MapActionHunger in Africa is an ever-present concern. The issue was heightened in 2020 when climate change and unusual rainfall patterns caused locust swarms to infest East Africa. The area had not experienced such an extreme locust plague in many years. Kenya’s last major infestation was about 70 years prior. On the other hand, Somalia and Ethiopia last experienced a severe locust plague roughly 25 years ago. In 2018, two major cyclones increased the locust population in Saudi Arabia by 8,000-fold, and subsequently, strong winds moved the swarms into the Horn of Africa. In December 2020, a rare cyclone in Somalia created locust groups of more than 15 million per square mile, devouring the crops of 19 million herders and farmers in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. MapAction is bringing in geospatial technology to help better respond to such crises.

Climate Change in Africa

In January 2021, the Famine Early Warning System reported that areas in the Horn of Africa were facing food crises due to the locust swarms. A swarm the size of Manhattan can eat the same quantity of food as the whole population of New York and California in just one day. From March 2021 through May 2021, a lack of rainfall in parts of Ethiopia meant that farmers could not prepare their fields for crops or have adequate grass for pasture. The countries most vulnerable to food insecurity are Ethiopia, Sudan and Yemen. Indeed, the persistent lack of rainfall has brought dry conditions to many parts of East Africa.

The disastrous combination of flooding and drought, along with locust infestation, is harshly impacting communities in the region, even more so due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With COVID-19 lockdowns, communication between relief organizations is difficult. Since April 2020, an organization called MapAction has been working in the eastern and southern parts of Africa, “applying geospatial expertise to humanitarian situations” to improve results. The organization looks to improve communication between Oxfam and its local partners.

Geospatial Analysis

MapAction believes that expert geospatial analysis can help spread resources to populations affected by famine, drought and other emergencies. MapAction works to ensure that emergency aid responders and disaster management agencies have access to crucial data. This data will allow responders to make decisions that will improve food security and relieve hunger in Africa. The team creates map templates and trains locals to update maps. This helps inform Oxfam’s partners about threats to food security, such as when locust swarms move into new areas. MapAction also maps where work has been done to prevent efforts from being wasted through duplication.

MapAction’s Impact

Rupert Douglas-Bate originally conceived the idea for MapAction. Bate formulated the concept while “working as an emergency water engineer in Bosnia in 1994.” Bate realized “that there was a gap in mapped analysis to support the effective planning and delivery of humanitarian aid.” MapAction first started off supporting Oxfam and partners in Kenya and Somalia but intends to assist in Zimbabwe and Zambia too. In the near future, MapAction would like to extend its scope to Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Angola, South Africa and Botswana.

Since its inception, MapAction has supported thousands of emergency aid groups in more than 60 humanitarian crises around the world. Furthermore, the organization has helped millions of people who were in danger of starving. The organization has won four Stevie International Business Awards for Company of the Year and an Association for Geographic Information Award for Excellence due to its Ebola assistance in West Africa.

MapAction continues to develop new technologies to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian aid. In the process, it is subsequently reducing the threat of widespread hunger in Africa, preventing millions from falling deeper into poverty.

– Sarah Betuel
Photo: Flickr

Outbreak of Locusts in Somalia Predicted to be Worse in 2021In the past several decades, Somalia has faced a variety of challenges, including foreign imperialism, religious extremism and a struggling infrastructure system. Literacy and education have long been areas of concern, as has access to food, water and healthcare. In 1991, President Muhammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and the country descended into civil war with various political and military factions vying for control of the country. Peacekeeping groups from the U.S. and the United Nations attempted to restore a central government and restrain violence, but they were met with opposition and eventually left, unsuccessful, in 1993.

A Destabilized Country and Poverty

There have since been many attempts to create a functioning national government, but for years progress stalled. The Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab gained momentum in the mid-2000s, causing huge amounts of violence and destruction in the region. They attacked national infrastructure, and at various points forced agencies who had been providing aid to withdraw. These tactics caused thousands to die, displaced thousands more and destroyed access to healthcare and education for many.

