ROME—WFP airlifted thousands of litres of insecticide to countries in the Sahel last week as part of an effort to prevent an onslaught of desert locusts just as people in the region are beginning to get back on their feet after this year’s drought.
The pesticide was donated by Morocco and Senegal through an arrangement with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which says that locust populations in Mali and Chad have swelled into the tens of millions following heavy rains last summer.
“We were pleased to be able to assist FAO in this mission,” said WFP Aviation Chief Pierre Carasse. “Given the destinations, we managed to merge the requirements into a single flight in less than 24 hours providing a timely and cost-effective solution.”
Though prevailing wind patterns suggest the locusts will migrate north to Algeria, Libya and Morocco, FAO warned that they also posed a threat to harvests in drought-ravaged countries of the Sahel. It added that the situation was particularly worrying in northern Mali, where conflict has impeded humanitarian access and made the swarms difficult to track.
Help from neighbours
After registering the alarming increase in locust numbers, FAO brokered agreements with Algeria, Morocco and Senegal to donate some of their pesticide stock to Chad and Mali where the locusts are breeding
Last week, WFP stepped in transport 32,000 litres of the pesticide from Morocco to Mali and another 18,000 litres from Senegal to Chad. Hopes are that the insecticide will help to thin the locusts’ numbers before they take to the skies.
Following the winds, adult locusts can travel up to 150 km per day and consume their weight in food—about two grams per insect. FAO says that even a small swarm can eat the same amount of food as 35,000 people, making them a serious threat to a region still recovering from the effects of drought.
Responding to a third hunger crisis in less than a decade, WFP provided food assistance to some 10 million people in the Sahel this year. With the hunger season behind them, farmers in the region are counting on a strong harvest to replenish their food stocks and rebuild their herds.
An invasion of locusts could spell disaster for millions of families in the region who are still struggling to get back on their feet.