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Huge locust outbreak in East Africa reaches South Sudan

by Ace Damon
Huge locust outbreak in East Africa reaches South Sudan

JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN –
The worst locust outbreak that parts of East Africa have seen in 70 years has come to South Sudan, a country where about half the population is already starving after years of civil war, officials said on Tuesday.

About 2,000 locusts have been spotted in the country, said Agriculture Minister Onyoti Adigo. Authorities will try to control the outbreak, he added.

Grasshoppers were seen in the state of Eastern Equation, near the borders with Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. All were affected by the outbreak that was influenced by climate change in the region.

The situation in these three countries "remains extremely alarming," the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said in its latest update to Locust Watch on Monday. Grasshoppers also arrived in Sudan, Eritrea, Tanzania and, more recently, Uganda.

The soil in the equations of eastern South Sudan has a sandy nature that allows locusts to lay eggs easily, said Meshack Malo, the country's representative at FAO.

At this stage, "if we are not able to deal with them … it will be a problem," he said.

South Sudan is even less prepared than other countries in the region for an outbreak of locusts, and its people are probably more vulnerable. More than 5 million people suffer from food insecurity, says the UN humanitarian office in its latest assessment and about 860,000 children are malnourished.

Five years of civil war have destroyed South Sudan's economy and persistent insecurity since a 2018 peace agreement continues to endanger humanitarians trying to distribute aid. Another local aid official was shot dead last week, the UN said on Tuesday.

Grasshoppers traveled the region in swarms the size of major cities. Experts say their only effective control is aerial spraying of pesticides, but UN and local officials have said more aircraft and pesticides are needed. Some planes are active in Kenya and Ethiopia.

The UN said $ 76 million is needed immediately. On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, during a visit to Ethiopia, said the United States would donate another $ 8 million to the effort. This follows the previous $ 800,000.

The total number of locusts can grow up to 500 times by June, when the drier climate begins, experts said. So far, the fear is that more rain in the coming weeks will bring fresh vegetation to feed a new generation of voracious insects.

South Sudan's ministers called for a collective regional response to the outbreak that threatens to devastate crops and pastures.

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