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2018 that over 2.5 million people were internally displaced, and agencies providing relief faced continued attacks and the inability to access those who need help. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Somalia today is roughly 70%, and “almost nine of 10 Somali households are deprived of at least one fundamental dimension: access to income, electricity, education or water and sanitation.” Life expectancy is low as well, figured to be roughly 53 years for men and 57 for women. These issues are both caused and compounded by the constant violence; the civil war deprived many of access to necessities like food and housing, and it continues to be a daily worry even with other equally pressing needs.

Locusts and Food Security

It is against this backdrop that Somalia is currently dealing with a plague of epic proportions. Every year, there is an outbreak of locusts in Somalia and neighboring countries, and locals are accustomed to their presence on some level. However, 2020 is entirely different: Warming temperatures and increased flooding over the last several years created ideal conditions for locusts to breed and reproduce, leading to two separate waves of locusts this year alone. By all accounts, this invasion is the worst in 25 years, decimating a country that was already ill-equipped to deal with a disaster.

The first infestation of locusts in Somalia numbered in the hundreds of billions, blotting out the sky and destroying crops, farmland and any other vegetation they found. The second was even more devastating—trillions of locusts descended on East Africa and wiped out any chance of a successful harvest. The LA Times reports, “In a single day, a swarm can travel nearly 100 miles and eat its own weight in leaves, seeds, fruits and vegetables—as much as 35,000 people would consume. A typical swarm can stretch over 30 square miles.” It is nearly impossible to deal with them individually, and a lack of centralized response has left farmers to fend for themselves in an attempt to mitigate economic loss and save what they can of the most recent crop yield.

These waves of locusts ruined economic prospects for many Somali citizens, and left many in debt, unable to sell their harvest or participate in the local economy. The U.N. Food and Agriculture division estimates that 100% of sorghum and maize—both vital to the Somali economy—were affected or harmed by the infestation. Experts also worry that they will return in the spring of 2021 if allowed to continue breeding and growing to maturity unchecked. The unprecedented quantities this year make it difficult to contain, and there is now only a short window in which to act. Avoiding another round will require a timely and focused response.

Moving Forward

The good news is that there are tangible solutions, and possibilities remain for Somalia to revitalize their economy and recover from this devastation. Pesticides are proven to contain the insects, and the challenge now is to deploy them in high enough quantities that it might have a tangible effect. Currently, Somalia lacks the political will and infrastructure to supply enough planes to be useful, but the U.N. FAO has been meeting with both West African and European countries in an attempt to gather the resources necessary to fight the locusts.

Scientists have been working to develop a worthy biopesticide over the past decade, and there is now a working product that’s “cheaper, more effective, longer-lasting in the desert and easier to store,” according to Science Magazine. Somali politicians and leading experts in the field from around the world have been working to provide relief, and although locusts in Somalia have not been seen like this in many years, there are reasons to be hopeful, given the scenario. If aerial spraying becomes financially viable and available, it could provide significant relief and a renewed opportunity for those who have been affected.

One FAO official commented, “We’re already partnering with NASA, with NOAA, with the European Space Agency, with Cambridge University… all of these different entities have their own expertise.” Ultimately, a solution to locusts in Somalia is within reach—and it requires a combination of pesticides, more accurate predictors of future outbreaks and cheaper methods of delivery for needed chemicals. If this can be achieved, it would be critical in the fight for food and job security in the country, allowing the economy to flourish and crops to grow.

– Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

locust plaguesDuring the past several years, Eastern Africa has experienced the worst swarms the region has seen in decades. Typically, the arid desert environment kills off locusts but multiple tropical cyclones have hit the region thereby creating wetter soil conditions that are more hospitable for these insects. Due to the weather patterns within the last few years, several overwhelming locust plagues have occurred. Not only are the swarms of locusts unsettling and bothersome, but they threaten food security and the livelihoods of the people within the affected regions.

