UN agency warns locust emergency in northern and West Africa not yet

Despite an improvement in the locust situation in northern and West Africa after infestations sparked fears of a potentially worse crisis than the last plague nearly 20 years ago, the emergency is not yet over, with the situation remaining critical in Chad and western Sudan, according to the latest United Nations update released today. Intensive and wide-ranging monitoring and control operations against the crop-devouring insects must be continued in the next months in frontline countries in the Sahel region, such as Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Sudan, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.“The locust emergency is not yet over because favourable rains in breeding areas in the Sahel could allow scattered populations to breed successfully, triggering new outbreaks in some countries,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told donor representatives at a meeting in Rome. Several swarms that remained in Guinea in West Africa up to April 2005 have moved gradually across the Sahel, infesting Chad in early May, the conflict-ridden Darfur region in Sudan in late May, and northern Ethiopia in June, laying eggs on the way.FAO locust experts are now on site in four of the front-line countries and helicopters will be used in Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger for monitoring the situation. Spray aircraft will be on standby if the locust situation worsens. Pesticide stocks are more than adequate. Algeria has provided survey teams and helicopters to Mali and Niger. But traditional breeding areas in Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco are now generally free from infestations. Spring breeding there was much reduced by extensive control operations conducted for six months and by unusually cold weather. As a result, few locusts have so far moved back into the Sahel at the beginning of this summer. “FAO is prepared for the probable scenario with locusts infesting between 50,000 and 250,000 hectares of land in the next months,” Mr. Diouf said. “The worst case scenario, with infestations over 1 million hectares, can be ruled out,” he added. Since the start of the locust crisis in October 2003, donor countries have provided $74 million, to which FAO has added $6 million from its own resources. The UN agency provided overall leadership of the campaign, issued alerts and warnings, and delivered, with donor resources, nearly 60 per cent of the pesticides used, 50 vehicles, numerous sprayers, communication equipment, protective clothing and technical advice.“Thanks to donor support and the efforts of the locust-affected countries, current locust infestations are lower this year and countries are much better prepared today than 12 months ago,” Mr. Diouf said. “Barring any unexpected developments, the outlook for returning to a normal locust situation by the end of the year is good.”

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