FAO warns torrential rains, cyclones could favour locust surge

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Rome  -The UN Food and Agriculture (FAO) on Wednesday warned about unusual rains that fell recently in northwest Africa, the Horn of Africa and Yemen could favour the breeding of desert locusts.
Keith Cressman, FAO Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, stressed that close monitoring was needed over the next six months to prevent the insects from forming destructive swarms.
“The locust situation in countries normally affected by desert locusts remained mostly calm in October with only small-scale breeding activity detected,’’ FAO experts said.
They noted, however, that this could change, in part due to the impact of El Nino in Africa and the tropical cyclones Chapala and Megh in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa.
“Extreme weather events, including torrential downpours, have the potential to trigger a massive surge in locust numbers.
“Rain provides moist soil for the insects to lay their eggs, which in turn need to absorb water, while rains also allow vegetation to grow which locusts need for food and shelter.
“The effects of a locust plague can be devastating on crops and pastures and thus threaten food security and rural livelihoods,’’ Cressman added.
After becoming airborne, swarms of tens of millions of locusts can fly up to 150km a day with the wind.
Female locusts can lay 300 eggs within their lifetime, while a Desert Locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day, about two grammes every day.
A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people.
The FAO said it had been monitoring the situation in northwest Africa where unusually heavy rains fell in late October, over a widespread area of northern Mauritania.
It also monitored the adjacent areas of Western Sahara, southern Morocco and western Algeria and southwest Libya.
In the Horn of Africa, above-average rains associated with a very strong El Nino are predicted over northern Somalia during this winter and next spring.
If so, ecological conditions would become favourable for breeding on the northwest coast and the Somali plateau.
Heavy rains associated with tropical cyclone Chapala fell in southern coastal and interior areas of Yemen in early November, followed one week later by tropical cyclone Megh that also affected northeastern Somalia.

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The torrential rains which far exceeded the annual average rainfall for the entire year, caused flooding and damage.
The FAO said in the winter breeding areas along both sides of the Red Sea, seasonal rains began in early October, which was slightly earlier than normal.
“If the rains continue, there would be sufficient time for two generations of breeding to occur this year in the coastal areas of Sudan, northern Eritrea, southeast Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Yemen,’’ it warned. (PANA/NAN)


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