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Africa’s swarming threat

International | Responders seek solutions to a worsening locust outbreak
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/10/20, 02:54 pm

In the county of Turkana in northwestern Kenya, one of the worst-hit areas in Africa’s locust outbreak, people serve as scouts using an app called e-Locust to report sightings of the pests in real time. They upload photos and videos with information about the location and size of locusts to a shared database. Another team uses the information to deploy pesticides to the area to prevent the insects from forming a moving swarm.

The worst locust outbreak in 70 years has plagued East Africa since late 2019, spurring people to look for creative solutions. By March, the insects had already destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland. Experts have warned more desert locust eggs are already hatching, raising concerns the swarms will wreak more havoc and possibly expand into West Africa.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the regional government in Kenya have formed a partnership with the aid group Acted to create the e-Locust program. The early warning scouts are just part of the group’s efforts to establish 126 desert locust management teams in four counties, including Turkana, according to Acted. The teams already have used hand pumps and motorized sprayers on more than 1,000 acres in five weeks.

Boris Polo, a logistician who runs a helicopter company, is also working with the FAO in Kenya to identify locust swarms from the air for targeted pesticide spraying. He said he hopes to minimize the damage: “It sounds grim because there’s no way you’re gonna kill all of them because the areas are so vast.”

Even a small swarm of the desert locusts can consume enough food for about 35,000 people in a single day. Once the yellow insects grow from young hoppers to fully formed flying swarms, they can cover up to 124 miles a day. The World Bank has said the locusts could cost East Africa and Yemen $8.5 billion this year.

In places like Somalia, armed conflict has made it difficult to access some of the locusts’ breeding areas, researchers with an intergovernmental climate prediction agency wrote in the July issue of the journal Nature Climate Change. “The limited financial capacity of some of the affected countries and the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic have further hampered control efforts,” they said. “In many cases, the required pesticides, protective gear, and locust control experts were not made available in time to allow effective control at the local level.”

A fourth generation of locusts is beginning to hatch and could swell the population to 8,000 times the current infestation, according to the International Rescue Committee. “This coincides with the start of harvest season, and will be compounded by the COVID-19 emergency,” the group noted. “Pasture for livestock is also in jeopardy.”

In a report released on July 3, the FAO urged Ethiopia, India, Pakistan, Sudan, and South Sudan to remain on high alert over the next four weeks. The agency also asked West African nations to continue preparing for infestations after warning earlier the swarms could cross into the region from the Sahel belt just south of the Sahara Desert.

Meanwhile, the World Bank approved a $500 billion program to assist nations in Africa and the Middle East battling the ravaging pests, focusing on devastated households and farmers. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration joined forces with the FAO to modify technology used to track plumes from volcanoes and wildfires to predict the migratory path of the swarms.

Associated Press/Photo by Sunday Alamba (file) Associated Press/Photo by Sunday Alamba (file) People displaced by Islamic extremists at Muna camp in Maiduguri, Nigeria

Underreporting terrorism

Last week, suspected Boko Haram jihadis opened fire on a United Nations aid helicopter in the northeastern Nigerian town of Damasak. No terror group claimed responsibility, but Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari blamed the insurgents for the “dastardly” incident that killed two civilians, including a child.

A church in the region said local media ignores much of Boko Haram’s activity. The group has attacked many churches and schools belonging to the Church of the Brethren, or Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria. The EYN, the largest Christian denomination in northeastern Nigeria, has faced violence, arson, and abductions. The church complained media underreported or ignored the majority of more than 50 terror attacks since late 2019, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported.

“Apart from more than 8,370 members and eight pastors of the EYN who were killed by Boko Haram, over 700,000 members were displaced,” the Rev. Joel Billi, president of the denomination, said last week. —Julia A. Seymour

Associated Press/Photo by Alberto Pezzali (file) Associated Press/Photo by Alberto Pezzali (file) British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at 10 Downing Street in London

Britain takes action

The United Kingdom this week imposed economic sanctions against 49 individuals and organizations from four countries over human rights violations. The list includes 25 Russian nationals involved in the death of Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, 20 Saudi Arabian citizens implicated in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, two high-ranking Myanmar military generals involved in persecuting Rohingya ethnic minorities, and two organizations that participated in forced labor and torture in North Korea.

“You cannot set foot in this country, and we will seize your blood-drenched ill-gotten gains if you try,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

Similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, the restrictions allow British authorities to block sanctioned parties from entering the country, channeling money through U.K. banks, and profiting from the British economy. They are the first independent sanctions Britain has imposed since leaving the European Union in January. —O.O.

Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila (file) Associated Press/Photo by Aaron Favila (file) Protesters in Manila, Philippines

Overpolicing “terror”

Two legal groups and a top lawmaker in the Philippines challenged the nation’s Anti-Terrorism Act just days after President Rodrigo Duterte signed it last week. Under the law, a presidentially appointed council can designate people and groups as terrorists, and authorities can detain suspects for up to 24 days without a warrant.

In one of three petitions to the Philippine Supreme Court, Rep. Edcel Lagman warned the law is so “imprecise and vague” that no one knows what is illegal. The United Nations and religious and human rights groups expressed opposition to it. Human Rights Watch called it a “human rights disaster in the making.” —J.A.S.

Targeting academics

Chinese authorities this week detained professor Xu Zhangrun for criticizing the Communist government. More than 20 people stormed Xu’s home in Beijing on Monday and seized his computer and other personal items, one of his friends told Agence France-Presse.

Xu published an essay in February that blamed the spread of the coronavirus in China on the ruling party’s culture of deception and censorship. The government placed him under house arrest and cut off his internet access. In 2018, the country also barred him from lecturing at Tsinghua University in Beijing after he criticized the removal of presidential term limits. —O.O.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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