The Impact of Locust Plagues

One of the most troubling effects of the locust swarms is their consumption of green vegetation, in particular, crops within agricultural regions and pastoral communities. In a single day, a swarm of locusts that covers one square kilometer can consume more food than 35,000 people would in the same time frame. In a region already affected by food insecurity, the locust outbreak only exacerbates the problem and could potentially lead to five million people in Africa facing starvation.

In order to fight locusts, governments often resort to aerial or on-the-ground pesticide spraying. While The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa exists specifically to take these actions, there are many obstacles in the way.

  • The organization is underfunded and disregarded by many countries in the region.
  • Even with proper funding, finding and spraying all locust infested sites is challenging.
  • The effects of COVID-19 have left many governments under financial stress and unable to contribute to locust-fighting and food security efforts.
  • Political instability and civil unrest make accessing some locust breeding sites very difficult.

How the United States Can Help

Given the lack of resources of many East African countries and the additional impact of COVID-19 on these countries, it is necessary for developed countries like the United States to provide aid. Fortunately, a bipartisan bill aimed at doing just that is currently moving through the House of Representatives.

On June 18, 2020, Rep. Christopher Smith and Rep. Karen Bass introduced H.R. 7276, the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. This bill seeks to create an interagency working group that would form a thorough plan to eradicate current locust plagues as well as create an infrastructure to prevent future outbreaks. Should the bill pass, the interagency group would consist of members from the Department of Agriculture, the Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and more. Additionally, the interagency group would work with regional governments and international organizations in order to develop a comprehensive eradication and prevention plan for the entire affected region.

Action in Progress

Currently, regional governments and international nongovernmental organizations have taken a disjointed response to the outbreaks. For example, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is working on the ground in the East African region to provide direct support to farmers and help some of the most vulnerable people survive. However, without a comprehensive, multilateral and international plan to address the locust outbreak, the IRC’s measures to support communities will be insufficient.

For this reason, it is essential that Congress pass the East Africa Locust Eradication Act. United States aid as well as aid from other developed countries is required in order to save millions of people from the effects of the worst locust plague the region has seen in decades.

Alanna Jaffee
Photo: Flickr

Yemen Desert Locust Response ProjectSwarms of locusts travel in groups of at least 80 million; a swarm can routinely eat what 35,000 humans can eat in the same time span. This article will highlight the destructive potential of locust swarms and the Yemen Desert Locust Response Project. The desert landscape of Yemen makes it the perfect breeding ground for locusts. Death could be the result of human beings in major cases of locust devastation (35-60% of crops) due to a lack of available crops.

Purpose of the Yemen Desert Locust Response Project

The purpose behind the creation of the Yemen Desert Locust Response Project was to kill desert locusts so they could not continue to swarm. This project sought to provide financing for activities that promoted food growth and healthy behaviors of citizens. Secondly, this project looked to collect data and archive information for future generations regarding strategies the government used to stop locust outbreaks.

Yemen Desert Locust Response Project led by Sandra Broka and Yashodhan Ghorpade was approved by the World Bank in June of 2020. The project specified remediation efforts of $25 million to take place throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The Republic of Yemen will benefit from this declaration, which is set to end December 29, 2023.

About the World Bank

The vision of the World Bank is to empower third world countries to reach the financial security and maturity of developed nations. Being able to transform dwindling institutions of academia, medicine, business and government is the end goal of the World Bank. Loans have terms that specify repayment barriers and deadlines; grants are met through the embodiment of criteria on a checklist, and countries will not need to pay these amounts back. During an attack of locusts, the World Bank quickly worked to funnel out available funds to citizens and organizations for agricultural revival.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) makes up the World Bank with other agencies like The International Development Association (IDA), corporations and centers. The two main players, IBRD and IDA, have donor countries. The IBRD has 189 donor countries and invests in the market to achieve financial capital benchmarks. The IBRD also has established credit that allows a profit margin between the loans it gives and the amounts it requires for repayment from clients.

