Locust swarms of biblical proportions are threatening crops across a wide swath of Africa and southwest Asia—spurring alarm among top international officials.
A major concern is famine. The United Nations is warning that mass swarms of desert locusts are endangering food supplies in eastern Africa. Officials in Rome noted the situation has a high potential to devolve into a full-blown crisis. Dominique Burgeon, an emergency services director at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, said the locust infestation in Africa is now FAO’s top priority.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres took to Twitter in an effort to draw global attention to the worsening outbreak. The swarms are now threatening farms in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia but are expected to spread to neighboring countries and India soon.
The U.N. chief pinned blame for the crisis squarely on global warming. Cyclones that struck the driest parts of the Arabian Peninsula last year triggered the current crisis, creating ideal conditions for the desert locust species to multiply. “Desert locusts are extremely dangerous,” Guterres wrote. “Triggered by the climate crisis, the outbreak is making the dire food security situation in East Africa even worse.”
The desert locust is a particularly ravenous species that can eat its own weight in food every day. Swarms easily consume entire fields and form mass clouds large enough to block out the sun. They’re quick, too, moving up to 150 kilometers in a day. More breeding cycles are expected. The swarms increase in size twenty-fold with each successive generation and could reach India by June.
“It’s certainly the most dangerous migratory pest in the world, desert locust,” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior agriculture officer. “A swarm the size of Rome can eat enough food in one day as everybody in Kenya.” Cressman said FAO is now classifying the situation as “an upsurge, which is one step before a full plague.”