Press release of 6 März 2020

Locust invasion could herald famine East Africa

East Africa is currently gripped by the worst locust invasion in decades. According to the UN, unless this invasion is swiftly brought under control, the livelihoods of some 20 million people will be at stake. In Kenya and Somalia, entire crops are being ravaged by insect swarms measuring several square kilometres. The same is also happening in Ethiopia, where HEKS/EPER has been active for many years. If no immediate action is taken, a famine could ensue. HEKS/EPER is therefore taking emergency action to aid the worst hit smallholders and cattle farmers in the Borana region.

Nothilfe in Äthiopien - Heuschreckenplage

The current situation

According to information from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the first swarms of desert locusts reached Ethiopia in June 2019 – principally the Afar, Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions. Some desert locust swarms may number as many as 50 million insects. According to the FAO, the unusually protracted rainy season has favoured the locust infestation.

In the Borana region, where HEKS/EPER has been working for many years, the first major swarms arrived in early January 2020 from the neighbouring Somali region and from Kenya. By the end of February they had destroyed crops and pasture lands and laid eggs across an area of 45’435 square kilometres.

With the approach of «Ganna», Borana’s main rainy season, it is also time for sowing. But the rains will in turn favour locust numbers and the newly planted fields are in danger with the next generation of locusts already poised to strike – they will hatch in June. Those worst affected are smallholders and cattle farmers, who are dependent on harvests and pasture lands. The region’s already precarious food situation will be further compounded by the infestation.

Rapid action needed

The Ethiopian Government is now launching operations to fight the locust invasion. A task force set up by the UN and the NGOs and led by the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture is planning emergency measures to avert a major famine. Those measures will address people‘s immediate need for cash to be able to buy food, the preparation of animal feed stocks and the rehabilitation of pasture lands.

HEKS/EPER helping in the Elwaye region

HEKS is providing aid worth CHF 100,000 in Borana in the badly affected region of Elwaye. Some 650 particularly vulnerable families are being supported, in other words, some 4'300 people, who will receive cash payments over three months to enable them to buy food. Those helping to rehabilitate pasture lands and gather straw and hay for animal feed also receive financial aid on a cash-for-work basis.

In addition, information sharing between the affected people, municipalities, districts and local authorities is to be stepped up. This will also cover training in possible ground control operations, as well as ongoing monitoring and the sharing of information on the proliferation of swarms. Altogether 16’550 people are expected to benefit.

These measures are all urgently needed to protect the population from famine. Everyone must play their part, including the people in the affected regions themselves. HEKS/EPER is also monitoring the situation in Uganda and South Sudan, where swarms of locusts have also recently been sighted. HEKS/EPER is present in both Uganda and South Sudan.

Dieter Wüthrich
Head of Media and Information Department
Dieter Wüthrich

Phone: +41 44 360 88 66
Mobile: +41 76 461 88 70