International Development Association Financial Procurement

The IDA is overseen by 173 countries that make up the governing body. The governing body has agreed upon a set amount of money that it will donate to the IDA; this amount regenerates every three years. When this cash is dispersed, recipient countries improve the mitigation of environmental catastrophes. They are then able to locate economic interventions that reap the benefits of an enhanced quality of life.

Quick Locust Breeding; Quick Response

For countries to benefit from an increased quality of life, they must adhere to the warnings of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA) regarding the growth of locust populations. It is believed that in July, as swarms reach their adulthood, crops will also reach the peak of their growth; this also means they reach their highest risk of being eliminated by locusts. Farmers may be able to save July 2020 harvests. Ultimately, Failure to react will cause further distress to Yemen natives.

Preemptive warnings from the FOA are related to the travel destinations that locust swarms will navigate through during the month of July 2020. The FOA predicted African invasions of locusts in northern Somalia and northeast Ethiopia. With Yemen Desert Locust Response Project funds working in unison with FOA advisories, Yemen can better mitigate locust challenges than if it were acting as a stand-alone country not utilizing outside resources.

DeAndre’ Robinson
Photo: Flickr

Food Security in East AfricaAn apocalyptic scene—swarming locusts blanketing the sky. This is an image the world is mostly unfamiliar with. In fact, locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world and are often associated with destruction.

A Snapshot of the Problem

There can be as many as 80 million locusts compacted into just a half square mile, and they bring with them devastating effects. In only one day, one square kilometer of these pests can destroy the agricultural produce that could sustain 35,000 people. The FAO states that during plagues, like the ones that occurred in East Africa during 2020, locusts can damage the livelihood of a staggering 1/10 of the world’s population.

Locust migration occurs in a cycle of boom and bust. This biological uncertainty makes it hard for countries to garner the funding, political will, knowledge and capacity to proactively address the threat through long-term infrastructure. However, failure to detect and control locusts proactively can result in devastating plagues. These can require millions of dollars to address and have catastrophic effects on food security, particularly in East Africa. The experience of one Somalian farmer portrays the catastrophic impact these pests have. Abdirahman Hussein Mohamoud relies on his farm to support his family. In May, he lost his entire $5,000 investment in crops to locusts. In his own words, his hard work “has all come to nothing.”

Possible Solutions

The FAO tries to combat the threat of locusts through early detection and warning with its Desert Locusts Information Service. USAID works towards strengthening the government’s capacity to address the threat of locus proactively in addition to the $19 million of US humanitarian response to reduce the size and impact of swarms. However, there is still an overwhelming lack of policies addressing locusts in East African countries. For this reason, there is a heavy reliance on pesticides for rapid response.

The use of pesticides, while incredibly effective for killing locusts, can negatively impact the health of humans and the environment. In Uganda, desert locusts are a common food source and the people often consume them immediately after the use of harsh pesticides. A number of community health advocates are raising concerns with the lack of adequate training and information on the potential impact these pesticides can have on human health. Executive Director of the Mpala Research Centre in northern Kenya, Dino Martins, warns that mass spraying can harm biodiversity as well. Martins points to the need to create more sustainable alternatives to controlling locusts such as biopesticides of pheromones.

Impact of COVID-19

While locusts pose a major threat to food security in East Africa, COVID-19 has made poor communities even more vulnerable. Resources for aid are stretched thin with a high priority on coronavirus relief. Despite this, countries in East Africa have maintained the control and monitoring of desert locusts as a national priority.

However, the slowdown in the global supply chain and cross-border mobility is raising concerns about the difficulty of acquiring pesticides for controlling locusts and protecting food security in East Africa. In March, an order of pesticides from Somalia to Ethiopia was delayed due to cargo flights being cut back. This showcases the dangerous impact COVID-19 can have on controlling the epidemic of locusts. Cyril Ferrand, the FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa, states access to pesticides is the biggest challenge facing their ability to control the impact of these pests.

Governments are exempting restrictions on movement for locusts control groups, recognizing their need to continue work. The FAO has stated they have been able to continue their efforts despite restriction. For instance, they have been able to treat more than 240,000 hectares with pesticides in East Africa. FAO has also trained 740 people on how to conduct ground control operations for locusts. So far, FAO has raised half of the $300 million it expects to need for pesticides.

