudan, Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. The UN agency at that stage held that the situation in the Western Sahel was in control, despite some minor breeding locust groups in Niger and Mali. Rains have now however provided these swarms with plenty food, thus raising fears of yet another season with locust infections.
Last year's locust infections in particular struck hard in Mauritania, Mali and Niger, depriving rural families of their livelihoods. In Niger, damages from the locust infection were worsened by a following drought, which is now causing the worst famine in the country for decades. Hopes are now high for the upcoming harvests, which could be good if the locusts do not strike again.
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