European activists are putting lives at risk in East Africa, turning a plague of insects into a real prospect of widespread famine.
The pests recently landed in Djibouti, Eritrea, Oman and Yemen. Swarms have also struck Tanzania and Uganda. They won’t stop on their own. According to the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO), “this is the worst situation in 25 years.
These beasts consume every plant in their path, leaving behind devastated croplands and pastures, and can migrate up to 150km in a day. They’ve already covered a million hectares in Kenya, with no signs of slowing down.
The human toll is staggering. Twenty-five million people have been left hungry, by Oxfam’s estimate.
Yet, instead of rallying around African nations in this time of great peril, more EU-funded NGOs have descended on the Kenyan parliament to demand that the government disarm itself in the battle against locusts. They want the Kenyan government to outlaw the pesticides used to fight locusts, the only effective tool that can stop these insects, and prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control.
According to experts, a pesticide like fenitrothion will play a key role in eliminating locusts in Kenya and other African countries. Properly applied, it can thwart the desert locust swarms. But Kenya lacks the supplies it desperately needs.
“The pesticide fenitrothion is very effective. It kills locusts within forty minutes to six hours of spraying,” says Salad Tutana, the Chair of Northern Kenya Locust Control Coordination team. Mr. Salad says they are experiencing a shortage of fenitrothion, but that fresh supplies of the pesticide have recently arrived from Japan.
More planes are needed for spraying. Currently, there are only five planes being used to spray the available insecticides.
Kenya has already set aside $2.5 million to combat locusts through spraying, but this is hardly enough as the situation continues to worsen. The U.N. FAO agreed to contribute $70 million to the spraying effort, but thus far only $15 million has made its way to the region.
Desperation in affected communities is real and more needs to be done. “We have resigned ourselves to crude methods, like shouting, burning tires, and blowing whistles, to chase away the insects,” Says Muthuri Murungi, a resident of Meru town in Eastern Kenya.