Leah Bordlee
Photo: Flickr


Somalia faces a constant struggle for enough resources to feed the entire population. Millions of citizens throughout Somalia suffer from hunger and poverty. Somalia is located in an area that suffers from extreme droughts and experienced one in late 2019. Droughts throughout Somalia leave millions of people without proper resources, as animals and crops go without proper nutrition to ensure food for citizens. However, Somalia, and Africa as a whole, are dealing with a more destructive problem this year. Locusts are impacting both the economy and the issue of starvation in Somalia, with millions and maybe even billions of insects flying across the continent. For a country that is currently dealing with hunger and poverty issues, locusts and their growth could be extremely detrimental to Somalia.

The Second Wave of Locusts in Somalia

According to recent studies and developments, there is currently a second wave of locusts swarming throughout Somalia and Africa. The second wave has the potential to be more harmful to the economy of Somalia because it is occurring during harvest season. The harvesting of crops is a positive thing for the citizens who continue to lack food and resources. Millions of locusts can cause enough damage to crops to equate to feeding a small population city. Furthermore, Somalia has not experienced a plague of locusts as strong as this one in about 25 years.

Additionally, COVID-19 is making this plague more damaging for Somalia and the citizens. The combination of both events will cause over 25 million Africans to not have proper food resources throughout the remainder of the year.

All Hands-on Deck Approach to Locusts in Somalia

To ensure that the effect on locusts on the economy and starvation in Somalia is minimal, the government has decided to join with the organization Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This partnership includes efforts to control and stop the growth and spread of locusts around Somalia and Africa. The control of this plague ensures that Somalia does not take a dramatic and harmful hit to the economy. It would also protect citizens from food shortages.

The Somalian government depends on communities to assist with controlling the spread as well. These efforts include using ground and air vehicles to spray pesticides on developing eggs and locusts flying throughout affected areas. Thirty ground vehicles are being used to control spread and growth. These vehicles can destroy eggs and developing locusts which are not able to fly. Additionally, in May, two helicopters were brought in to help control flying locusts and cover widely affected areas. So far, FAO has covered over 197,000 acres of land throughout Somalia and plans to cover over 444,000 acres by the end of 2020. Going forward, FAO will conduct similar control efforts. This plan also has the possibility to take care of any future swarms of locusts that may occur.

Looking Forward

Somalia, and Africa, continue to struggle with locusts swarming and developing. The locusts have had a negative effect on the economy and starvation in Somalia. The country already has millions of citizens who lack the proper amount of daily food resources. Additionally, Somalia has experienced droughts that have changed the economic outlook of the country in recent years. Adding the plague of locusts into the equation will only continue to damage food resources in Somalia, especially since they are arriving during harvest season. However, the Somalian government has decided to address this problem by working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This organization created control efforts to stop the growth and development of locusts. FAO has covered massive amounts of Somalian land with control efforts and plans to continue covering more land throughout 2020.

– Jamal Patterson 
Photo: Flickr

Locusts in East AfricaIn 2020, the world is facing many hardships. Especially in East Africa, where swarms of locusts are devastating the local agricultural systems. There can be up to 70 billion locusts in one swarm, with each of them eating their own body weight (about 0.07 ounces) in foliage every day. In total, these locusts in East Africa are eating 300 million pounds of crops per day, in an area the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes for its’ “severe food insecurity.”

Influence of Climate Change

Why is this happening in 2020? The answer is climate change, according to experts. Desert locusts, in normal times, are mostly reclusive and don’t often interact with each other. According to these experts, recent and rare cyclones, caused by warming oceans that hit the dry deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in 2018 and 2019, caused the desert to experience rains that it had not seen in a very long time. This caused physiological and mental changes in the locusts that have made them more ravenous than usual.  They grow larger, change color and their brains get bigger. They begin to behave in similar ways to one another and form swarms that can travel over 100 miles per day in search of food.

