Locust plague spells catastrophe for millions living in underfunded East Africa

Grossly underfunded humanitarian responses across East Africa are tipping towards breaking point as a result of the recent desert locust invasion.

“A humanitarian catastrophe is looming in East Africa if funding to tackle the locust invasion isn´t secured now. This region has opened its arms to a huge number of displaced people, with millions already hammered by climate shocks and conflict. The locust invasion is threatening vulnerable communities and puts further strain on the already stretched resources of governments and aid agencies,” said Nigel Tricks, the Norwegian Refugee Council´s Regional Director for East Africa.

The East and Horn of Africa is home to over 14 million people displaced, the majority of whom rely on humanitarian aid to survive. Funding is already short of what is needed to support these communities, without the current locust threat. For example, refugee response plans for Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania were less than half funded in 2019. These figures are expected to fall further in 2020.

Ulrika Blom, Country Director for NRC in Uganda added: “Funding shortages for the growing refugee population here will only worsen now that the locusts have invaded parts of the country. Within the precarious refugee setting, it is especially worrying for host communities, who risk having their small livelihoods destroyed, and are then forced to rely on humanitarian support that is already shamefully inadequate.”

Host communities and the wider population are already affected by recurrent drought and floods that destroyed crops and livelihoods last year. Around 28.9 million people are in need of some kind of aid across the region because of drought and a lack of food.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said a food crisis is looming in the region if resources are not forthcoming and has appealed to donors for an additional $62m on top of the $76m requested last month.

According to FAO, the invasion is escalating. One swarm has reached the eastern boundaries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while South Sudan reported its first swarm invasion last week.

It also warned that new locust eggs are hatching and millions are resurfacing in farming areas placing the March to May planting season at serious risk. If left unchecked, the numbers of crop-eating insects could grow 500 times by June.

“The locust threat must provoke an urgent, and coordinated, response from donors to prevent tipping millions into a humanitarian catastrophe,” Tricks added.

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