Funding Needed

This comes amid a global pandemic that is already taking human lives and wreaking havoc on the economy. The FAO is calling on U.N. members to contribute more financial assistance for local governments than it is currently receiving, about an estimated $138 million needed in total. This will go toward ways of combating the locusts, such as the use of pesticides.

COVID-19’s Impact

Imports of pesticides come from the Netherlands, Morocco and Japan, among other outside sources. However, this means that these pesticides that are desperately needed are slowed by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions placed on cargo. Equipment needed for dispersal of the pesticides is made in China and helicopters meant to track locust movements are from Canada. The international pilots for the helicopters have to quarantine when arriving. All of these roadblocks cause the loss of precious time in the fight against the locusts.

This ongoing issue of locusts in East Africa could get worse if U.N. members do not follow through on the FAO’s funding recommendations. This locust plague, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause a large loss of life in East Africa. However, the migratory nature of locusts makes it likely they will move to countries where there are national programs in place to address them. Hopefully, with the help of U.N. funds, East Africa can implement successful changes as well.

– Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr

The Fight Against Locusts
Asia, the Middle East and Africa are in a battle with an entity that threatens the food security of 10% of the population. This problem has come and gone before and goes by the name of the desert locust. These locusts fly in swarms of 10s of billions, in coverage ranging from a square third of a mile to 100 square miles. For reference, a swarm the size of one-third of a square mile could eat the equivalent of 35,000 people.

The leading cause of the sudden outburst of locusts is the months of heavy rain that Africa and Southwest Asia had towards the end of 2019. Locusts thrive in wet conditions when breeding and the rain sparked a massive emergence of the bugs.

The locusts could become the cause of food insecurity for millions of people. The reason for this is the sheer number of insects and also how quickly they can travel. They swarm from one food supply to the next, while moving from one country to the next within days. When they decide to land in a town or city that seems to have an abundance of crops, they will eat anywhere from 50 to 80% of all the plants. This has resulted in many countries and international institutions increasing cooperation, as the locusts do not discriminate against which country they deplete of resources. Below are five of the ways that collaboration has developed in the fight against locusts, which highlights the importance of working together during national emergencies.

5 Cases of International Cooperation in the Fight Against Locusts

  1. The World Bank has put together a $500 million program called The Emergency Locust Response Program to immediately assist farmers in the Middle East and Africa. This will help the citizens of affected countries with cash transfers, and will also go towards investing in agricultural industries. The first four countries that will receive the aid are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. They will collectively receive $160 million of the $500 million total.
  2. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has paired with the United Nations to strengthen technology that tracks locust swarms. The administration typically helps track weather and other changes in the environment, but now will use its resources to help monitor the locusts. It is trying to re-purpose technology to track smoke in order to follow the migration of locusts. This will help prepare countries and cities better, as they will have a more accurate prediction of when the swarms will reach them. These institutions are also developing different types of bio-pesticides, which will have less of an impact on humans and crops.
  3.  India has offered a detailed plan to Pakistan and Iran to team up against the swarms effectively. Pakistan has yet to accept the deal, but if accepted, the countries would “coordinate locust control operations along the border and that India can facilitate the supply of malathion, a pesticide, to Pakistan.” The plan originated in hopes of trying to save some of the estimated $3 billion of lost crops within the affected regions.
  4. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has contributed $19 million to the FAO to fight the locusts in East Africa. The money will go to Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, which are three of the worst-hit countries. The aid will help these countries afford airplanes to perform aerial spraying and training for infestation fighters on the ground.
  5. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has committed another $10 million to the FAO. This money will go towards the same countries as the USAID contribution went to. The countries have gratefully accepted the money, yet still need more support. However, contributions from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are closing the gap between necessary resources and obtained resources.

The cooperation between organizations and countries in the fight against locusts proves to be the silver lining of the infestation. International institutions are effectively planning, tracking and coordinating efforts to minimize the problem for farmers and food-insecure people around the world.

– Aiden Farr
Photo: Pixabay